Anyone who knows me remotely well knows that I love all things India-related: Indian food, my Indian friends, yoga, ashrams, Hindu Gods like Ganesh and Shiva, Aummmm-ing, and most of all—Bollywood.
A few years ago, after I had stopped performing professionally, I went back to dance class. The type of dance I chose to take was Bollywood Dance—a fusion of Hip-Hop, Disco and Classical Indian Dance with a little Musical Theatre thrown into the mix. And the love I have developed for this form of dance and genre of film over these past three years has had an interesting effect on me as a theatre artist. Discovering Bollywood allowed me to remember why I fell in love with musicals when I was a kid.
While the feminist and the critical thinker in me is troubled by many of the male and female stereotypes found in Bollywood films, the unruly and unwieldy plots, the multiple false endings, the melodrama, and the extremely long length (usually 3 ½ - 4 ½ hours); the dreamer and idealist in me can’t help but be drawn into the mystical and epic aspects of these films. I love the spectacular production numbers and the beautiful people and scenery. I love that that the men cry, dance incredibly well and sword fight (sometimes all in the same film). I love that in one sitting you can see weddings, funerals, births, and deaths, and soul mates can find and lose each other, fates can be determined and karma can be restored.
Musical theatre today has become much more sophisticated, but it’s still the closest thing we’ve got to Bollywood. The popular musical is one of the few ways large groups of people can come together and explore the experience of life through storytelling, song and dance. That’s exactly what Bollywood does, so I understand why it’s such a popular industry. It’s up to us writers, composers and producers here in the states, to find, create and develop material that will explore epic stories and universal themes in the magical way Bollywood does, minus the stereotypes and unruly dramatic structures... and preferably in under two hours (not counting intermission).
I know what my next show after Helen is going to be about. And since Robby and I have already written a children’s Bollywood musical, The Elephant Prince, we’ve got Ganesh on our side.
So, suspend your disbelief and critical mind for just a moment and let Dhoom Taana, one of my favorite Bollywood production numbers, inspire you. And for a laugh, watch the Times Square Flash Mob version I did last summer to promote Bollywood Hero. I’m the skinny white girl in the yellow dress.
You never know—you, too, might become a Shiva-Believa.
The Elephant Prince, Brooklyn Childrens Theatre 2008
Photo by Al Pereira