DIRECTOR: Toby Gough

CHOREOGRAPHER: Vaibhavi Merchant

CLASSIFICATION: Bollywood stage drama/musical

RUNNING TIME: 135 minutes

RATING: 4 stars (out of 5)

Latoya Newman

AN early Diwali treat awaits families with The Merchants of Bollywood stage musical being screened at select Ster-Kinekor cinemas for this weekend only.

The cinema group is screening the musical exclusively ahead of the Hindu festive period next week.

A nostalgic trip though Bollywood unfolds through drama, music and dance in The Merchants of Bollywood.

The journey takes place through a story within a story.

Writter/director Toby Gough guides the audience on this passage through time with the story of the popular Merchant family.

The story is actually loosely based on highly respected Indian choreographers Hiralalji Merchant and his granddaughter Vaibhavi.

This clan, from Rajasthan in India, uphold the ancient traditions of Kathak dance – the dance of the Gods.

Guru Shantilal Merchant (Arif Zakaria) is the last in his family’s line of leaders in the tradition of Kathak. He is ill and will die soon.

After a snowballing career choreographing in Bollywood during the industry’s golden era Shantilal becomes disillusioned when the industry is tainted by commercialism, sexuality and western trends.

He heads back to rural Rajasthan and starts his own dance school, teaching traditional dance forms.

While his passion for Bollywood has faded, his granddaughter Ayesha (Carol Furtado) dreams of making her own name in the industry – to her grandfather’s discontent.

She defies his warnings and sets off to Bollywood, determined to see her own name in lights. After achieving her goals the prodigal granddaughter soon finds herself back at home after realising that her grandfather’s warning, although harsh, was not far off the mark.

But will he accept her back into the family?

The success of The Merchants of Bollywood lies in three key areas.

One – the storyline is multi-faceted tugging at the heartstrings, with the Merchants’ family story and Ayesha’s journey to self discovery. Two – the parallel nostalgic trip through Bollywood past and present is very interesting and highly entertaining. And three – and excellent cast of actors and dancers ensures a highly energetic and enjoyable delivery of this story.

The entire cast deserve kudos for their performance and for keeping up with Vaibhavi Merchant’s fast-paced choreography, which is truly amazing.

If you are going to do any production based on Bollywood, you’d need to ensure that a well-cast group of performers are complemented by the stage and costume design. And in this case Elizabeth Berry (set); and Falguni Thakore and Bipin (costumes) deserve a pat on the back for their achievements.

Among other aspects, Berry’s Temple of Shiva design is amazing and her use of screens and lighting effects (depicting flames) really brought it to life.

The Thakore and Bipin costumes were a perfect fit for every scene, capturing traditional and modern Bolly well.

I particularly enjoyed the Rajasthan traditional wear which were bright and colourful, perfectly representing an area in India famed for its colourful culture.

To this extent the best scene – for costume and choreography – has to be the wedding of Ayesha and childhood sweetheart, Uday (Dipender Singh) .

I’d say my personal second best highlight are the flashback scenes to Bollywood of the 1970s – an industry in its prime.

In these scenes the musical really gets the crowd going with songs from hit movies that starred the greats of Bolly with the likes of Amitabh Bachchan and Rishi Kapoor.

All these different facets considered, the entire production is pulled together through one underlying message: “…to discover where you are going, you must know where you come from…”

A definite must-see this weekend, not only ahead of Diwali, but also for any lover of good theatre. The Merchants of Bollywood runs with limited shows on on November 9, 10 and 11. It will be screened at The Zone and Riversquare in Joburg, Centurion in Pretoria, Gateway in KZN and N1 City in Cape Town.

For more information or to book your seats, visit or call its ticketline on 082 16789.

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