Danish Company, ‘Republique’ Brings Vibrant Bollywood to London’s South Bank

19/12/2011

Grabowski: The Bollywood Trip, Queen Elizabeth Hall, London. 13. 12. 2011 (CC)

Cast:

Janus Nabil Harawi – Haroon
Thomas Corneliussen – Lens Sloth
Laura Müller – Mette Rose
Ole Westh-Madsen – Christopher
Dancers: Jasal Patel, Subrata Pandit, Surashree Bhattacharya, Manuela Benini

Production:

Choreography: Gauri Sharma Tripathi
Script: Parminder Singh

What a fascinating idea: to base a Bollywood-inspired entertainment around One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. Not only that, it is performed by the Danish company, Republique. The dancers and musicians are Indian; the actors Danish (Haroon, Janus Nabil Harawi, is actually Polish-Palestinian-Danish). Two instrumentalists are on-stage (one on either side); the QEH’s speaker system pipes through the rest, when needed (“Supernatural Superstar”, for example). The production arrives on British shores hot from its premiere in Copenhagen.

A recurring phrase “Sub maya hai” (“Everything is illusion”) seems to sum up the plot, as it is unclear what is what, and who is who. Could Haroon really be the Bollywood superstar he claims to be?. (After an unsuccessful suicide attempt in India he is sent back to Denmark and to the institute where the evening is set.) Well, we find out later the true story but there is sufficient doubt in all protagonists’ minds, except Haroon’s, of course, to intrigue the audience. Meanwhile, in parallel, love blossoms between Jens and the amazingly sexy Mette, aided by Bollywood moves and sounds, as Haroon acts as love instructor and go-between (initially, there is a distinct spark between Haroon and Mette – unsurprisingly, perhaps, as Haroon brings something so outside of the Danish people’s experience). At times, Haroon himself becomes counsellor/facilitator in the hospital’s group sessions as the Bollywood aesthetic of life and love explodes the long-held attitudes of the Danish facility.

As in a Bollywood movie, songs are separated by huge amounts of dialogue (in some Bollywood films, you may have to wait an hour or more for the next song to come along). In that sense, this is a movie on the stage, and one certainy gets swept away by the sheer madness (pardon the pun) of the thing. Completely unbelievable, it takes us to a welcome world of pure escapism. The set is a sloping stage that provides an excuse for all manner of shenanigans; panels slide on and off to provide for the walls of the clinic. Yet we believe it all, perhaps because we want to enter into an essentially daft but somehow marvellous alternative reality, to wash ourselves with sitar strummings, to lose ourselves in the primal beats.

The exuberance of Bollywood is there in abundance in “Supernatural Superstar”, with its hard, pounding beats, its percussion-driven drive, soaring violins and über-cool vocal line. Its edges were blunted on the South Bank (it sounds pure Bollywood on the MP3 – see below). Similar in red-hot energy is “Chalte raho”, with its surely intended references to Slumdog Millionaire’s global hit “Jai Ho!”; “Soniye” is similarly highly-charged. “Mahia Ve” incorporates more obvious gestures and sounds from traditional Indian Classical music, over which a gorgeously smooth vocal line (a duet) aurally seduces, while “Dharavi” melds the two, starting off Classically before morphing into something more identifiably from the screen. Perhaps the most immediately catching number is “Charsi Filmstar”, with its aching string lines moderating the output of pure energy. Perhaps “It’s sinking my heart” is the only disappointing number (it is rather inane), and it is telling that this is the one that sounds the most like Western pop, perhaps the sort of thing that might make TV’s X Factor. Nice to hear the names of Indian Gods (Kali, Rama and Krishna) popping up in “Behind Four Walls” (in Indian philosophy, the mere act of repeating holy names – over years and decades – can lead to enlightenment. The point is, perhaps, that the names carry special meaning, or vibration, in and of themselves). The collision – rather than “meeting” – of this time-honoured tradition with modern Indian pop works remarkably well. Finally, the instrumental“We’re floating in the night” is magnificently sensual.

One characteristic of almost all Bollywood music is the sheer naturalness of the melodies, and that is found here in abundance. Performances are certainly energetic (there were some slight slips on lines from some of the actors, but nothing major).

The soundtrack for The Bollywood Trip is available, for MP3 download only, here. The kathak (a type of dance traditionally used for story-telling) choreography is provided by the South Bank’s Artist-in-Residence Gauri Sharma Singh, and is slickly performed. Great stuff, all round.

Colin Clarke

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