New musical charts the rise of Bollywood cinema

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The Independent Culture

The Merchants of Bollywood, a musical unveiled yesterday by promoter Harvey Goldsmith, has been billed as the first "authentic" Bollywood show to be launched for UK audiences.

Using an entirely Indian cast comprising the cream of dancers on the Bollywood film circuit, the show hopes to fuel the growing appetite for Indian cinema among non-Asian "Bollyphiles". It will tour Britain from October, showing at the Alexandra Theatre in Birmingham until December, when it will move toLondon's Hammersmith Apollo, as well as performances in Zurich and Berlin.

Goldsmith, who last year helped to promote the Live8 event in Hyde Park, said he was "bewitched" by the show, which is originally an Australian production. "I was taken to see it by a friend in Australia where it was a huge success and I fell in love with it on the spot," he said.

He hoped to attract the growing "mainstream" fan base .

"In the first week of the show [in Australia] it was more of a predominantly Asian audience. By the time I went in the second week the audience was 65 per cent white Australians and 35 per cent Asia. For the UK, I am hoping the audience will be a complete cross-section, from Asians who are fans of all the Bollywood films because they know them, as well as fans of dance, fans of theatre, people who have travelled to India and have an interest in the country," he said. Written and directed by Toby Gough, the show is choreographed by India's Vaibhavi Merchant, whose early life is the inspiration for the musical's lead character, Ayesha Merchant.

"Bollywood has become a huge industry, not just for Asians, but for everyone. Anyone with even a remote interest in Asian culture will know about Bollywood, but may not have experienced it in all its glory," said Ms Merchant.

The plot revolves around Ayesha's clash with Shantilal, her grandfather, and is set to some of the most memorable songs in Bollywood history.

While Shantilal was a former choreographer in the golden era of Indian cinema, he left when he saw the industry growing too commercial and began his own dance school in Rajasthan. But Ayesha left home against his wishes to become the reigning queen of modern Bollywood choreography.

Arif Zakaria, who plays the male lead, said the show would take audiences on a journey of Bollywood's growth. "People will be able to see how it evolved from the black-and-white era to the contemporary, heart-stopping films produced now," he said.