"Bombay Dreams" is not for those who come bearing expectations of complex characters, a serious plot and deep messages, says producer Nick Manos.
"This is an old-time American musical set in Bollywood. Its themes and ideas are those you would have seen in the '30s and '40s. It's an evening of fast-paced fun, catchy songs -- and a fountain onstage," Manos says.
Manos is the managing director of Theater of the Stars in Atlanta, where "Bombay Dreams" was created as a co-production of the Independent Producer's Network, which includes Pittsburgh Civic Light Opera.
A musical created by Andrew Lloyd Webber and the prolific Indian composer A.R. Rahman, "Bombay Dreams" opened in London in 2002 and had a yearlong Broadway run that began in April 2004.
Set in Bombay, India, the musical blends elements of Indian song and dance with more familiar American musical theater traditions. Think of it as Andrew Lloyd Webber's "Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat" meets the music of Ravi Shankar, Manos says. The show arrives in Pittsburgh on Tuesday.
Along with the big, splashy production numbers that surround it, the story of "Bombay Dreams" might have been lifted right out of movie musicals such as "42nd Street" or "Singin' in the Rain."
Akash, a young man from one of Bombay's poorest neighborhoods, dreams of becoming a movie star. When he unexpectedly meets Priya, the movie-star daughter of one of Bollywood's most prominent film directors, he's catapulted into the world of glamor, romance, wealth and fame that he dreamed of. He also finds himself at the apex of a love triangle that involves Akash, the beautiful Priya and Vikram, her lawyer boyfriend.
But realizing that dream might destroy his friendships, family ties and cultural links.
Filled with colorful Indian saris and the exotic, often hypnotic cadences of Indian music, "Bombay Dreams" is set within the Bombay-based Indian film industry informally referred to as Bollywood.
Bollywood is a term many use to identify the widely popular style of Indian movie making that incorporates colorful and lively song-and-dance numbers within a highly charged storyline enhanced by spectacle.
"People will flock (to these movies) because they know they are going to get a piece of what they want to see -- romance, adventure, exotic locales," says Deep Katdare, who appears in "Bombay Dreams" as Vikram.
The musical "Bombay Dreams" fuses elements of Eastern and Western art, Katdare says. "There are elements of the Broadway musical ... the songs written by Don Black sound like songs you would get from that -- the belt song, an ensemble piece that's quirky and funny. At the same time, the songs with Hindi lyrics and the dances associated with them are unique. ... The audience leaves humming tunes or mouthing out lyrics in Hindi to 'Chaiyya Chaiyya'and 'Shakalaka Baby.'"
In adapting "Bombay Dreams" for the national tour, Manos knew he couldn't afford to reproduce the double revolving turntable or the 10,000-pound Bombay slum set that was featured in the London production.
"It's now set on a Bollywood sound stage and (plays with the question) is this real life or are we making a movie?" Manos says.
Manos also slimmed down the running time from its two hours and 40 minutes on Broadway to a more audience-friendly and efficient two hours and 10 minutes. That's far shorter than the average Bollywood film, which runs upward of three to three and one half hours and features extended dance scenes. "It's hard to do a nine-minute dance number onstage," Manos says.
As he streamlined the production, there were some things Manos insisted on retaining.
"I wouldn't have done it without the drums onstage or the fountain effect," he says.
The orchestra includes traditional Indian musical instruments necessary to accurately perform A.R. Rahman's score.
Although not well known in the United States, Rahman has composed the musical scores for more than 75 movies, including "Lagaan: Once Upon a Time in India," a 2002 nominee for the Academy Award for best foreign-language film. Rahman also wrote the score for the stage musical "The Lord of the Rings" that opened this spring in Toronto.
The musicians appear onstage on two raised platforms.
Manos knows that water is a frequent, almost essential, element in Bollywood films. So retaining the fountain scene from the original production also was essential.
"I"m not sure where (the use of water) started, but it's the idea of purity, of cleansing from the problems you have," Manos says before adding: "You can't do Bollywood without wet saris."
According to Neepa Majumdar, who teaches a course on Indian film at the University of Pittsburgh, the term Bollywood is a recent media invention.
"It is highly misleading as a term of description unless it refers specifically to post-1990s films produced in Bombay," Majumdar says.
When most fans use the term, they're thinking about those Indian films that incorporate big, splashy song-and-dance numbers, melodramatic plots, exotic locations, flashy costumes and support of traditional Indian and family values, and attract huge audiences in India as well as in countries with large Indian populations such as the United States, Canada, Britain and Australia.
They also can become an addictive guilty pleasure.
Below is a list of Bollywood-style films to get you started. To learn more about popular Indian films, including an annotated list of films for the newly interested, check out www.uiowa.edu/~incinema/Top%20Ten.htm
A blend East and West, these recent films, available on DVD, incorporate elements of Indian and Hollywood-style filmmaking and can serve as an introduction to the genre:
"Bend It Like Beckham"
(2002) Jess wants to play soccer like British soccer idol David Beckham. Her parents would be a whole lot happier if she'd follow her sister's example and become a proper, traditional Indian woman. In English or Hindi.
"Bride and Prejudice"
(2004) Jane Austen fans will enjoy watching her classic "Pride and Prejudice" reworked with an Indian accent. The Bakshi family celebrates the arrival of the British-born Mr. Bralaj, who's bound to be the perfect partner for one of the family's four unmarried daughters. In English or Hindi.
"Bombay Dreams" actor Deep Katar recommends the following films, available on DVD:
(1998) The story of Amar, a reporter for All-India Radio who meets -- but is rejected by -- the girl of his dreams. He returns home to Delhi and consents to a family-arranged marriage. Then the woman who rejected him unexpectedly reappears, and Amar learns she is a suicide bomber one day away from completing her mission. English subtitles.
(2002) A Bollywood blockbuster about a pair of star-crossed lovers whose bond is broken in a moment of weakness. English subtitles.
(2000) Stars and is directed by Raj Kapoor. Features a love triangle between childhood friends -- Sunder, Gopal and Radha. Gopal and Radha have long loved each other. Then Sunder asks Radha's parents if he can marry her, but they turn him down. Rejected, he joins the army and soon after is reported as dead. Gopal and Radha decide to marry, then Sunder returns, forcing Gopal to choose between his friend Sunder and his fiancee Radha. English subtitles.
Popular Bollywood-style films
(2001) Five different stories intersect as an extended Indian family converges on New Delhi for a wedding. Romances blossom, long-held secrets are revealed, and everyone dances. In English or Hindi.
(2001) Indian epic set in 1890s India. When villagers complain about a newly imposed land tax, the British commander challenges them to a cricket match. If they win, they'll get a three-year exemption on paying the tax. If they lose, he will triple the tax. A 2002 Academy Award nominee for best foreign-language film. In Hindi, or in English with the title "Land Tax."
(2000) Wealthy traveling businessman falls for small-town singer. After he returns to the city, a successful composer transforms her into a big star at the apex of a love triangle. The first Hindi movie to appear on the top 20 box-office list in the United States. In Hindi.
(2000) A documentary about four ethnically South Asian Canadian-born actors who travel to India with aspirations of becoming Bollywood stars. In English.
"Honey Kalaria's Bollywood Workout"
(2003) An aerobic exercise video based on the dance moves of Bollywood and Bhangra dance routines. Segments include an introduction to hand and foot movements, a warm-up, two workouts, a cool-down and an advanced dance. In English.
(2002) This satire of the conventions of Indian movie musicals finds a young man in love with a Canadian pop star engaged in a conflict with his traditional Indian family. English subtitles.