Let’s face it — Bollywood extravaganzas have become as popular as Hollywood musicals once were, and names like Priyanka Chopra and Hrithik Roshan are only getting popular.
“Bollywood incorporates everything! It has salsa in it, it has basic classical Indian, it’s got techno, pop and hip-hop. Anything you want, it’s probably in there,” young American girl.
Then there are the fantasy and romance of Bollywood movies, with scads of colorful costumes, dizzying soundtracks and a subdued sensuality that makes you feel you witnessed an explicit sex scene, even when the lovers might never actually even kiss.
But how are these movies made? Who writes the songs for the hero and heroine, stages the choreography for the huge dance scenes and writes the plot with its inevitable happy ending?
“Taj Express,” a Bollywood musical spectacular that comes to the Zoellner Arts Center in Bethlehem, is a wonderfully starry-eyed, family-friendly glimpse into the behind-the-scenes making of a Bollywood film.
But in true Bollywood fashion, the plot, no matter how loosely based, is not really the point. It’s the delicious hybrid mixing of classical Indian dance forms with Western cultural clues, the over-the-top choreography, the mesmerizing rhythms, spectacular lighting and elaborate costumes that really count.
About the Musical
Direct from Mumbai, ground zero for the Hindi film industry, the cast of “Taj Express” includes nearly 30 actors, dancers and musicians, who will swirl through more than 2,000 sparkling costumes and 1,500 pieces of jewelry in the nearly two-hour show.
This is the real deal, produced, directed and choreographed by Vaibhavi and Shruti Merchant, who have been in the Bollywood film industry for decades.
“Music plays an integral role in the show, since the story is about a struggling composer who is composing the music for a new Bollywood movie. In his journey to find the music for the film, the characters come to life and the audience sees the story unfold through Shankar’s imagination.”
The show takes the audience into the creative world of Shankar, a struggling musical genius who must write all the songs for the hero and the heroine, the big dance numbers, the fight scenes, the folk rituals and the inevitable happy ending.
Taj Express took more than a year and half to produce. The costumes are created, designed and hand-embroidered just for the production, and shipped from India. The show features a high-energy electronic soundtrack along with musicians performing on classical and modern Indian instruments.
Since the inception of MTV in the 1980s, Bollywood dancing has been heavily influenced by Western dance styles, and incorporates elements from Broadway, hip-hop, disco and more. “Taj Express” not only showcases the top chart-busters of Bollywood, but also incorporates folk and traditional Indian music, along with Western style.
Also Read: Learn How to Bollywood Dance…for Dummies.
You can bet the dancing will be spectacular. Vaibhavi Merchant is the granddaughter of Shri B. Hiralal, a major force in the history of Indian choreography, especially the Jaipur style of northern India. Early Bollywood films made much use of Bharatanatyam, an ancient dance form from South India, known for its grace, purity, tenderness and sculpturesque poses. “Taj Express” expands on that, showcasing a colorful variety of dance forms from all across the country.
Watch: Aaja Nachle Song | Madhuri Dixit. Choreographed by Vaibhavi Merchant
“Dances include Mohiniattam and Kalaripayattu, a martial arts dance form, both from the state of Kerala in the south, Kuthu dancing from Tamil Nadu, and Garba from the state of Gujarat, on India’s west coast,” Dhawan says. “We also have Bollywood numbers and Western dance forms like hip-hop, urban, street, Latin American salsa and contemporary dancing.”
The dialogue in the show is in English, while the songs are mostly in Hindi, Gujarati and Punjabi. Even these are influenced by Western culture, with sound dynamics that are fascinating to everyone. “Music is a universal language. From India our music will touch everyone’s soul irrespective of language barriers,” Dhawan says.
Taj Express gives the audience the experience of not just watching, but participating in a Bollywood production. Once the audiences leave the theater they will feel like they have been on a cultural and musical journey across India. They might want to go and buy a ticket to visit India straightaway.