[FoRK] NYTimes.com Article: Coloring by the Numbers:

khare at alumni.caltech.edu khare at alumni.caltech.edu
Fri Apr 30 19:06:02 PDT 2004

A Brightly Bland Bollywood 
Content-Type: text/plain; charset=US-ASCII 
MIME-Version: 1.0

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

Well, we'll just have to see it anyway :-)

Acting affirmatively,

khare at alumni.caltech.edu

/--------- E-mail Sponsored by Fox Searchlight ------------\


An official selection of the 2004 Sundance Film Festival, THE CLEARING
stars ROBERT REDFORD and HELEN MIRREN as Wayne and Eileen Hayes - a
husband and wife living the American Dream. Together they've raised two
children and struggled to build a successful business from the ground
up. But there have been sacrifices along the way. When Wayne is
kidnapped by an ordinary man, Arnold Mack (WILLEM DAFOE), and held for
ransom in a remote forest, the couple's world is turned inside out.
Watch the trailer at: http://www.foxsearchlight.com/theclearing/index_nyt.html


Coloring by the Numbers:
A Brightly Bland Bollywood

April 30, 2004


COLORS don't come any juicier than those that saturate
"Bombay Dreams," the $14 million musical about movie love
Bollywood-style, which opened last night at the Broadway
Theater. Scarcely a scene goes by that isn't splashed with
gorgeous heaping helpings of oranges, golds, greens,
purples, yellows and more shades of pink than even Estée
Lauder had names for. 

Yet such is the perverse spell cast by this friendly, flat
and finally unengaging tale of glamorous movie folk and
lovable untouchables that everything seems to melt into one
neutral blur before your eyes, like a monochromatic
symphony in the key of beige. Advertisements for the show
may tout it as a voyage to "somewhere you've never been
before." But even theatergoers who have never seen a sari
or eaten papadum are likely to find "Bombay Dreams" as
familiar as this morning's breakfast. It takes more than
color, evidently, to be colorful. 

In a Broadway season notable for draining the flavor out of
promisingly tasty musicals - from the antiseptic "Fiddler
on the Roof" to the sexless Astaire and Rogersesque romance
"Never Gonna Dance" - "Bombay Dreams" holds its own as an
expensive model of blandness. Produced in London by no less
a theatrical eminence than Andrew Lloyd Webber, the
composer whose swoony poperettas ruled Broadway in the
1980's, "Bombay Dreams" tries to translate with a wink the
formulas of Bollywood musical melodramas. But the effect is
of the wide-eyed, helpless stare of something trapped in a
listless limbo between tipsy spoof and sober sincerity.
That was more or less the verdict of many critics in London
when the show opened there two years ago, but "Bombay
Dreams" went on to become a fat, nose-thumbing hit. A
similarly defiant success in New York is not assured,
however, since London has a much larger and more culturally
conspicuous population of South Asian descent than New York

It was assumed that a good part of the audience for "Bombay
Dreams" in London would have fond and intimate knowledge of
the mass-produced singing films that inspired the show,
samples of which are currently on view in the Cinema India!
festival at the American Museum of the Moving Image in
Queens. Previous familiarity with this genre is not
essential to following the by-the-numbers plot of "Bombay
Dreams," which mixes mean-streets tragedy with fluffy,
feel-good fantasy. 

But to appreciate the show's wit, such as it is, requires
some awareness of its cinematic prototypes. Imagine the
perplexity of someone who has never seen a Busby Berkeley
movie watching the Broadway version of "42nd Street," or a
theatergoer unversed in the films of Bette Davis and Joan
Crawford trying to follow a show by a drag artist like
Charles Busch. When it comes to pastiche, it helps to be in
on the joke of what is being imitated. 

In bringing "Bombay Dreams" to the States, its creators
have retooled it in the hopes of making it more accessible
to Bollywood virgins. Meera Syal's original script, which
follows a young man's speedy rise from the lower depths to
the height of movie stardom, has had its plot streamlined
and its one-liners plumped up via the three-time
Tony-winning writer Thomas Meehan ("Annie," "The
Producers," "Hairspray"). Much of an involved criminal
subplot, with attendant acts of stylized violence, has been

The songs by A R Rahman, one of India's most prolific film
composers, are now performed by a 19-member orchestra,
nearly twice the size of that in London, and they have
seemingly been rearranged (by Paul Bogaev and Christopher
Nightingale) to please the ears of Americans accustomed to
Top 40 fare, sacrificing some of the beguiling intricacy
the music had in London. At the same time, Don Black's
lyrics have been rewritten (with the assistance of David
Yazbek of "The Full Monty") in the name of plot-advancing

At the center of that plot is Akaash (Manu Narayan), a
scrappy, able-bodied untouchable and movie-drunk fantasist,
who lives in the slums of Bombay with his wise, kind
grandmother, Shanti (Madhur Jaffrey - yes, she also writes
the cookbooks). Aided by a wise, kind eunuch named Sweetie
(Sriram Ganesan), he captures the attention of Madan
(Marvin L. Ishmael), a Bollywood producer; Priya (Anisha
Nagarajan), Madan's beautiful daughter, who is an
independent filmmaker with a social conscience; and the
vain, domineering Rani (Ayesha Dharker), the sweetheart of
Indian cinema. 

Soon Akaash is a star of the screen and of Rani's bed. But
in the meantime, he has turned his back on his humble
beginnings, at a moment when his old friends need his help
to keep their happy slum from being razed by developers. 

And the virtuous Priya, whom he really loves, is engaged to
the seemingly honorable lawyer Vikram (Deep Katdare). 

The complications arising from this nexus of relationships
allow the designers Mark Thompson (scenery and costumes)
and Hugh Vanstone (lighting) to whip up a succession of
lavishly hued set pieces, from a picturesque, homey garbage
heap that descends to the stage from above to a swirling
parade replete with illuminated elephants' heads. Along the
road to resolution, the characters trade wisecracks that
would seem worldly only to preadolescents, dance
aerobically and perform numbers ranging from syrupy ballads
("Love's Never Easy") to insistently rhythmic,
full-throttle production routines. 

None of this is painful to watch. Sometimes it is rather
pleasant. But it is never, ever compelling. Under the
direction of Steven Pimlott, with choregraphy by Anthony
Van Laast and Farah Khan, the ensemble members work
earnestly and tirelessly. But they have been steered into
an acting style common to performers in children's shows -
broad, jocular and irony-free. 

The lean, limber Mr. Narayan, the lovely Ms. Nagarajan and
the seriously sincere Mr. Ganesan share the virtue of being
peppy without being pushy. Mr. Narayan has a pleasant,
slightly strained voice that can't quite do justice to the
wavering, melancholy notes of the show's best ballad, "The
Journey Home." Ms. Jaffrey, the best-known cast member,
conveys a natural aristocratic elegance that adds an
incongruous touch of class to the slums of Bombay. 

The show's real star, however, is Ms. Dharker, the only
holdover from London among the leading players. Equipped
with dangerous curves and a blindingly self-satisfied
smile, Ms. Dharker's Rani exudes the deep superficiality
that makes good send-ups of ego-driven stars so satisfying.

As Rani happily and viciously hogs the spotlight in the
Bollywood production numbers, Ms. Dharker achieves what the
rest of the production aspires to but rarely realizes: a
performance that transmits the core appeal of what's being
parodied, a style that embraces even as it skewers. 

In "Shakalaka Baby," the deliriously kitschy film-set
routine led by Ms. Dharker, the show takes on the glow of
divine madness you've been waiting for all along. And when
that already talked-about fountain erupts into
cast-drenching geysers (shooting even higher than the one
in London!), "Bombay Dreams" briefly reaches the dizzy,
surreal heights you associate with the movies that inspired

That's in the first act. Only one number afterward -
another fairly straightforward and classically Bollywood
routine, set at the Indian Film Awards - comes close to
creating the same magic. 

For a Broadway show set in Bombay that has arrived by way
of London, this musical winds up suggesting another
provenance altogether: Las Vegas, land of the flashy floor
show and simulacra of foreign metropolises, where live
entertainment exists mostly as lavish background noise. 


Music by A R Rahman; lyrics by Don Black;
book by Meera Syal and Thomas Meehan; based on an idea by
Shekhar Kapur and Andrew Lloyd Webber; directed by Steven
Pimlott; lighting by Hugh Vanstone; sound by Mick Potter;
sets and costumes by Mark Thompson; choreography by Anthony
Van Laast and Farah Khan. Music director/dance music
arranger, James Abbott; original additional music
arrangements by Christopher Nightingale; music coordinator,
Michael Keller; music supervision, arrangements and
orchestrations by Paul Bogaev; production manager, Peter
Fulbright; production stage manager, Bonnie L. Becker;
Waxman Williams Entertainment and TGA Entertainment, in
association with Denise Rich and Ralph Williams; Scott
Prisand and Danny Seraphine; H. Thau/M. Cooper/Ad Prods.;
and Independent Presenters Network present Andrew Lloyd
Webber's production of Mr. Rahman's musical. At the
Broadway Theater, 1681 Broadway, at 53rd Street. 

WITH: Manu Narayan (Akaash), Anisha Nagarajan (Priya),
Madhur Jaffrey (Shanti), Ayesha Dharker (Rani), Sriram
Ganesan (Sweetie), Marvin L. Ishmael (Madan), Deep Katdare



Get Home Delivery of The New York Times Newspaper. Imagine
reading The New York Times any time & anywhere you like!
Leisurely catch up on events & expand your horizons. Enjoy
now for 50% off Home Delivery! Click here:


For information on advertising in e-mail newsletters 
or other creative advertising opportunities with The 
New York Times on the Web, please contact
onlinesales at nytimes.com or visit our online media 
kit at http://www.nytimes.com/adinfo

For general information about NYTimes.com, write to 
help at nytimes.com.  

Copyright 2004 The New York Times Company

More information about the FoRK mailing list