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The Merchants Of Bollywood

Published May 20, 2010

Outside the Peacock theatre some enterprising person has seized the opportunity to give out flyers for Bollywood dance lessons. Such classes are on the rise; Bollywood dance is becoming as popular in London as Salsa and Ceroc.

Watching The Merchants Of Bollywood, I can see why; the style of dance seen on films coming out of Bollywood – the Hindi-language film industry in Mumbai – is joyful. It does not take itself seriously like some dance forms; it is a happy dance, infused with fun and flirtation.

This pageant of Bollywood dance is written and directed by Toby Gough, who was inspired by the life story of renowned Bollywood choreographer Vaibhavi Merchant. Just as Merchant clashed with her equally renowned grandfather Shri Hiralal Merchant over her desire to follow in his footsteps as a movie choreographer, so the show sports a narrative about a young woman, Ayesha, trying to throw off the shackles of her traditional upbringing and make it big in Bollywood.

But this is just an excuse; the narrative takes second place to the dance numbers, choreographed by Vaibhavi herself, which showcase Bollywood dance in all its forms throughout the decades of the Mumbai film industry. So we see everything from traditional kathak dance to Bollywood’s take on 70s disco, with Lycra, sequins and cheerleader skirts vying for attention with more traditional outfits.

The energetic cast give it their all, showing that mobile facial expressions and hair flicking are as much a pre-requisite as dance talent. Carol Furtado, as Ayesha, seems nearly double-jointed as she contorts her arms and hands into all manner of shapes while dancing; Deepak Rawat brings an acrobatic sturdiness to Ayesha’s childhood sweetheart Uday, while Denzil Smith, as sleazy Bollywood director Tony Bakshi, oozes camp comedy worthy of Eurovision.

In fact there is more than a little of Eurovision about The Merchants Of Bollywood, particularly its earnest finale, It’s The Time To Disco, when the enthusiasm of the dancers begs the audience to share their passion for dance. Though disco might not be what you might expect from a Bollywood dance class, you would no doubt have fun trying to recreate the moves on display here.

CB

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