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The Pit and the Poppadum in Newcastle

January 15, 2004 23:22 IST

The first Bollywood-style Western musical since Andrew Lloyd Webber's wildly popular Bombay Dreams is to open in Newcastle's Customs House Theatre next week.

Tickets are already sold out for The Pit and the Poppadum co-scripted by UK-based dancing queen Honey Kalaria and a British writer, the late Clive Cullum.

Kalaria, who recently won the best international artiste award in Lawrence D'Souza's Indian Babu is the inspiration behind the project, which has the backing of venture capitalists in London.

Although it has a relatively small cast of 18, Kalaria describes it as a 'mini mini' version of Bombay Dreams. The producers are hopeful it will generate sufficient interest to take it all around the UK and to the US as well.

Described as a murder mystery thriller, the 90-minute production of The Pit and the Poppadum tells the story of what happens to a group of children when their teacher takes them to visit a haunted house.

Music and dance numbers are used to punctuate the musical and there is ample use of pantomime techniques to encourage audience participation.

"The actual story is different to what people would anticipate," explains Kalaria. "They would probably think it is a Bollywood musical so it will be a love story, that there will be social issues, cultural issues.

"In fact it is completely the opposite. What we decided to do was go for something completely the opposite and completely different. So we did more of a whodunnit but it's a comedy whodunnit.

"Because I have child artistes as well as adult artistes in there and we have a story that would suit youngsters as well as older people, and give them all equal characters with equal roles and parts in the musical, we decided to go ahead with The Pit and the Poppadum."

Among the characters is a Bollywood fan, who is described to audience as a hero, but turns out to be a zero in the plot.

"There's also a girl called Pretty who thinks she's such a sexy girl, a sex goddess who loves her make up," Kalaria explains. " Even if she's chased by all the murderers, she's more worried about her makeup etc."

"Then we've got Polly who's completely an accident prone girl. Wherever she goes, she causes havoc. Even if they find the clue she ends up stepping on it, so she's getting rid of these clues that are there.

"We've got another guy called Ghanshyam who's an Indian exchange student, a proper typical Indian. He takes his garam masalas with him everywhere he goes."

The comical murder plot is not allowed to get in the way of a love story that develops between the investigating detectives and the characters stuck inside the haunted house.

Pantomime techniques are used to depict the character of the Grim Reaper who tries to kidnap or murder the other characters in the plot.

"If you go and watch a Western pantomime you will see how the characters saying things like, 'Oh yes you would' and 'Oh no you won't' that gets the audience participation," says Kalaria.

"We thought by getting a baddie like the Grim Reaper who comes in and tries to kidnap or murder the characters, it would be great and the children would have a lot of fun.

"Within the story of course there are dances, quite a lot of dances and what I've tried to do is introduce a bhangra dance and a traditional Indian folk dance, a modern Western dance, an acting dance.

"But at the same time, for example, there is a character called Dr Baleh, Baleh and he's meant to be a doctor but he's actually a veterinarian who keeps chasing everybody with these horse injections trying to heal them and cure them.

"As he's a Punjabi guy, we'd have a bhangra dance to introduce him. It's things like that. At the end there's a wedding so that is the reason for a dandia dance."

Kalaria's only regret is that her co-writer Clive Cullum will not be alive to see the finished production. Cullum, who had been commissioned to write the script for a US$ 200 million film starring Johnny Depp, passed away last year. "He would have loved to have seen the final product up and ready on the stage," Kalaria says.

Shyam Bhatia in London