Friday, September 14, 2007

Salaam Bombay Dreams DVD

Okay, I have a confession to make. I um, how do I put this . . . I walked into Barnes and Noble about two years ago intending to buy the OBCR for Passion and walked out with Bombay Dreams.

There, I said it.

Now that I’ve completely compromised all my credibility (but am happy to be moving on in life with a much lighter load), please allow me to explain before you justly judge me for my shameful actions. Please.

You see, I already owned the Passion DVD, and I had seen “Shakalaka Baby” performed on Good Morning America. That song was so infectious that I knew the CD would be filled with such other interesting melodies.

So, as those of you saw the show know, I got what I deserved. There are a lot of infectious melodies with that danceable Eastern Indian flavor, but A.R. Rahman’s fresh melodies are incongruent with Western musical storytelling song structure, leaving me with a CD that is more awkward than fun. For example, the song “Like an Eagle” is almost six minutes long with lyrics consisting of a five repeats of the chorus (no verses) with minor lyrical alterations, which, frankly, is enough to make you beat your head against a brick wall. “Shakalaka Baby” is still loads of fun, as is the infectious Hindi-languaged (I think) “Chaiyya Chaiyya,” but I’d say there’s more “Like an Eagle” than exciting theatre songs (though maybe not quite so redundant). Many people have criticized Don Black’s lyrics for the show, but frankly, I don’t think Oscar Hammerstein II could have faired much better given the musical circumstances. Take “The Journey Home,” which has some very nice lyrics (Not every road you come across / Is one you have to take / No, sometimes standing still can be / The best move you ever make) but repeats itself too much.

The sure sign of a successful musical collaboration, however, is almost always in the show itself, which I was unfortunate to not be able to see.

Still, despite my disappointment with the CD, when I stumbled across the documentary Salaam Bombay Dreams at Barnes and Noble, I picked it up. It was only $14.99, which was less than most CDs, and I’m always game about learning how shows come together to glean what new knowledge I can.

I haven’t seen anything written anywhere about this DVD (though this is probably more likely from my missing it than there not being anything), so I’m detailing it here for those of you who were unaware such a DVD existed or knew about it but wondered what it was about. Consider it an early Christmas gift.

The DVD is divided into four sections—a 90-minute documentary, a collection of interviews with key creative team personnel (including producer Andrew Lloyd Webber), a gaggle of clips, and bonus material.

The most significant aspect of this DVD, first and foremost, is that there is little on here that is of interest outside Bombay Dreams. Often, when you see documentaries on the making of a stage show, there’s much to cull from it concerning the processes of getting a show created and produced; however, because of the unique nature of Bombay Dreams, it followed a unique journey to the stage that is hardly universal.

That is not to say that the documentary is not interesting. It follows the steps Andrew Lloyd Webber took upon the generation of the idea for the show, the finding of key creative talent, and, most interestingly, the British choreographer (and assistant) traveling to India to learn from Bollywood choreographer (and Bombay Dreams co-choreographer) Farah Khan. It also includes video footage of the meet and greet, the show in rehearsal, a healthy amount of choreography rehearsal and discussion, models and discussion of the set design, the set getting installed, and the gala opening night red carpet. Sprinkled throughout are images of the final production, some of which are repeated later on the disc.

The documentary helps to explain some of the oddities on the CD, for it appears that much of the music was recorded in India with the leads, while Indian singers perform what would typically be the ensemble backup. I don’t know Ayesha Dharker’s talents, but I wonder if that explains why Dharker doesn’t appear anywhere on the CD and lip synched to Preeya Kalidas’ voice for “Shakalaka Baby.” That’s just a theory formed without seeing the show, of course.

The interview footage is also primarily interesting in relation to the show. Much of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s interview is focused on the genius of A.R. Rahman. Librettist Meera Syal’s viewpoints are interesting because she opens up about her learning experience on the show. Parts of the interviews are repeated from the documentary, and there is also footage used to connect the different segments of the interviews, be they scenes from the show, rehearsals in Britain, or from rehearsals in India. Again, like the interviews themselves, some of these are re-used clips from the documentary, and some are new.

The best part of the DVD is the footage from the show. Some of these have MTVish add-ons at the beginning or the end of the clip, but for the most part, they are well-filmed scenes from the show. They consist of the original London cast performing “Shakalaka Baby” and “Chaiyya Chaiyya,” both of which are impressive for the sheer energy in the choreography and, in the latter, the speedy costume changes. There’s also “The Journey Home” (which I believe to be the full song, including a few lyrics not on the CD) and “How Many Stars” (my guess would be a reprise late in the show). Only “How Many Stars” includes any dialogue. It would have been nice to have some context for the others, particularly since the CD provides none whatsoever (not even a plot summary).

You also get two nice additions of the music videos of Preeya Kalidas’ “Shakalaka Baby” and “Love’s Never Easy,” the latter which would have been a nice bonus on the CD. “Shakalaka Baby” is energetic and fun, as you’d expect, though the visuals of “Love’s Never Easy” seems more dated (think Vanessa Williams singing “Colors of the Wind” in 1995). It is nice, however, to hear that song performed by a woman, and Kalidas’ gentle voice handles it beautifully.

The bonus material consists of rehearsal footage from the scene in which Akaash leaves his big premiere and denies his friends, incorporating scenes from the show in performance. It is interesting in that you get to see the scene being assembled, but it is by no means a revelation of technique or anything.

There is also an interesting look at the night the Queen attended the show and all the preparations that had to go into that event. The best moment goes to Raj Ghatak as Sweetie, though, who recalls his conversation with the queen, who seemed to not know how to react to his eunuch in a dress (or sari or whatever).

Even though there are no revelatory moments, I’m glad I bought Salaam Bombay Dreams to add to my collection of theatre videos and DVDs, and being a show clip hoarder, I ate that part up. Yet, I don’t think it is by any means a must-have for theatre fans unless they were fanatics of the show.

the Broadway Mouth
September 14, 2007

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