MusicalNorth WestReview

Bombay Superstar – The Lowry, Salford

Jo Beggs

Book: Samir Bhamra

Musical Director: Hinal Pattani

Writer: Samir Bhamra

Director: Samir Bhamra

The 1970s may have been the heyday of disco in the west, but in South Asia it was the decade when Bombay became the centre of the sequinned, choreographed world that is Bollywood. In a city struggling with social and economic challenges, cinema offered the ultimate escapism, and Bollywood films presented an extravagant world of colour, excess and joy. Much like in Hollywood, though, the off-screen lives, loves and antics of the stars soon began to fascinate the public as much as their on-screen heroes, and the media loves the decline of a star as much as it loves the rise.

Bombay Superstar draws on the highs and lows of the industry and a classic love triangle as a central story for a Bollywood jukebox musical. Laila (Nisha Aaliya) arrives in Bombay to find the father who abandoned her as a baby. Now a film director, he sees potential, and, while still not admitting to her being his daughter, makes her a star. As she makes her name on the big screen, her personal life proves equally dramatic, falling in love with a married co-star, being hounded by the press, and finally being at the centre of a murder plot. Of course, all comes good in the end, as Bollywood movies generally do.

Bombay Superstar is packed with classic numbers spanning over two decades, drawing on films from Apna Desh and Aradhana to Sharaabi and Hum. Amar and Chirag Rao provide fantastic vocals for the lip-synching cast. There’s also occasional songs from Pia Sutaria as Mala and Robby Khela as Vicky, all accompanied by a live band.

Unfortunately, those vocals are the highlight of the show, and given its two and half hour run, that’s just not enough to keep you entertained. Like many jukebox musicals, the story is dull and the cast struggle to make the cliché-ridden script work, devoid as it is of drama or humour. Most depressingly, there’s an extraordinary lack of energy from the cast when they’re delivering the lacklustre lines. It all gets a bit more lively in the dance numbers (choreographed by Shruti and Rohan Shah) and it’s frankly a relief when the talking ends and the dancing starts again. Even then, sometimes the cast forget to lip synch.

Although very 70s (think chrome and coloured light nightclubs with a bit of extra sparkle), the set has a cheap and flimsy feel to it. Projected surtitles (occasionally translating from the Hindi but mostly just in English) are both in a distracting position on the stage but also hard to read due to a spotlight directly above the screen. It’s difficult to know if they are there purely for access reasons or as some sort of nod to a film script. Costume Design (Samar Bhamra with Sharnpal Jeetley as Wardrobe Supervisor) is extravagant and the rate of costume changes is entertaining in itself – from lavish wedding outfits to sequinned catsuits. This fashion show goes some way to re-creating the grandeur and lavishness of Bollywood, bit it’s really impossible to achieve that on-stage with a small cast.

The show needs a serious edit. There’s probably too many songs and dance routines but if the script was shorter and snappier it would keep the pace up and make for a much more entertaining night out. Unfortunately the unexpectedly abrupt ending couldn’t come soon enough.

Runs until 12 November 2022

The Reviews Hub score

Dull, lacks pace, overlong

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The Reviews Hub - North West

The North West team is under the editorship of John Roberts. The Reviews Hub was set up in 2007. Our mission is to provide the most in-depth, nationwide arts coverage online.

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