“Contradictions, city of extremes, anything is possible in Bombay dreams. Some live and die in debt, others making millions on the internet.”
True story, until last week I thought Bombay Dreams was written by Andrew Lloyd Webber. Not having seen it onstage nor listened to it before, all I knew was the Lord’s name was attached to it and assumptions were thus made – it’s even his name that appears first on the album cover. But peruse a little closer and you see he’s just ‘presenting’ as one of the original producers, cast your eyes a little further down and A.R. Rahman is revealed as the composer. This may of course be old news to you but for me, it was a revelation before I’d even started!
This was multi-award-winning composer Rahman’s first effort for the stage and the palpable effort to mesh his unique take on Indian music with the world of musical theatre is obvious from the off. The musical soundscape that begins ‘Bombay Awakes/Bombay Dreams’ is layered and intriguing but the mood is shattered as soon as Don Black’s lyrics crash in (see the quote up top for a sample) and the combination is cringeworthily fatal. And across the score as a whole, the sense of compromise, of trying to serve two masters whilst pleasing none is too evident.
The score feels like it works best when the mix is turned down – the balls-out Bollywood would-be-breakout-hit Preeya Kalidas’ ‘Shakalaka Baby’ has a cocksure tilt to it, and the Hindi-language ‘Chaiyya Chaiyya’ is gorgeous. And to be fair, there is some good music in here – Rahman is far too accomplished a composer for there not to be. Raza Jaffrey’s ‘Like An Eagle’ soars with its pop sheen and ballads like Raj Ghatak’s ‘Love’s Never Easy’ have a hypnotic quality that draw them close to earworm territory.
Combined with strong visual work, I can see the show working onstage so maybe it is time for an adventurous fringe theatre to tackle Bombay Dreams. But with a judicious edit.