Just over two years ago, Sudha Bhuchar and Kristine Landon-Smith's stage adaptation of the 1994 Indian movie Hum Aapke Hain Koun was a roaring success in the Lyric Hammersmith's studio space under the title Fourteen Songs, Two Weddings And A Funeral. Now, established as Tamasha Theatre Company's second greatest hit after the wonderful East Is East, it migrates to the theatre's main stage as part of The Catch season of young people's and family theatre.
The odd, hiccupy pace of the between-songs dramatic sections, and the confusion of performers as they occasionally and ill-advisedly try to reconcile a semi-naturalistic stage acting style with bright, brash Bollywood pastiche, only detract if you allow them to, if you resist the allure of this remarkable blend of romance, melodrama, social satire and drop-of-a-hat musical numbers. Prem and Nisha's love blossoms as his brother Rajesh marries her sister Pooja, in a tightly-knit family/social circle which serves to show us traditional and modern values both blending and conflicting. When Pooja dies and Nisha is betrothed to Rajesh, all three are torn between various shades of love and of duty.
Bizarre and exotic as this may look to unaccustomed eyes, its delight runs deeper than mere patronising indulgence. In its plot (simple story, complex emotions), structure (whack in a song wherever possible) and production values (turn up the colour and give 'em the whole personality), this is a musical in the classic vein, which abounds in both substance and fun without the compulsion to be earnest, knowing or both that bedevils so many recent works. Pushpinder Chani as Prem, in particular, grins and sashays his way across the stage in true leading-man style; Sue Mayes' design is flexible and impressive, with the requisite twin staircases; Barrie Bignold's musical arrangements catch the Bollywood style wonderfully, combining big Wally Stott-style orchestral sweeps with incongruous toybox electronica. In a terrific emblem of the complex blend of stage and screen conventions, when the actors lip-sync to playback songs, the singers on tape are the cast of the show, but the original rather than the current cast. Thus, when two of the older characters sing a duet, Shiv Grewal as Kaka mimes to his own singing voice of two years ago, while Harvey Virdi as Kamla syncs to the voice of Sameena Zehra, who has since been recast in a meatier, bitchier role and sits silent a few feet to Virdi's left.
As ever, Tamasha bring both insight and dedication to their portrayal of an asian perspective; neither determined cultural proselytising nor diluted for crossover appeal, but simply first-rate work.
Written for the Financial Times.
Copyright © Ian Shuttleworth; all rights reserved.
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