Beyond Bollywood continues at the London Palladium until 27 June.
Star rating: 3 stars ★ ★ ★
The ‘dream team’ has certainly been assembled for Beyond Bollywood with Rajeev Goswami as a creative triple threat (director, writer and choreographer), lyrics by Irfan Siddiqui and original score composed by Salim-Sulaiman. This gathering of experienced and successful Bollywood figures means expectations are high, but not all are met during the evening.
What is striking as Beyond Bollywood begins is the dominant sense of nostalgia. The serene and ethereal Jaswinder (Pooja Pant) introduces a traditional Kathak dance as well as the musicians who all proceed to play a solo. This is rather an old-fashioned concept but a way of acknowledging a rich history. The introduction, though, is not a true reflection of the fast-paced modern dance fusions that are performed throughout the production.
The main protagonist is Shaily Shergill (Ana Ilmi), the daughter of the late Jaswinder, who wants to save her mother’s beloved theatre in Germany. This means Shaily, who has inherited her mother’s dance talent, must travel to the homeland of India to get inspiration (a recurring plot device). Ilmi is a very strong dancer and a commanding presence who engages the audience well with her versatility as a performer, whether it is with her street style to ‘Jai Ho’ or the sensual traditional Kalbelia with her love interest Raghav (Mohit Mathur).
The static, screened sets of buildings and palaces allow the 42-strong cast to take centre stage, with the lavish numbers that Goswami has skilfully choreographed. The mix of miming to backing tracks and live singing is a shame. More live vocals would be welcome, but with such high-energy dance routines this is not perhaps possible from the main leads.
At times the weakest link is the male supporting cast who often fall short of the mark with their mix of slapstick and pop culture references. The downtrodden assistant Ballu (Sudeep Mohak) provides hit and miss comedic relief. This contrasts with the strong performance from Mathur as the scheming but soft-centred choreographer, who comes alive when he dances with spellbinding ease. While his character development is not entirely plausible, he is a revelations as a strong and expressive dancer.
A notable highlight is a dance routine by seven of the male dancers in hotpants and heels to ‘It’s Raining Men’, a rather random but great reference to western-Bollywood fusion. It is a real hit with the audience and noticeably with the performers. This sense of striking a chord with the crowd is felt after the interval, when a couple of the dancers are performing on the Indian drums in the aisle. Audience members join them momentarily, trying to copy their choreography, which is heartily encouraged.
Admittedly, the acting is often stilted and contrived, but the spectacular choreography and incredible execution is something to be commended. What Beyond Bollywood lacks in polish, it makes up for with raw energy and the inclusion of so many mesmerising and intricate Indian dance genres.