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Friday, 21 June, 2002, 12:02 GMT 13:02 UK
Dreams tries serious tack
Preeya Kalisdas who plays Priya and Raza Jaffery as Akaash
The show has received a mixed response from critics

Billed as a riot of colour, energy and larger-than-life characters, Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber's Bombay Dreams is a tempting proposition on the current West End scene.

A vast existing Bollywood fan base and the growing media fascination with Bollywood mean its timing could not be bettered.

And Lord Lloyd-Webber's name on the project, combined with the long-overdue chance of a new type of musical, should all combine to bring in the crowds, whatever the reviews...for a while.

But anyone expecting a Bollywood-style extravaganza from the new musical will be disappointed.

Bombay Dreams
The Bollywood numbers are worth going to see the show for
The plot does concern itself with the Bollywood industry, and serves as the platform for a couple of superb numbers.


Shakalaka Baby, featuring the obligatory wet sari dance, and Chaiyya Chaiyya, sung in Hindi with voices distorted to mimic a Bollywood soundtrack, stand out as joyous highlights of the show.

Judging by the rapturous reception, they were just what the (very mixed) audience wanted to see.

But the show has pretensions to an intelligent look at Bombay reality - pitting "masala" Bollywood films against the higher brow arthouse film-makers, the plight of slum-dwellers and women with a bit of the mafia thrown in.

All that and the obligatory twists and turns of a plot that involves thwarted love, grisly murders, political comment and the path to self-fulfilment for the two romantic leads, and you have one hell of a melting-pot.

The surprising spice in the dish is the character of Sweetie, the eunuch - eunuchs are common in India but not often represented in the West, let alone the West End.

But here Sweetie, played by Raj Ghatak, is a major supporting role.

Some critics feel the attempt to mould it into one cohesive whole has failed, but as ever when dealing with images of India - the country, the literature - to think that is to miss the point.

The show is not perfect, but as an attempt to express all the contradictions and craziness of Bombay/Mumbai, it manages very well.


Ubiquitous actress and writer Meera Syal, best known for Goodness Gracious Me, The Kumars at No 42, and her two novels including Anita and Me, wrote the book, and her personality and attitudes are stamped all over it.

Comments on the perception of women in India, from beauty contests to wife-burning, pepper the scenes while, in a lighter vein, the comic relief TV presenter is a copy of her own creation Smeeta Smitten.

Her one-woman crusade to broaden popular understanding about British Indian and Indian culture seems to have made this hybrid show what it is.

There are a few points where the show slips up badly. The opening scene in the Bombay slums, a chance to introduce the serious part of the plot, ends up presenting the slum-dwellers like something out of Annie.


And it has not been brave enough in expecting its audience to be sophisticated enough to take full-on Bollywood, or Indian, culture.

Dancers occasionally wear overly-sexual Western dance outfits, with too many of AR Rahman's tunes opting to entertain a Western ear. The Lloyd-Webber influence from the wings, perhaps.

The pugnacious plot climax is probably the best piece of stage writing in the show, as Hollywood is debunked and Bollywood rules OK (with the must-have Syal sprinkling of reality, musical-style).

But the Bollywood joy and energy seen in the big numbers do not permeate the show, which is an opportunity missed.

Bombay Dreams isn't a cinematic experience, and it isn't to be compared with traditional West End or Broadway musicals, although it borrows happily from both.

But anything that tries to be novel in the West End and even succeeds half-way is a good thing - so that really is just as well.

See also:

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