Bollywood in Buffalo

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The Spectrum

Bollywood has finally arrived in Buffalo, and it has brought its world famous art and spectacle.

On Tuesday, UB's Center For The Arts presented the international hit The Merchants of Bollywood in the Mainstage Theater. Directed by Tony Gough and featuring over 20 performers and dancers, the Bollywood musical lives up to its reputation by creating a visually compelling and exhilarating performance.

Founded in Mumbai, India, Bollywood is one of the world's largest producers of cinema today, turning out well over 100 films per year. That growing industry provides the basis for the play.

The Merchants of Bollywood is famous for its energetic and opulent dance numbers, sets and costumes, which enhance a plot that is rudimentary at certain points.

It showcases the traditional Indian style of dance, known as Kathak. The Merchants of Bollywood sets out to explore the deep history of this Indian art form.

The plot focuses on Ayesha Merchant, granddaughter to legendary choreographer Shantilal Merchant, and her dream of following in her grandfather's footsteps. Ayesha, portrayed by Carol Furtado, must seek redemption from her grandfather for entering into a career that he believes has become a commercial wasteland. He believes that Bollywood has become devoid of the traditional aesthetic, beliefs and honor that he perpetuated in his famous films.

After leaving home to start her career, Ayesha also becomes disappointed with the modern state of Bollywood and decries the fact that those days will never come back.

After tragedy falls on the Merchant family, Ayesha sets out to reform Bollywood and pay homage to Shantilal by using the same beliefs that he saw as the most important aspects of the art form.

There are some very interesting concepts floating around in the play, including the idea that Bollywood is not just a cheap imitation of Hollywood but rather something integral to Indian culture. Since the performance is a musical equipped with Bollywood-style dancing, these ideas are sometimes relegated to the background.

The performance was comprised of over 20 expertly choreographed dance numbers, and all the dancers moved in complete synchronicity. The intricate wardrobe choices amplified the dances' effect; upwards of sixteen dancers, each moving rapidly on stage with precise control and execution and wearing sparkling costumes, created an almost surreal atmosphere. In short, moments such as these were breathtaking.

Linette Garcia, a junior undecided major, thought the performance was outstanding and praised how energetic the performers were. Garcia said that it left her interested in pursuing classes in the city that teaches the Kathak style of dance.

The dancers were the centerpieces of the show; the stage design and props took a back seat. The only set pieces ever to appear on stage were an elevated platform and a large statue of the deity Shiva.

Other than that, the set was surprisingly dull, and this was not by accident. The dancers themselves, and how they expressed Indian heritage, were most important.

By showing the city of Buffalo a new cultural insight that some residents of the city may have never experienced before, The Merchants of Bollywood provided an invigorating experience to many.