There aren’t coconut trees to dance around, but the Merchants of Bollywood are no less energetic beneath their shimmery costumes and exhilarating beats, and just as effectively serve up extravagance, beauty and romance.

From the heart of the prolific Indian film industry, this stage musical is back for the second time in Singapore after its sold-out run in 2010. Producer Mark Brady revealed before the sneak peak on Nov 5 that this year’s run is “new” as it features the latest Bollywood smash hits such as Jigar Da Tukda (Ladies vs Ricky Bahl) and Mashallah (Ek Tha Tiger), keeping up with the ever-changing scene of Indian cinema. Despite these updates, its story and structure remained untouched.

Though the show’s a work of fiction, it’s loosely based on the lives of award-winning Bollywood choreographer, Vaibhavi Merchant, and her grandfather, Hiralal Merchant.

In this heartfelt story, Ayesha (Carol Furtado) discovers her love for western dance forms such as hip hop and jazz in contrast to the classical tandava [divine dance performed in honor of the deity Lord Shiva] that her grandfather, Shantilal (Joy Fernandes) forces upon her. This is an especially harsh blow to Shantilal, as he’d left behind his successful choreography career in the golden era of the film industry, disappointed with the growing drive towards commercialization and western influences.

Ayesha leaves home to fulfill her dream of stepping in her grandfather’s dancing shoes but returns to make peace with him when he falls ill. Despite their contrasting beliefs, aspirations and purposes, both truly worship the art of dance. They were as quoted in the show, “divided by style, united by rhythm, but bonded by blood.”

Each dance segment consists of different routines that flow seamlessly one after the other with perfect timing and precision exhibited by the dancers. The energy hits the audience when the dancers make a comeback for the upbeat mash-up of all the songs played within the segments. Don’t be surprised to find yourself grooving to the beats in your seats. That’s exactly what Bollywood does to you!

Dancers also came running down the aisle in one of the last few segments, inviting a few from the audience to partake in a moment of dance floor fever. However, blame a Tuesday night for the lack of enthusiasm among the audience but UrbanWire is sure weekends would probably deliver the opposite.

Though Vaibhavi’s kick-ass choreography was displayed in the numbers performed (and as seen in the respective films), the show’s reference to the 70s and 80s would have been more convincing if dancers performed to the original tunes rather than the remade versions of the oldies. To be fair, the stylish bell-bottoms, chiffon saris and colorful prints, accompanied by stage props such as umbrellas and vintage cars (also used in the classic movies) did reasonable justice in its tribute to the films of that era.

Behind the narrative is the romance between Ayesha and her childhood lover Uday (Sushant Pujari). Though Uday’s muscular build and delicate body movements sure were admirable, his character as the male lead could do with more prominence in the story. With no speaking lines, Uday seemed far away from the plot and the romance didn’t reach a level Bollywood fans are used to. After all, what’s Bollywood without a love story as epic as that of Shakespeare’s star-crossed lovers Romeo and Juliet?

Among the cast of over 30, the man who stands head and shoulders above, and deserves the most applause is Romi Jaspal. Switching easily throughout the show, from the arrogant and self-centered film director Tony Bakshi to the Rajasthani narrator Happy Singh, Romi did well in injecting bits of humor with his unsynchronized dance moves and witty jokes. Did we hear “Pirates of the Curry Bean”?

Brady tells UrbanWire that the authenticity in Bollywood makes it truly an enjoyable production. “Bollywood just gives you so much content to work with. It’s colorful and exciting with its fantastic music!” he says.

Without a doubt, Merchants of Bollywood is a feast to the eyes of non-Indians who will get the chance to immerse themselves in the essence of India. And for Bollywood lovers, this reinforces the key role that music and dancing takes in this very popular entertainment art form.

Furtado adds on excitingly, “Leave aside the colors, leave aside the foot-stomping beats, leave aside the glamor. It’s the culture which is so exotic that India has to offer.”

Photos courtesy of Base Entertainment and Parveen Maghera