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CHALO CINEMA 3 - THE ROAD TO FAME (article first published : 2007-06-10)

For the past two years, director Smeetha Maharaj and her Nateshwar Dance Company have presented a music and dance extravaganza titled Chalo Cinema at the Playhouse.

Chalo Cinema (loosely translated as “Let’s Go to the Cinema”) focuses on the vibrant film industry in India, the largest producer of films in the world, and makes much of Bollywood styles and storylines. The first two productions (2005 and 2006) were hugely successful, selling out quite early in the run and extra performances had to be put in to accommodate the demand for tickets.

On both occasions, I mentioned that the productions were over-long and unstructured. Chalo Cinema 3, I am happy to say, is a great improvement on its predecessors.

Afzal Khan has headed the cast in all three Chalo Cinemas. In the two previous versions, his energies and skills undoubtedly increased the humour and enjoyment but these appearances virtually ran alongside scenes which were little more than vehicles for another dance or another set of costumes. This time Afzal’s role is far more integrated into the overall concept and it should be added that he also gets the chance to show off his versatility – at times a wannabee cowboy actor, acting instructor, principal of the film school and film director. With its welcome storyline and added dramatic content, Chalo Cinema 3 is now well on the way to being considered musical theatre.

Another well-known figure of the Chalo Cinema cast is the beautiful Kajal Bagwandeen whose performance either as an actress or a dancer is compelling. This year, Smeetha Maharaj has the added benefit of three dancers who are well-known and respected in the contemporary dance world. All award-winners, Mlekeleli Khuzwayo (also an award-winning choreographer), S’busiso Ngidi and Sifiso Khumalo have long impressed on the local dance scene and it was great watching them embrace the Indian style of dance with such efficiency. Adding to the cosmopolitan make-up of the company is Natasha Tait who gets a chance to show off her contemporary dance skills.

Another surprise was to see two young men who have worked with me in Lotus FM radio drama – Shikar Pirthi (soon to be heard on air as the lead in The Waiting Room) and Rahul Brijnath – proving that their footwork is as strong as their dramatic vocal qualities. Mention must also be made of Luckesh Ramnath who provides much of the comedy and Evashnee Pillay for her hilarious interpretation of the Snake Dance. An interesting addition to the production is the guest appearance of Lester who does a credible impersonation of Michael Jackson.

As always the costumes are stunning – designed by Braupadi Singh, they provide a visual feast of whirling skirts, flowing scarves, glittering sequins and metallic colours. Stronger use has been made of theatre technology by Rakesh Maharaj and Henry Paul in terms of settings and props. The lighting is impressive and the opening for the wedding scene is purely magical – the audience’s responding gasp of pleasure was audible.

The energy of the hard-working cast is consistent and to be congratulated. Smeetha Maharaj could very easily keep this concept of a film school going for years to come! Each year, a different batch of students could get involved in the training process and prepare for the various work opportunities that come their way. These opportunities could take them to different locations around the world.

For those unfamiliar with South Indian or North Indian dance as well as the Bollywood scene, Chalo Cinema 3 offers a chance to see the various styles – either done properly or “sent up”, as it were, in the highly amusing audition sequence. I would suggest a re-working of the curtain call. It takes the audience by surprise and consequently the company doesn’t get the accolade it deserves.

Choreographer Rajesh Kisan Bidwe of the Indian Film Dance Director Association (IFDDA), Mumbai, is assisted by Varsha Sharma of the Nateshwar Dance Company who recently completed her studies in dance choreography in Bangalore, India.

Chalo Cinema 3 - The Road to Fame is suitable for the whole family and runs until June 22 in the Playhouse Drama every night (except Mondays) at 19h30. Tickets R75 (R60 pensioners/R50 scholars). For more information or to book, contact Computicket or the Playhouse Box Office on 031 369 9540 / 031 369 9536.

Don’t delay in booking – remember that the two previous seasons were sold out. – Caroline Smart




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