Frankie Goes To Bollywood

Pravesh Kumar (concept and book), Niraj Chag (music) and Tasha Taylor Johnson (lyrics).
Rifco Theatre Company, HOME and Watford Palace Theatre
HOME, Manchester

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Frankie Goes To Bollywood Credit: Rich Lakos
Frankie Goes To Bollywood Credit: Rich Lakos
Frankie Goes To Bollywood Credit: Rich Lakos
Frankie Goes To Bollywood Credit: Rich Lakos
Frankie Goes To Bollywood Credit: Rich Lakos
Frankie Goes To Bollywood Credit: Rich Lakos

HOME rolls out the red carpet to welcome Rifco Theatre Company. In the foyer, Ria Meera of the Guinness World Record-breaking dance and theatre company Ri Ri's Dance Academy provides a pop-up display of Bollywood-style dancing to greet the audience.

The film industry based in Mumbai, engaged in production of motion pictures in Hindi, is generally referred to as ‘Bollywood’—a punning combination of ‘Bombay’ and ‘Hollywood’. The themes of the movies are far-ranging: Indian epics, stylised and spectacular stories with acrobatics and stunts, musicals and the equivalent of ‘kitchen sink’ dramas. However, the industry, and the value of the films, are affected adversely by plagiarism, nepotism, a preference for spectacle over quality and the exploitation of young, female actors. Pravesh Kumar’s Frankie Goes To Bollywood explores these aspects while paying loving tribute to the concept of Bollywood.

Cinema usherette Goldy (Katie Stasi) aspires to become a Bollywood star. When her best friend and fellow usherette, Frankie (Laila Zaidi), bumps into up-and-coming film director Prem Kapoor (Navin Kundra), she uses the opportunity to secure an audition for her mate. However, the fates ensure Frankie is cast in the film, exposing her to the temptations of life in the fast lane including a cynical relationship with established star Raju King (Shakil Hussain), who is many years past his sell-by date but still influential due to family connections.

Author Pravesh Kuma is spoilt for choice when it comes to topics which might be covered by the musical and tries to squeeze in as many as possible rather than be discerning. The musical is staged as a Bollywood movie—lighting rigs and massive fans are visible throughout, giving the impression we have wandered onto a sound stage. However, shoehorning in so many details can be disconcerting—while the male dancers are expert, their clearly visible black shoes and socks make them resemble Brits on Blackpool beach.

The story jumps all over the place, from exposé to comedy to romance to social comment, without ever taking a focused viewpoint. It feels, therefore, more like a series of samples from the Bollywood genre than a concentrated satire or tribute.

The gags are funny, mostly based upon knowing references to the practices in Bollywood; a request for a script before filming commences is met with an incredulous response. When Frankie reunites with her prospective lover in a spiritual retreat, the ensemble automatically begins a celebratory dance routine only to be stopped within seconds. But there is so much going on, the jokes barely register.

Likewise, characters come and go at the whim of the plot; Navin Kundra is the social conscience and possible love interest but is hardly featured in the second act until close to the conclusion. Laila Zaidi’s descent from wide-eyed optimist to hard-faced cynic occurs so quickly as to be scarcely credible.

Ironically, Shakil Hussain benefits from the underdevelopment of the characters, making a strong impression by presenting sleazy Raju King as a broad panto villain and so stealing every scene in which he appears.

Frankie Goes To Bollywood works best, therefore, as a tribute to the movies. The dance routines and eye-popping costumes from Andy Kumar are very much in the spirit of providing spectacle to entertain and engage a jaundiced audience, and the ensemble hold nothing back in their high-energy dancing. Whilst the music is authentic, the lyrics show the influence of the Walt Disney movies with aspirational advice to follow one’s dreams and be true to oneself.

Frankie Goes To Bollywoodserves as a strong showcase for the talents of Rifco Theatre Company. But in trying to achieve so much with the show, the company skims over several aspects resulting an eye-catching and riotous but somewhat superficial show—a bit like a Bollywood movie really.

Reviewer: David Cunningham

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