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NB: as of 23 September 2008, all new artSMart articles are being published on the site news.artsmart.co.za.

CHALO CINEMA (article first published : 2005-05-11)

In a bold step that marks a worthy celebration of its 25th Anniversary, Nateshwar Dance Company’s artistic director Smeetha Maharaj has turned her focus on the Indian film industry with Chalo Cinema (loosely translated as “Let’s Go to the Cinema”) running in the Playhouse Drama.

India is the largest producer of films in the world and the show pays tribute to Bollywood’s greatest showman, Raj Kapoor. Described as being the last true movie Mogul of Indian cinema, his work reflected his own sense of majesty and grandeur.

The first half of the programme deals with well-known numbers from Raj Kapoor’s productions, moving on to a sound-stage situation where a production team of director, his assistant and the choreographer are battling to deal with prima donna stars – or worse, their mothers! The show closes as a Bollywood awards presentation, with much humour being drawn from the fact that it is taking place in Durban!

Heading the cast are well-known actors Afzal Khan and Jayloshini Naidoo, both of whom we saw recently in Ashwin Singh’s To House. Afzal delights with his comedy skills and versatility and Jayloshini’s normally cool presentation took a wonderful wayward sidestep in a number of roles, particular that of a passionate young girl whose suitor is being less than honest!

Providing eye-candy for female members of the audience are the reigning Mr India South Africa, Pubern Padayachee, and Face of India, Rahul Brijnath. Pubern shows that he’s not just a good-looking face and an attractive body but has an excellent flair for comedy. Watch his star ascend! Rahul is another performer to take note of – he’s confident and very comfortable on stage.

When even an everyday sari can have the most exquisite patterning and beadwork and is not considered out of place, the wonderful thing about Indian culture is that you simply cannot go over the top in a visual sense. So in this case, superlatives one normally reads with cynicism - like “extravagant, magnificent, glittering, superb …” – really do apply.

Costume designer Draupadi Singh has created a visual feast. Structured into outfits here in Durban after having been crated from India, stunning fabrics follow one upon the other whirling in dance movements and dizzying the senses. A particularly glorious shimmering piece had me wondering whether I could find the wherewithal to travel to India and buy some myself!

Choreographed by the inimitable Vaibhav Joshi – may he long continue to visit Durban from Mumbai - the dances are lip-synched to the voice tracks, as is usual. However, we do get to hear some real live music from well-known singers Umitha Kalyan, Pravesh Sunker and Charmaine Deol. The cast numbers around 60 and among the principal dancers you will spot – you can’t miss him! – Lindsay McDonald, who is compelling watching from start to finish. Other dancers to mention are Swaran Singh, Renira Gobind, Kajal Bagwandeen, Deepa Jagjivan, Aakashna Deokumar and Samantha Misra.

Richard Parker’s lighting design is excellent and he has captured exactly the sense of the show. If the sound is a bit shaky in the first half, remember that these are recordings that are over 50 years old!

Frankly, I think Smeetha has tried to do too much. There is enough material in this production for two shows and it would be advisable to cut down the running time. This could easily be done without spoiling the entertainment value. The entire sound stage sequence could stand as its own show – although it must be mentioned that if the camera was actually rolling during the “takes”, the footage would been ruined every time the “director” and his “assistant” moved in front of it!

However, as Chalo Cinema stands, you certainly get value for your money! The scenes shift from turbaned bandits fighting over a woman, circus acts and beautifully evocative temple scenes to a highly enjoyable medley of love songs. If you aren’t familiar with the Bollywood genre, don’t bother trying to work out a logical process – just enjoy the spectacle!

Chalo Cinema! is presented by the Playhouse Company in association with Lotus FM. It runs in the Playhouse’s Drama until May 22 with evening performances on May 12 and 21 at 20h00. Afternoon performances May 14, 15, 21 and 22at 16h00. Pre-booked tickets range from R20 to R40. Tickets bought at the Playhouse Box office from an hour before each performance range between R25 and R45. Book at Computicket on 083 915 8000, at www.computicket.com or through Dial-a-Seat on 031 369 9555.

School bookings R15 per pupil for a special performance on May 13 at 11h00 (one teacher per 20 pupils admitted free). Teachers interested should contact Smangele Mbeje on 031 369 3463. – Caroline Smart




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