Theatre Review: ‘Taj Express’

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Date: 13th June – 2nd July
Location: Peacock Theatre, London

With London being known as a theatrical hub, it came to no surprise that the Bollywood musical hit show ‘Taj Express’ chose the city as their next destination, after being so successful over in the USA. With London already having seen major hits such as ‘Bombay Dreams’ (2002) and ‘The Merchants of Bollywood’ (2007), one would think director Shruti Merchant has a lot to live up to. However, with the support of her sister Vaibhavi Merchant (Director of Choreography) and Toby Gough (Writer) who were also responsible for ‘The Merchants of Bollywood’, it was expected that ‘Taj Express’ would naturally follow suit. However, with this said, there was an anticipation that the new show’s story could be the same as the others.

The stage opens up with the introduction of Shankar (Mikhail Sen), an advertising jingle music composer who aspires to be like the great AR Rahman, and hopes to make it big in Bollywood with his music. After receiving a phone call from film maker Raj Pakora (Denzil Smith) offering Shankar his first musical break for his film ‘Taj Express’, the young hopeful gets stuck into what it’s really like being a part of the industry. Having to make music for an over the top love story, of a poor by from Mumbai called Arjun (Hitten Shah) falling in love with the beautiful actress Kareena Kaboom (Tanvi Patil), with a film maker who keeps dismissing the music, multiple script rewrites, and managing a team of very talented musicians including guitarist Flash (Chandan Raina), flute player Harry Puttar (Avadooth Phadke) and percussionist ‘Animal’ (Prathamesh Kandalkar) who are less enthusiastic about the whole project, the audience get to see how the talented newbie has to hold his ground to make his dream come true.

From his first line, it’s fair to say Sen is made for the stage. Portraying the young Shankar, he continuously manages to keep his audiences as engaged with him, as much as they are with the dancers. Portraying a young boy with big dreams in brilliant theatrical style, Sen enchants his audiences with his own story, where his viewers feel as though they are going on this journey with him. Shah reflects the typical Bollywood hero, where his dance moves match his grand presence. His chemistry with Patil emulates fire on stage, where they elegantly synchronise every move, expression and feeling. Patil herself brings a wow factor to the stage, showing off her flexibility which generates a great impression on her audience. A perfect and brilliant addition to the show has to go to Raina, Phadke and Kandalkar. Working brilliantly together, performing live with their instruments, all three create absolute magic, especially depicting on their rendition of two A R Rahman super hits; ‘Chaiyya Chaiyyia’  from ‘Dil Se (1998) and ‘Ishq Bina’ from ‘Taal’ (1999). Being the only one out of the three to have dialogue, and being the one the voice of many when it comes to thoughts on typical Bollywood films, Raina in particular was one who attracted the audience the most. The use of sarcastic commentary, brilliant one liners and a tiny yoga session were just big bonuses that came with his amazing guitar skills. As for the dancers, it has to be said they have done exceedingly well. Despite the main characters being on stage, each and every dancer had the audiences eyes on them as well. Reflecting a fabulous energy, along with some very intricate dance moves, it can be said that here are a group of fantastic artists who delivered a great performance from beginning to end, shining on their own as well as a group all at the same time.

It’s fair to say the Merchant sisters definitely know how to put on a great show. ‘Taj Express’ is undoubtedly exactly what one would expect from a Bollywood dance musical, and as a production it works for the masses. However, were the performances excel, the flow of the story can become rather confusing, where the transition of some songs and scenes can be lost in having a mixture of songs crammed into a small space of time. Where the beginning of the story unfolds at a good pace, the ending seemed a little rushed. However with all that said, the audiences remain engaged and excited as to what happens next. With Gough’s clever writing and Merchant’s (Vaibhavi) outstanding choreography, the audiences become so absorbed that they forget the film that Shankar is writing for is not supposed to impress the critics. With questions arising throughout the show as to what’s happening in the so-called film, the audiences are engrossed in both love stories of Arjun and Kareena as well as Shankar and his dream, vouching for both to see a happy ending. Merchant (Shruti) has managed to put together a great show, with a brilliant cast and the right support to lead her to success.

‘Taj Express’ is a must-watch show overall. Catering to all that come to see it, it promises to tug at your heartstrings, and make you want to get up and dance as well as sing-along to all the songs the cast perform to. Holding most of the elements that one would expect from a Bollywood show, ‘Taj Express’ has exceeded its expectations in many ways, telling a different story to the one many are used to seeing.

BizAsiaLive.com rating: 4/5

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