Question: If you're the Director of Programming at the Sony Centre for the Performing Arts, with a mandate from CEO Dan Brambilla to bring in programming suitable to a theatre for the people, and the people fall into one of 232 cultures in Toronto, where do you start looking for lavish large-scale culturally diverse shows to suit their tastes and anyone else that loves the arts?
Answer: The Internet, duh.
That's where Mark Hammond, Director of Programming at the Sony Centre for the Performing Arts, first found a show that piqued his interest. A trip to Berlin to watch a live performance, where he noted there were 5000 German patrons enthusiastically applauding throughout the glamourous spectacle, confirmed his instinct that The Merchants of Bollywood needed to come to Toronto.
Yay for us, that along with the shows currently at Mirvish, and memories of the ones by Livent, we can now add a production that showcases our culture in our city on the Sony Centre's stage. With everything Indian hot at the moment, and Bollywood the number one export from the land drenched in colour, it's little wonder that The Merchants of Bollywood is the story of Bollywood itself.
Traveling the stages of Europe and Australia since 2005, the show and its cast of 40 have met with rave reviews everywhere. Inspired by the Merchant family, prominent in the Indian film industry from the 1920s onward, the show features choreography to the music we know and love from Hindi films, complete with the clap of taalis, cham-cham of payals, and dhoom of the dhol.
Ah, the sound of the dhol is powerful anywhere and everywhere, but my heart feels its beat much differently when it's taken out of the usual dance floor context and booms out across a theatre stage. So excited to see this show.
PS - what's the storyline?
Shantilal Merchant is the last in the line of gurus, upholding the ancient traditions of the Kathak dance, the dance of the Gods. He was choreographer during the golden era of the Indian film industry but left when the industry grew commercial and lawless, influenced by western trends and dirty money. Years later, his granddaughter Ayesha left Rajasthan against his wishes to become the reigning queen of choreography of Bollywood films today. They call her “The Princess of Romance”.
Ayesha’s teenage rebellion against her classical training, in favor of modern western dance styles, becomes the seed of their feud. The damage seems irreparable. Ayesha resolves to visit Shantilal to make peace. Her journey takes her to the heart of India – the deserts of Rajasthan and into the arms of her childhood sweetheart Uday.
Her grandfather is dying. There is no one left to continue the family tradition, performing the dance of the Gods. Ayesha decides to marry Uday, and stay in Rajasthan to run the dance school and maintain the family traditions. But she will run the school her way, in a balance of old and new.