Prom 42: Indian Voices 2 – Bollywood, Royal Albert Hall, London
Bollywood night has a few bumps
Tuesday 18 August 2009
Following a day of classical Indian music from sarangi to khal singers at the Royal Albert Hall, Shaan, a face of indie-pop and playback vocalist for Bollywood films, burst on to the stage to declare his intentions: "A lot of you must have gone through the day, listening to the various classical musicians. I'm here to wash it all off."
With those words – and the entry of a troupe of eight loose-hipped dancing girls in glittering blue and gold lamé - he whipped off his shades and launched into a three-hour performance of India's best-known "filmi" songs, which at times, had the full house duly roused.
The best he saved 'til last – a gloriously high-octane rendition of A R Rahman's "Jai Ho" (from the film Slumdog Millionaire, which has been adapted in English by the Pussycat Dolls) to which the audience bounced off their seats for a boogie – but there were a few bumps along the way.
Shaan's voice was undoubtedly melodious and nearly three hours later, had not faltered once. But the motley dance troupe, the Honey Dance Academy, some of whom looked like buxom Bond girls, did little to improve the show's overall polish. Many moved out of synch and threatened, at a few comical junctures, to turn the performance into a campy Peter Sellers' sketch.
Shaan's own witty conversational interludes did much to undercut this unintentional comedy – he joked about the exits being locked and his inability to reach a high note – but he admitted to nerves at the start and, indeed, it showed (he mistakenly addressed the audience as "Wembley" before embarrassingly correcting himself).
But half an hour into the show, he had found his stride, belting out some of Bollywood's most recognisable love songs: "This one is called 'My Dil Goes Mmmm'. This is called 'Kuch Kum', which means everything is a bit less than it should be." A hardcore fanbase whistled wildly while the band – the Groove – mixed up the sound by adding Latino and reggae beats.
A homage to the Western world's love of boybands, first with Blue's "One Love" in Hindi (then English) and then a song resembling the Backstreet Boys, ignited the interest of those in the mixed audience who may not have been able to hum along to the Hindi hits.
As the tempo rose through the show, graduating from the softer, slushier love songs to the adrenalin-fuelled dance tunes, Shaan pulled out all the stops, with a voice that carried the show, unaccompanied, bar a couple of duets with a female singer. In spite of his energy, the audience appeared to watch rather than join in. Perhaps it wasn't quite the right venue, perhaps it was the mix of children, grandparents and non-Hindi speakers.
Shaan did all he could to rouse more off their seats. "What's wrong with escapism and having a nice time?" he shouted out. By the end, many more were on their feet, enjoying the true, unapologetically escapist spirit of Bollywood.
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