[FoRK] NYTimes.com Article: Bollywood on Broadway Courts South Asians

khare at alumni.caltech.edu khare at alumni.caltech.edu
Mon Apr 26 19:32:48 PDT 2004

The article below from NYTimes.com 
has been sent to you by khare at alumni.caltech.edu.

Next month, my wife will be seeing the NYC version on Saturday night and the UK version 24 hours later -- we'll let you know which we prefer then :-)


khare at alumni.caltech.edu

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Bollywood on Broadway Courts South Asians

April 26, 2004


When the producers of "Bombay Dreams," a new $14 million
musical opening on Thursday at the Broadway Theater,
decided to give members of the media a sneak peek at their
show late last year, they did not choose any of the usual
locales. They didn't choose a rehearsal hall or a dance
studio or even a theater. 

They chose a consulate. 

The event, on Dec. 18 at New India House on East 64th
Street, was just the first step in a concerted marketing
effort to help promote the show to one of its target
audiences: South Asians. 

Their logic is simple: "Bombay Dreams," after all, is
essentially a staged version of a Bollywood film, the
immensely popular kind of musical melodramas, produced in
Mumbai (as Bombay is now called), that draws huge audiences
from all across the Indian subcontinent. And the best
estimates say that there are more than 500,000 South Asians
living in New York, New Jersey and Connecticut. 

So, since December the producers of the show, working
closely with Sudhir Vaishnav, a successful Indian concert
promoter, have made a determined effort to get out the word
that for the first time ever on Broadway, a show speaks
directly to their culture. 

"Sooner or later it was bound to happen," said Mr.
Vaishnav, who was born in Mumbai but moved to New York in
1971. "India is an emerging power, whether it be in science
or informational technology or the rise of Indian music.
But that influence has never been represented on Broadway."

It will, of course, take far more than just South Asians to
carry the show and make a dent in that $14 million price
tag. Even in London, where "Bombay Dreams" is finishing a
two-year run in June and whose South Asian population is
much larger than New York's, the British producer Andrew
Lloyd Webber found that he needed to tap into a traditional
theatergoing crowd to keep the show running. 

So in the United States producers are quick to point out
that for all the Bollywood elements, the show is also a
big, glitzy musical with a bundle of hummable tunes, as
anyone who has heard the show's signature song, "Shakalaka
Baby," can attest. Major portions of the show's book have
been rewritten by Thomas Meehan (a recent Tony winner for
his work on "The Producers" and "Hairspray") to make the
show more understandable for American audiences. 

"We want ethnic diversity and want to honor the South Asian
community, but we also feel this is a big, fun musical,"
said Elizabeth Williams, who is the show's lead producer in
America with her business partner, Anita Waxman. The
producers' courting of the traditional Broadway audience is
evidenced in the show's promotional tag line: "Somewhere
you've never been before." 

Still, since the India House event, which was open only to
journalists from the Indian or South Asian press, the
producers have been diligently courting South Asians
through traditional channels (like direct mail) and some
less orthodox approaches. 

In addition to advertising in major media outlets,
producers have also placed ads on South Asian radio
stations like RBC Radio and cable television programs like
"AVS" (which stands for "Asian Variety Show." They have
promoted actively in South Asian enclaves like Jackson
Heights, Queens, and Jersey City, putting up window cards
in Indian restaurants and arranging dinner-and-a-musical
deals. They've also reached outside the city, courting
South Asian tour groups from Georgia to California. 

Part of the reason for the concerted push is that for many
South Asians, this is their first brush with American
theater. "For a sizable section of the community, this is
serving as their introduction to Broadway," said Prem
Panicker, a managing editor of India Abroad, a weekly
English-language newspaper. "More second-generation Indians
are open to new forms of enterainment, but for the first
generation, Broadway is not the norm and not really an

Indeed, Mr. Panicker said that after his paper recently ran
a lengthy feature on "Bombay Dreams," his office was
bombarded with questions from readers. "I'd say 8 of every
10 phone calls and e-mails was from people who had never
seen a Broadway play," he said. "We get calls saying: `Hey,
is there a dress code? Can I wear jeans? Is there an
etiquette?' " 

In addition to its Bollywood-inspired story line (i.e.,
poor boy meets rich girl and periodically breaks into
song), "Bombay" also has another potent sales draw in A. R.
Rahman, a 38-year-old Indian composer whose compositions
for Bollywood films have sold more than 40 million albums. 

Mr. Vaishnav, who promoted Mr. Rahman's United States tour
in 2000, said the market for Indian concerts and movies had
expanded rapidly as the population of South Asians in this
country - and their pocketbooks - had grown. 

"The second generation is coming up and I think its
commercial influence has come a long way," he said, citing
everything from the films of directors like Mira Nair
("Monsoon Wedding," "Salaam Bombay!"); the British hit
movie "Bend It Like Beckham"; and the popularity of bhangra
music, which blends Indian folk music with pop music
grooves. "And the media had grown too." 

True enough, in the United States there are at least a
dozen English-language newspapers and magazines covering
the lives of local communities of Indians, Bangladeshis,
Pakistanis and other South Asians, and most have given some
attention to "Bombay Dreams." 

"It's probably difficult to escape `Bombay Dreams' in the
Indian media right now," said Mr. Panicker, of India

The press that will matter most, of course, are the reviews
that will come out on Friday morning. Even before those
notices, however, many South Asians seem eager to see the
show, if the crowd for Saturday night's performance was any

One of those in attendance was Vasu Rao, a 31-year-old
software salesman and second-generation Indian-American
from Ann Arbor, Mich., who was seeing the show with his
wife, Neelu, and a friend. 

Mr. Rao saw "Bombay Dreams" in London and was curious to
see how it translated to an American crowd. "Generally the
British have a greater understanding" of Indian culture and
Bollywood, he said. "I don't know if there's really an
appeal for Americans." 

That said, Mr. Rao also said he felt some degree of pride
that the show had made it to Broadway at all. "Generally I
think people think of Indians as being doctors or in
software or in science," Mr. Rao said. "But it's nice to
see people coming out to experience the culture." 



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