(Feb 2, 2011)
Bombay Dreams leaves one wondering why the fantasy couldnâ€™t have been adapted and spun for Karachi or Lahore?
It so happened that I ended up at the Arts Council watching Shah Sharabeelâ€™s version of Bombay Dreams in Karachi the very same evening that Islamabad Fashion Week jumpstarted at the other end of the country. Itâ€™s the first fashion week in Pakistan that I missed and incidentally it was also the first Shah Sharabeel musical I was witnessing. Between fashion and musicals, youâ€™d think this country was being invaded by liberals and not conservatives. Youâ€™d think, in the words of Sweetie the eunuch, that this was all so very â€œsexciting!â€
Anyway, without going into a detailed review of the production â€“ leaving that to drama critics â€“ I had some personal observations that compelled me to borrow a pen and scratch out notes on the back of the Bombay Dreams flyer, despite repeatedly reminding myself that I was out to enjoy the evening and not work. Some habits die hard, if ever.
The 150 minutes spent in the auditorium were phenomenal; much more entertaining than any fashion show of this duration has ever been (except for the HDIL Couture Week in Bombay which itself is a sartorial reincarnation of Bombay Dreams!). The colours were bright and vivid, the energy pulsating through the mesh of song and dance that reverberated on the limited space of a stage. It was spectacular, as expected, and worth every second spent amidst bright disco lights and confetti. My sincere advice to all Bollywood buffs is to take their families to the theatre instead of the cinema this month. Between suffering the harsh realities of the Jessicas and scruffy dhobiâ€™s of Indiaâ€™s slums Iâ€™d rather be in a hall experiencing the magic of its fantasy.
That said, and there is always a â€˜butâ€™, Sharabeelâ€™s Bollywood Dreams were bright yet bittersweet. Correct me if Iâ€™m wrong but donâ€™t we have enough slums, railway colonies, paan-waalas, eunuchs, maila teenagers, hitmen and roadside characters/Casanovas in Lahore or Karachi to have inspired the director to adapt the production to suit Pakistan? Iâ€™ll answer that myself: we do.
In a moment of authority, when Sharabeel was using his charms to rearrange seating to accommodate the spate of celebrities who had walked in to a full house, he kept referring to the fact that we were Pakistanis and had to uphold our traditions. He urged youngsters to make room for elders. He evoked a sense of camaraderie, brotherhood and unity with as much enthusiasm as it sounds. Boy was he charged and he managed to infiltrate that feeling amongst the audience until someone called out that he was a Canadian citizen (true?)â€¦paying homage to a city in India (true). His case flew out the window with that.
When Andrew Lloyd Weber decided to make a stage production out of Meera Syalâ€™s book of the same title, he was appealing to the thousands if not millions of Indians and south Asians settled in the United Kingdom. It was a very bankable idea, just as much so for Sharabeel who recreated the musical in Pakistan replete with A.R Rehmanâ€™s original score. Letâ€™s not even get into the nitty gritty of legalities; we know that everyone who loves and watches Indian films (and who doesnâ€™t?) will be intrigued to watch them reinvented for local stage. It just would have been so much more appreciable had a little more effort been put into localizing it completely.
Not that many people were complaining. Entertainment is so scarce in Pakistan that we accept and make do with whatever comes our way. We are a nation of people that hang around at weddings just to get a feel of some jubilation. We consider â€˜eating outâ€™ the best way to spend an evening and in absence of concrete entertainment (ala theatre, opera, theme parks, zoos, circus, funfairs etc at a professional level) we even consider fashion shows a plausible option. In this kind of creatively barren habitat a fairly decent production like Bombay Dreams more than works.
It was well attended, to say the least, though Sharabeel threw out a taunt that 90 per cent of the audience was â€˜by invitationâ€™. I did a bit of celebrity spotting myself: Mehreen Jabbar, Samina Pirzada, Javed Sheikh, Feeha Jamshed, Mahirah Khan, Humayun Saeed, Ayesha Omar surrounded by the usual round of media personnel, myself included.
The production itself, as I said, was energetic but at the same time somewhat amateurish. The kids of Lâ€™ecole put up a brave performance but it was more high school musical than advanced theatre. The level of acting and dancing faltered at times and was not a patch on Nida Buttâ€™s Made 4 Stage Productions. Chicago and Mamma Mia! were another level altogether, integrated by the live music and comfort Buttâ€™s actors had in their own skin. Sharabeelâ€™s cast was less confident; the unflattering body suits they wore to cover skin more than proved that. A better wardrobe would surely have helped.
But to give credit where credit is due, some of these kids were very promising. The three eunuchs deserve a standing ovation, especially Dolly (Saqib Sumeer) who had the house in a riot of laughter. Sweety (Abdul Aleem Shekhani) was a natural as was Pinky (Dr B). Some of the dancers â€“ Breakhna and Zarmeena Yousaf especially – were also spectacular and their extensive training showed in the fluidity of their body movement. The icing on the cake was the live finale by Suhana Baloch â€“ one of the two Cheapmunks â€“ who delivered a perfectly raspy rendition of AR Rahmanâ€™s â€˜Suniyo Reâ€™. The Cheapmunks will go a long way!