Say the word “Bollywood” and what springs to mind? If you are like me, then you will have heard the word in connection with Indian film-making. So, a few facts for you. The term ‘Bollywood’ was coined in the 1970s when Indian cinema overtook America as the world’s largest film producer, producing an estimated 1,000 movies every year. This is not surprising when around 14 million Indians go the cinema every day. I could go on but, instead, I’m just going to recommend that you get a real feel for Bollywood by heading to the Peacock Theatre to see Taj Express.
Young Composer Shankar (Mikhail Sen) has a dream. He wants to compose for a Bollywood movie. Then he can be discovered and maybe one day be heralded as the new A. R. Rahman. Then one day, he gets a call from Bollywood producer Raj Pakora (Denzil Smith) who wants to hire Shankar to work on his new blockbuster Taj Express – a love story between Kareena Kaboom (Tanvi Patil) and the handsome Arjun (Hitten Shah). This is a big deal for Shankar and he sets to work to create his first Bollywood musical. Shankar isn’t helped by a cheesy plotline, an ever-changing script and a group of musicians – guitarist, ‘Flash’ (Chandan Raina), percussionist ‘Animal’ (Prathamesh Kandalkar) and flautist ‘Harry Puttar’ (Avadooth Phadke) – who are not necessarily as committed to the project as Shankar himself. As the release date for Taj Express gets ever closer, everyone is asking will the movie be Shankar’s magnum opus or his Waterloo?
Taj Express is basically a show within a show. Shankar addresses the audience directly as he is writing his songs for the movie and then we get to see the songs in situ performed by a team of talented dancers. As a narrative device it sort of works but, let’s be honest, the plot of the show was never going to matter that much, though full credit to writer Toby Gough for the work put in. From the start, the audience is warned that the story consists of “unbelievable storylines, melodramatic acting and terrible jokes” and it really does. But, this makes it a very endearing production and I got the feeling that, for the majority of the audience, they would expect nothing less from a Bollywood storyline
Taj Express is a show that revolves around singing and dancing and this where it really excels. I don’t pretend to be an expert in Indian dancing but from where I was sitting, I found the experience mesmerising. There were a lot of styles intermingled with each other, and there was a heck of a lot of energy expended by the large group of dancers. The use of back projection meant there was no need for a set so director Shruti Merchant and Choreographer Vaibhavi Merchant were able to make excellent use of the stage. Bipin Tanna’s costumes were absolutely beautiful and there was enough six packs flying around to know the male dancers spent a lot of time in the gym.
With well over 30 songs spread over 23 scenes, the pace is fast but, thankfully, easy to follow. There are moments when things calm down – I particularly liked the audience participation yoga. At just over two hours, including interval Taj Express is quite long and personally, I think it could have been slightly shorter without losing anything significant. Having said that though, the show is a spectacle of light, colour and sound that entertains and enthralls right through. Even someone as unversed in the ways of Bollywood films as I am found the show to be a wonderful introduction to that world and a great evening’s entertainment.
Review by Terry Eastham
The Merchant dynasty return to The Peacock with the internationally acclaimed musical, Taj Express, in a stunningly vibrant celebration of the glitz and glamour of Bollywood.
Inspired by Indian cinema and choreographed by the industry’s top choreographers Vaibhavi and Shruti Merchant, a Bollywood story is told through dazzling dance moves, shimmering costumes, fast-paced footwork and blockbuster musical hits, bringing the joy of India to life. Taj Express showcases a captivating fusion of classical Indian and contemporary dance, with music from Academy Award-winning composer A R Rahman (Slumdog Millionaire), and acclaimed Bollywood composers, Salim and Sulaiman Merchant and Monty Sharma.
Get wrapped up in the swirling colours, show-stopping spectacle and electrifying energy of the world’s most prolific film industry.
The Peacock Theatre
13th June to 2nd July 2017