Bollywood musical the Taj Express is due to delight Bangkok when it arrives this September. Performed as part of Bangkok’s 20th International Festival of Dance & Music and supported by the Embassy of India, this spectacular new musical from Film City, Mumbai arrives in the Thai capital after a smash-hit, sell-out tour of America, and tells the tale of a young aspiring Indian composer given his first big break in the film business.
Employed to create the soundtrack for a brand new Bollywood movie, Shankar dreams of writing a song as successful as A.R. Rahman’s Oscar-winning hit ‘Jai Ho’ in the movie Slumdog Millionaire. Rahman is India’s greatest ever musical genius, and Shankar is his greatest fan, declaring ‘if Rahman is the Mozart of Madras, I want to be the Beethoven of Bollywood’.
Billed as a romantic adventure across kaleidoscopic India aboard one of the country’s iconic trains, the performance sees Shankar invite the audience into his music studio, and comedic scenes ensue as Shankar’s youthful ambitions clash with the sarcasm and cynicism of the experience musicians he has employed to help accomplish his mission. Inspired by and obsessed with the life of Rahman’s life, Shankar embarks on a journey that is ‘the story of one man’s passion and another man’s genius’. Taj Express director and choreographer Shruti Merchant – who previously toured internationally with travelling musicals for five years, and has performed as far apart as France, the United States and Australia – spoke to Elite+ Magazine about her inspiration for the musical.
How did the idea of creating Taj Express come about?
After touring with the Merchants Of Bollywood for eight years, it was time to make new content and present it in cities and countries outside of India. There is a huge demand out there for Indian and Bollywood content.
Why did you decide to use compositions by AR Rahman?
Taj Express has original songs as well as compositions by A.R. Rahman. This time we are telling a story about music, inspired by Rahman. Taj Express is a show that cuts away from clichés like the journey across India as the base of the story. We’ve tried to make Bollywood more cultural rather than cheesy, and so the show is more mature. It’s a music composer’s guide to making music for Bollywood, and who better to act as the guide than Oscar-winning composer Rahman?
How did your previous experience in and know-how from films translate into this show?
In fact, we still work on films, as I was born into a family of choreographers. The process is the same; we just presenting it using a different medium. Film is all about moving images, while theatre and stage is about moving hearts.
How is Taj Express different from other Indian dance shows?
Taj Express is a play in a play. The twisted storylines in Bollywood become more believable with sounds and tunes that the narrator, being a music composer, creates. He believes that his music lasts forever, which helps with the interpretation of each scene, song, and choreography routine. The production also features live musicians, making it an interactive format of storytelling. The cast is composed of top Bollywood dancers and soloists, swirling in shimmering costumes with undying energy and expressions.
What has been the biggest challenge in producing this show?
I enjoy the creative process of staging musicals and stage content. I guess, in the process, human management can get a little overwhelming, but at the end of it the challenge is well worth it.
What’s your favourite scene?
The opening number is an ode to Goddess Saraswati. The idea for this came magically when a voice inside me said we should start the show with the 108 names of the goddess of wisdom, knowledge and art.
How is this new production of Taj Express different from the previous one?
This time, Taj Express is being performed for Bangkok’s 20th International Festival of Dance & Music. It’s a completely new show, with a new story line, new songs, live music, and a new cast. This show is more modern and contemporary; we have never before seen an audience react to and scream at every line in the show. Taj Express has an interactive story line that involves the audience in dancing and singing along – that makes this production one of a kind. The audiences really is a part of the show from the word ‘go’.
What for you is the charm of Bollywood?
The term ‘Bollywood’ has evolved over the years. It has a sense of escapism, which transports its viewers to a world filled with songs, dance, happy endings, family sagas, and love stories. We belong to a land of storytellers, and Bollywood is the main catalyst bridging extraordinary stories with ordinary people. There is a magic in Bollywood that we can both discuss and laugh, cry, dance and sing with – but we can’t seem to get enough of it, and I guess that is the charm.
Bollywood has long been a regional sensation, but it is now becoming a global phenomenon. As a producer, how do you see Bollywood’s future in the international entertainment industry?
With worldwide appreciation of cross-over films like Bend it Like Beckham, Monsoon Wedding, The Real Exotic Marigold Hotel and Slumdog Millionaire – and artists from India being recognised on a worldwide platform – there has been a huge improvement in bridging the west and the east. Arts, entertainment, music and dance speak a universal language and, with shows like Taj Express performing extensively all over the world, Indian culture, dance forms and music can be enjoyed by audiences globally.
Taj Express has been presented to audiences around the world – what has been their reaction?
The show is high in quality, and the costumes, dancing, song selections, live music, selection of cast members and production design have all been greatly appreciated by critics and audiences around the world. The show has enthralled and will continue to enthral its audiences and fan base for years to come.
What can we expect from Taj Express’ performance in Bangkok?
Taj Express appeals to a Thai audience thanks to the similarities between Indian and Thai culture and traditions. With the return of Taj Express to the esteemed International Festival of Dance & Music, we are looking forward to thrilling our audiences with scintillating dance sequences, blockbuster music, and jaw-dropping acting.
Taj Express will be showcased as part of Bangkok’s 20th International Festival of Dance & Music on 28 and 29 September at 7.30pm and 2.30pm respectively, at the Main Hall of the Thailand Cultural Centre. Tickets for all performances are available at Thai Ticket Major.