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Unabashed Kitsch

Wednesday, December 13, 2017
By Deepa Gahlot

There is something comfortingly familiar about mainstream Bollywood movies of a certain kind – good looking actors in designer outfits romancing at pretty locations.

Viraf Sarkari (one of the three heads of Wizcraft) has picked this glittery part of Bollywood and transferred it on stage with his play, 'Balle Balle'. It is clearly targeted at people who would be happy with watching a splashy, kitschy band-baaja-baraat production – for audiences that might want a change from watching a romantic movie at the multiplex but only to watch a romantic play at the theatre.

Add to the thin plot, grand projected 'sets', well-choreographed Bollywood songs fitted into the story with a dash of humour, and 'Balle Balle' is a crowd-pleaser, but not for those who want their theatre to be powerful or thought-provoking.

Wizcraft has also done in Mumbai what they did Broadway style in their Kingdom Of Dreams theatre in Gurgaon (Delhi) – running one production for a long time at one theatre (in Mumbai at Balgandhrava Rang Mandir in Bandra).

'Balle Balle' is set in Patiala, where Nisha, in love with wedding planner Nikhil, can't marry him till her older sister Isha gets married. Also, she is scared of the wrath of her father, who is brought on to the stage with 'Singh is King' chants, carried on the shoulders of his black-clad henchmen. When he walks, his footsteps boom.

Meanwhile, Canadian singer Swag reluctantly agrees to consider an arranged marriage and arrives with is grandmother, mother and aunt to see Isha. They happen to see Nisha first and decide she is the girl he will wed. When Swag sees Isha he falls in love with her, but nobody has the nerve to tell Papaji. So as the wedding ceremonies get underway – with a lot of noise, song and dance – you know the knot will untangle. In a romcom nobody gets hitched to the wrong person.

The singing is live – could be much better – the dancing is energetic, and there are some lovely set pieces, like the song atop a truck with the projection creating the impression that it is moving. Or the song when Swag falls for Nisha. The colours are so bright, and the sound so loud that after stepping of the theatre it takes a while for the eyes and ears to readjust.

But why were the women all speaking in shrill fluting tones, and why, in a family kind of play is there some vulgarity to do with a perpetually horny aunt and a trouser-dropping gay man? The accents vary from Punjabi to Marathi to faux Brit.

However, 'Balle Balle' is earnest in its desire to make the show fun for the audience with enough 'wow' moments. If a production promises to be 'A Bollywood Musical Comedy' and delivers, then who's to complain. Which raises the question, if there is the technical capability to create this kind of razzle-dazzle, then why not spend some thought on plot, ditch cliche Bollywood for once (though one can see the NRI audience flocking to this one), and produce a world class work of theatre art?

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