After weeks of expectation, Rajeev Goswami’s show Beyond Bollywood has finally arrived to the London West End. With a group of 45 dancers, technicians and musicians brought all the way from India, the show promises to be an explosion of Indian culture onstage.
The result, though, is mixed. But let’s start with the plot. The show follows the steps of Shaily, an Indian girl who leaves Munich and travels to India to discover the real culture of her home country and fulfill her late mother’s dream. The story is quite simple, too simple actually. It is obvious that the makers of the show focused on the music and the dance numbers, which on the other side are very accomplished, but the combination turns out to be rather unbalanced. A more elaborated script would have offered a better platform for the dance performances.
For a show that pretends to show a different side of Indian culture other than Bollywood (in case the title was not clear enough), it is curious that it relies so much on Bollywood dance numbers, mostly during the first part. There is time for some of the most famous Bollywood songs, such as Sheila Ki Jawani and Baby Doll, without forgetting The Pussycat Doll’s version of the over-exploited Jai Ho. It is during the second part, when Shaily and her friends embark on their journey across India that the audience has the opportunity to see some of the most beautifully choreographed performances, which leads to the climax in a explosion of dancers onstage. The final number is vibrant and spectacular, but it is not enough to leave the spectator with the feeling of having seen a great show.
Another downside of the show is the set, or the lack of it. The production relies on a system of big screens that display digitised images of some Indian scenes and landmarks. The idea, that in theory could seem original, turns out to be too simplistic compared to the complexity of other elements in the show, and specially cold and sterile during the scenes with only three or four actors.
Beyond Bollywood is a praiseworthy attempt to bring the richness of Indian culture into the internationally renowned London West End. The music, composed by duo Salim-Sulaiman, with lyrics by Irfan Siddiqui, is beautiful and charming. The elaborate choreography and lavish costumes are vibrant and stunning. But the weak elements in the show are so significant that it cannot be a fully satisfactory experience.