I’m always surprised by the fact that so many Americans don’t know anything about Bollywood. Because it is so good. The Indian films are produced in Mumbai (formerly Bombay) and feature lavish sets, detailed costumes, beautiful leading men and ladies, lushly scored music and dance numbers and always, always have very romantic love stories. Basically Bollywood movies are American soap operas with Indian dress and singing.
Perhaps because of the English speaking world’s relative unfamiliarity with Bollywood movies, musical theater superstar Andrew Lloyd Webber (of Cats and Phantom of the Opera Fame) produced a musical called Bombay Dreams in 2002. A.R. Rahman, the composer who scored the music for mega-hit Slumdog Millionaire, wrote the music for the musical. Bombay Dreams opened on London’s West End in 2002 and then went to Broadway in 2004. The show toured the United States beginning in 2006.
The show tells the story of Akaash, a poor man from Bombay who wants to get his big break in Bollywood movies. Akaash’s slum is about to be demolished when a lawyer and his fiancee, Priya, the daughter of a famous Bollywood director, step in and stop the destruction. Akaash falls for Priya both because she is beautiful but also because she can help him achieve his dream of stardom.
Priya takes over the entertainment for the Miss India Pageant where Aakash meets a Bollywood actress named Rani, who asks Aakash to be the male lead in her new Bollywood movie. As fame takes over his life, Aakash forgets about his friends and family back home, but makes a pledge to them that he will come back and pay enough money to keep the slum intact.
The plot has been done plenty of times before, but that’s the point. Bollywood movies almost always have simple plots that allow for ample time for the huge dance numbers. The Broadway show pokes fun at this, adding to quite a bit of the funny parts of the show.
The show has huge dance numbers, lavish sets and beautiful costumes, but was not any kind of major hit when it came to the United States. It opened in 2004 and closed in 2005 after 284 performances. Critics said the show wasn’t smart or polished; that it was good but not good enough to trample better shows. They said that the dancers were amazing, that the singing was good and the costumes were amazing, but the story is too lightweight to raise the show to anything more than a bit above average.
However, Hollywood thinks that this Bollywood musical is ready for star treatment. Screenwriter Sabrina Dhawan (who wrote the screenplay for the hugely popular Monsoon Wedding) will write the film’s script. Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Really Useful Group and Marquee Picture, a company that exclusively transfers musicals to the big screen, will produce the movie. It will begin filming in India next year.
“Chaiyya, Chaiyya” is one of the show’s show-stopping numbers, directly culled from a Bollywood hit. Take a look before you see the movie: