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Last Updated: Friday, 1 April, 2005, 10:47 GMT 11:47 UK
Indian music tradition revived in musical
Hadley Fraser as Ashton Pelham-Martyn and Gayartri Iyer as Princess Anjuli
The Far Pavilions sees British officer Ashton Pelham-Martyn fall for Princess Anjuli
An old Indian traditional style of music has been placed at the forefront of a new musical based on MM Kaye's classic romantic novel The Far Pavilions.

The original book, published in 1978, told the story of forbidden love between an Indian princess and a British army officer during the time of the Raj.

To replicate the contrast between the two cultures that forms the essence of the book, the new musical, directed by Gale Edwards, has two composers - Philip Henderson, who is British, and Kuljit Bhamra, who is Indian.

Bhamra told BBC World Service's Masterpiece programme that to make sure the Indian music was authentic for the time, he turned to the north Indian khattak style - and in particular the sarangi, a bowed instrument popular at the time but now viewed by some as an anachronism.

"You will hear some sounds that probably you are not familiar with," he added.

"We've introduced instruments that are appropriate to the time in India.

Difficult blend

All of the music in The Far Pavilions - showing at the Shaftsbury Theatre in London's West End - is original. Bhamra said that there were a number of musical pieces that blended British music with a traditional Indian sound.

"One of the challenges there has been is that Indian music comes from a quite improvised nature, whereas Western music is quite stiff and rigid," he added.

The sarangi is at the heart of the music for The Far Pavilions
In particular, he described the musical's prologue as a "battle" of East and West music - "you'll hear snare drums and brass battling with Indian tablas, sitars and drums."

Henderson said that getting the "blend" right had been very difficult.

"It's really the mixture that's new - that blend.

"It's been hard to get it, but somehow it's balanced out, and it's suddenly working."

Both composers worked on the songs with writer Stephen Clark, who adapted the book for the stage.

Clark said that collaboration was the key to a successful musical.

"It's almost impossible to get it right, because there are so many layers to it," he added.

"[This] is why I think there are so few great musicals."

Clark also stressed that he had made the musical as true to the original book as possible.

"Why would we go anywhere else - it's a great novel," he added.

"It was published in the same year as Midnight's Children, and it sold five time more copies. It's a dearly-loved book."

The idea for a musical of The Far Pavilions came from the wife of its producer, Michael Ward, who suggested the book after he was challenged by Andrew Lloyd Webber's chairman John Whitney to find the "next big commercial idea for a West End musical."

"When I started reading it I was gripped from the very first sentence," Ward said, adding that the novel "goes to the heart of all of us - it's about identity."

Comfortable audience

Meanwhile director Gale Edwards said that casting a 50% Indian cast had been difficult, because the musical required a very different type of performance than most Indian actors were used to.

"Because it's not Bollywood, because it's not that sort of style, the Bollywood performers weren't particularly adept at this kind of serious acting," she said.

Whistle Down The Wind
Gale Edwards previously directed the successful Whistle Down The Wind
"It's a book musical where you have to speak dialogue as well as sing. So casting was incredibly hard."

And musical critic John Kenrick, who created the Musicals101.com website, warned that while it is important to give a flavour of the country in which the musical is set, it is equally important not to be overly authentic.

"When Richard Rogers wrote The King And I, he did not try to recreate the precise sound of Siamese music," he said.

"He said 'if I tried to put Thai sounds on stage, there would have been chaos - people might have run screaming from the theatre.'

"He had to create something that Broadway audiences would be comfortable with, but had the flavour of the Far East."

He added that the composers of The Far Pavilions should invoke "something of the sound of the time, but they're going to have to do it in a way that appeals to audiences of today, that audiences of now will feel comfortable with."

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