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Monday, May 20, 2019

BOMBAY CHASERS


Mumbai choreographer Nisha Mahendra managed to find just the right balance between high energy and cleverly crafted patterning. (Review by Lliane Loots)

The much-anticipated latest theatrical venture from Durban’s Rowin Verne Munsamy, Bombay Chasers, opened on Friday May 17, 2019, at the Sibaya iZulu Theatre to much excitement. A full house greeted the cast which is no mean accomplishment at a time when live theatre in Durban is struggling for audiences to sustain itself.

Bombay Chasers continues Munsamy’s theatrical love relationship with the Bollywood film industry and with the genre we all now refer to simply as “Bollywood”. Prevalent in the genre is the heightened emotions of star-crossed lovers, meddling mothers and/or grandmothers, divine intervention from the gods, peer/sibling rivalry, and – of course – the epic dance numbers with costumes that make us want to weep in envy for the sheer bling they offer.

Munsamy’s Bombay Chasers offer all of this to the audience and is a very interesting attempt to see how an essentially filmic genre can translate onto stage and into live performance. Munsamy used some clever devices such a series of split projections screens at the back of the stage which offer constant filmic scene changes for the various locations in the play thus offering a bridge between the translations of film onto stage. And while the sharp attention to technical preparedness and detail was perhaps missing on opening night – very slow scene changes that caused the play’s rhythm to drop, and some blatantly botched lighting cues – Bombay Chasers did indeed offer a thought-provoking foray into the film vs live theatre debate.

The play begins with a rousing dance invocation to Lord Ganesha – the Hindu God who is often prayed to as the deity who removes obstacles. In an interesting linking device that frames the play, Munsamy then plays the very human manifestation of Ganesha whose wisdom and stories offer a kind of commentary on the actions of the play. It is a beautiful device (and Munsamy personally shines in this role) and offers space for the audience to reflect on the narrative of the play within a more karmic and spiritual light. Ganesh does indeed become the deus-ex-machina that saves the day at the end of the play.

The storyline offers an interesting link between South African Indian Diaspora culture and the links to the ‘motherland’ of India. Basically put a group of young South African Indian dancers are on their way to India to dance at the open of an Indian 20/20 cricket match – it is a prestigious invitation and the play centres on the situation comedy of plans often going wrong. Interspliced into all of this is a love story between two of the young dancers whose commitment is challenged when a femme fatal in India decided she wants this South African man! The anticipated Bollywood clich├ęs abound – with all the usual fat jokes about the loud and uncouth older female chaperone. The audience, clearly well-versed in these anticipated Bollywood stereotypes, fell about laughing and enjoying the predictable and recognisable characters.

What was particularly noteworthy within this dazzling production were the dance sequences. Guest Mumbai choreographer Nisha Mahendra hit the mark on each and every number she created. She managed to find just the right balance between high energy and cleverly crafted patterning. The young talented cast really shone in this arena and offered the audience a foot-tapping visual feast of extremely well-coordinated and executed dance. It made me – and I suspect many of the audience - want to get up and dance with them!

This theatrical Bollywood extravagance sits at just over two hours (with an interval). For me, I would have liked, perhaps, to see some of the stock character stereotyping to be challenged, but I am also aware that the full house on opening night enjoyed every last minute of what they recognised as Bollywood on stage. 

Bombay Chasers was directed and written by Rowin Verne Munsamy and produced by Sumanth Singh. – Lliane Loots