Any time I have been to the Peacock Theatre in central London, it has been to see a show that requires endless lighting cues, loud, thumping music and intricate dance routines. The Merchants of Bollywood was just that, a vibrant musical-dance show with sparkling costumes and energetic dancing. The show had a musical tone to it which included lots of commercial dance moments set to classical Indian rhythms. The Merchants of Bollywood is based on a true story about Bollywood cinema and told through the eyes of the famous choreographer Vaibhavi Merchant.

© Merchants of Bollywood
© Merchants of Bollywood

The story begins in the Northern deserts of India. The main character Ayesha (Carol Furtado) and her grandfather Shantilal (Joy Fernandes) are the last two members of the Merchant dynasty, who have been guardians of the sacred dances of the Indian Temples. Ayesha is at a crossroads in her life. She struggles with making the decision to either be true to herself and follow her dream of becoming a famous Bollywood dancer and choreographer, or to honor her lineage and lead the life her grandfather wants for her, which is to become a classical Indian dancer. Rebellion is in the air as the story begins.

Act I was fast-paced, highly energetic and incredibly busy. The show was technologically savvy and the sets were large and in-your-face. The background housed a massive statue of Lord Shiva, which added to the atmosphere and was a great reminder of tradition, juxtaposing the more modern elements of the show. With over 30 costume changes, pretend Jeep vehicles rolling back and forth on stage and constant drumming or stomping, there was never a still moment. Rarely were there less than ten dancers on stage and the majority of the time I found myself lost in a trance watching the 20 dancers – 10 male and 10 female – moving in and out of their rows, shaking their bangles and contorting their torsos. The number of times those dancers changed their outfits was impressive. One needed a PhD to coordinate that feat. The costume designer, Faisal Sayed deserves to be applauded for the excellent wardrobe with the dancing and theme of the show.

© Merchants of Bollywood
© Merchants of Bollywood

The dance combinations were a fusion between intricate classical Indian dance hand- and footwork, combined with anything from street dance and hip-hop to cheer-leading, commercial and funk dancing. It was refreshing to see the approach Vaibhavi Merchant's choreography took, linking the two worlds. The choreography fit the theme of the show, telling the Bollywood cinema story coherently and in an intelligent manner, but there was an amateurish quality to it all. Some of the dancers were not sincere in their execution of the choreography, while others were lacking a certain level of technique. The show needed polishing – the attention to detail and the fine-tuning that a show of this caliber requires were not there. It was incredibly distracting to have some of the dancers lip-syncing to the songs – but only some of the time – while others not at all.

© Merchants of Bollywood
© Merchants of Bollywood

Overall, The Merchants of Bollywood was an exciting show which combined storytelling with the history of Bollywood. The energetic dancing, dazzling costumes and numerous bodies on stage as the backdrop to the story was entertaining. If you want to be moved by deep philosophy and pure technique, then this is not the show for you. If you are alright with a light-hearted spectacle that never stops, then The Merchants of Bollywood is a great way to share an evening out. 

***11