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Bombay Dreams gets the best of Indian talent

March 03, 2004 11:36 IST

A still from Bombay DreamsWhen the rumours were agog that the lead players in the Broadway production of Bombay Dreams would have white actors in the lead -- and perhaps Lea Salonga (Miss Saigon) in a significant role -- Andrew Lloyd Webber, who
licensed the show to a Broadway producer, and director Steven Pimlott, had decided to keep silent.

"But all along we were clear that we were going to tap the South Asian community across North America," Pimlott had told the rediff.com sister publication India Abroad in an interview a few months ago. "We were convinced the casting agency [Tara Rubin] would do an excellent job in getting the best of the Indian talent out."

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He did not clarify the situation regarding the casting earlier because things were in a flux. He was also preoccupied in finding new artistes for the London version of the show. When the show is settled, he said there could be 'colour blind' casting, but the artistes in the South Asian community had to get due recognition. So you have names like Neal Jay Shastri, Jolly Abraham Aalok Mehta and Sheetal Gandhi in the ensemble cast.

The cast of nearly 40 artistes in the Broadway bound show, which premieres on March 29 and opens a month later at the Broadway Theatre, is made of an eclectic group.

On one hand, you have veteran film actress Madhur Jaffrey (Cotton Mary, Heat And Dust) who makes her Broadway debut. She plays Shanti, the conscience keeper in the shantytown. On the other hand, you have Manu Narayan, who plays Akash, the slum dweller with Bollywood dreams. Narayan too is making his Broadway debut, but he has toured in many mainstream productions outside New York. For instance, he appeared as Thuy in the national tour of Miss Saigon; in Tom Stoppard's Indian Ink and in David Henry Hwang's Largo (with Cindy Lauper and Fisher Stevens) at New York Stage and Film.

An award winning saxophonist, Narayan studied Carnatic Music with Kadri Gopinath in Mangalore and has a BFA from Carnegie Mellon University. "Working with him is more than a learning experience," costar Anisha Nagarajan says. "He has quite a lot of experience but he makes everyone around him comfortable. He is so inspiring."

Anjali Bhimani, who has a small part in the show, has appeared in significant parts in Mary Zimmerman's Metamorphoses. Among the parts she played was the incestuous daughter in the show that ran for over a year on Broadway.

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Ayesha Dharker, who reprises her role as the sizzling Rani in the London production, has appeared in a number of movies, including Ismail Merchant's The Mystic Masseur.

But lead players Anisha Nagarajan and Sriram Ganesan, who plays the hijra with a golden heart, are utterly new to a large auditorium.

Nagarajan, who is studying theatre at New York University, says her experience of auditioning for Bombay Dreams and getting the plum part was 'utterly surrealistic'. One day she was worrying over her homework; the next day, she got the part. And in a few weeks, flew to London to perform a duet with Narayan in the presence of the British Queen, the British Prime Minister and visiting President George W Bush.

Ganesan did not get a chance to go to London for the banquet event. "But I too had received something of a very special gift," he says. "This wonderful, challenging part."

He had been auditioned for the lead part as well as that of the hijra. A friend told him that he could get a chance to play the lead, maybe on Broadway or when the show goes on road or has a regional edition. "Just now I want to give my very best to what I have on my hands," Ganesan adds.

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Arthur J Pais
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