Award-winning director Samir Bhamra has covered the length and breadth of theatre and television. In 2016 he directed the new musical Bring On The Bollywood which opened at the Belgrade Theatre in Coventry, and this year after a research trip to India, he took that research and reworked the show to reopen it this May.
Prior to founding theatre company Phizzical in August 2003, he was balancing work as a new media designer and Bollywood dancer. “I wanted to create bigger work and so the complex process to learn the craft of theatre began,” he said.
His initial attraction to the piece was because of his vested interest in South Asian culture. He explained: “Young South Asian people in the UK, as demonstrated by my board members, are very interested and involved in the culture of popular Hindi cinema. The challenge was to transpose this to the stage for all audiences to enjoy.” Growing up, Samir said that the creative influences he grew up with were Bollywood and Shakespeare. “To make it work, we needed to involve many people and capture their dreams and realities to create a world full of imagination and possibility,” he said. “The power of Bollywood is so uplifting that it motivated us to overcome challenges.”
Last year Bring On The Bollywood attracted a superb diversity of audiences. As a production, it combined many different theatrical elements to create an all-round impressive musical. Samir explained the challenges in the creation, and said the Bollywood style is incredibly difficult to crack. “You are in competition with the largest film industry in the world who have all the capabilities to play with your emotions and wow you,” he said. “Also, every Bollywood film lover is also your biggest critic – who can write a better story. To add this to the mix, making the show enjoyable regardless of ethnicity or cultural awareness is near impossible.”
Last year, Samir believed they had a fabulous cast and creative team, that helped them test the original ideas. However this year, they have revisited the vision to make improvements to the work. “As creatives we always want to improve our craft and everyone from the creative team learnt all the nuances that are needed to make a Bollywood show.”
“Bring On The Bollywood is hopefully paving the way to show that you don’t need to resort to gimmicks to sell a show.”
Samir travelled to India to immerse himself in the culture and enable himself to really bring the production to life through experience. He explained: “India is a vast and diverse country filled with inspiration and ideas. A small section of the show is set in Valley of Flowers – a UNESCO World Heritage site near the Garwal Himalayas. For nine months a year, the Valley is covered in snow. When the snow melts away, the paths open for three months for people to trek to admire an array of beautiful and unique flora. Part of the script was written during this trek, I felt like I was Dorothy on my way to see the wizard as it became easier to write a part of the story.”
Not only did he discover the ideas for the story, but the ideas for the costume came to him also. He said: “I had to purchase 1000s of metres of fabric, sequined braiding, and jewellery to create all the colourful and spectacular costumes. I am really pleased with how they have turned out – incredibly detailed and intricate!”
Whilst maintaining the roots of the original show, Samir described it as 99% of it having been changed. “We have created more songs in the show so that audiences will get to sample the many dance and musical styles from India to create foot-thumping choreography that will make the audiences want to get up and dance,” he said. “I worked more on each characters’ arc so the stakes are high so we really take audiences on an emotional journey. Then there is a fresh approach to the set and lighting design all enhancing the foundations.”
On a personal level, Samir exclaimed how much his mother loved Indian cinema. His mother’s waters actually broke at a drive-in cinema while watching a Bollywood movie and his dad named him after the hero of the movie – Samir Khan, brother of the legendary Bollywood actor, producer and director Feroz Khan. “I live and breathe Bollywood, and I am totally influenced by it. Approaching the rehearsal process this time, Samir gushes about the creative team he is working with. “I am always surprised by young Devesh Sodha’s cinematic compositions, moved to tears by the lyrics by Robby Khela and blown away by Pete Bragg’s lighting.
Approaching the rehearsal process this time, Samir gushes about the creative team he is working with. “I am always surprised by young Devesh Sodha’s cinematic compositions, moved to tears by the lyrics by Robby Khela and blown away by Pete Bragg’s lighting,” he said. “What completes the picture is the talented cast who approached the show with the same freshness as we had when we made the show last year.”
Opening at the Belgrade, Samir loves that he is opening the show again in Coventry. He said: “The audience reaction to Bring on the Bollywood has been astonishing and it’s brought in new audiences from all backgrounds to come and enjoy a modern romantic comedy speaks to our global identities. We hope to make new friends and grow our family and make the theatre and the city proud as wear their support in our hearts.”