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The Merchants of Bollywood Brings a Sold Out Audience to its Feet

Photo Credit: Staller Center

Packed with original music and over 1,000 sparkling costumes, The Merchants of Bollywood arrived at the Staller Center on Oct. 30, ready to give a pop-culture infused show to the sold out audience.

Directed by Tony Gough, Merchants of Bollywood is based on the true-life tale of the show’s choreographer, Vaibhavi Bhavi Merchant, and her Bollywood success. The show also displays the dynasty of filmmakers and choreographers that began with Merchant’s grandfather.

The history of the Bollywood successes is showcased by dance number after dance number filled with black lights, bedazzled outfits and boisterous song.

The tale, as told by a comically mustached narrator, begins with Ayesha Merchant, played by Carol Furtado, denouncing her allegiance to family tradition and her grandfather, Chander Khannah. Ayesha runs away to try and make it big in Mumbai. Cut to a few years down the road, Ayesha has found mild success as a choreographer in Bollywood remakes of Hollywood films.

In the story, her director, Tony Bakshi, played by Satwinder Sing Jaspal, is content to continue riding on the success of films already made in the United States, but Ayesha has dreams of a Bollywood that shares the stories of India’s 5,000 years of history: a Bollywood reminiscent of her grandfather’s era.

When Bakshi belittles her aspirations and fires her from the film, Ayesha returns home to Rajasthan and attempts to mend ties with her grandfather and pursue a relationship with a lover she left behind. Here she is again able to dance for pleasure, instead of trying to forge her way into the Bollywood scene.

The dance numbers are mesmerizing, ranging from loud pieces with literal bells and whistles, to the more subdued lyrical pieces. In addition to the authentic classical Indian dances, The Merchants of Bollywood also incorporates western dance moves such as hip-hop, acrobatics and jazz.  In fact, the whole musical is dotted with American pop- cultural references: sparkly Elvis costumes, Bollywood remakes of Titanic, as well as John Travolta and the disco craze.

With the eye-catching costumes and dazzling dance moves, Merchants of Bollywood creates a sense of excitement by inviting crowd participation and making the performance feel like a story played out in real time. During many of the dance sequences, the dancers asked the audience to clap along or engage in call-and-response sequences. By the end, many people were dancing in their seats.

Dozens of costume changes and song transitions later, the cast takes its bow, but the show is far from over.  As the applause dies down, shouts of “Do you want more?” ring from the stage. The lights switch back on to show not one, but two encores: a reprise of Ayesha’s award-winning piece “It’s the Time to Disco,” and a dance tutorial to “Jai Ho.” By the end of the performance the crowd was on its feet and dancing in the aisles.

The dancing is captivating. The music is in your face. The storyline is dramatic. The acting is over the top. But would you expect anything else from Bollywood?

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