It’s the final Blitz Weekend of Alberta Theatre Projects’ Festival of New Canadian Plays, which means there are four plays to take in before ATP turns the lights out on the playRites Festival for good, and instead include new Canadian plays in their regular programming.
There are no less than three chances (to take in Anita’s Majumdar’s Same Same But Different, the only musical on the roster (2 shows today - including one right now as I write this – and 1 tomorrow afternoon). It’s a take on the Bollywood musical, and in particular its influence on shadism (racism based on skin-tone), due to its promotion of fairer-skinned actors. Anita has been an outspoken opponent of the practice, enough that she’s even referenced in the wiki article on the subject. I was surprised to learn in researching this article, that India is one of the world’s largest markets for skin-lightening creams (particularly targeted at women to improve their romantic/marriage prospects) and that sales of such creams surpass those for tea and Coke.
In honour of Anita’s show, I had every intention of writing a semi-intelligent article about Bollywood musicals. I knew Bollywood is the term used for the Hindi-language film industry based in Mumbai (formerly Bombay), and that the films are often family-friendly romances and melodramas with extended song-and-dance sequences, but never having seen more than clips of them, that’s about all I knew. Once I started reading up on them, I realized that there’s an awful lot of information available, and that I really have nothing to add to what’s already out there on-line if you care to look. I did pick up a few tidbits along the way, however, that may be interesting to you as well:
- Unlike Hollywood, from which it gets its name, “Bollywood” does not exist as a physical place. The term came into being in the 1970’s when India overtook the US as the world’s largest film producer. The naming scheme for “Bollywood” was inspired by “Tollywood”, the name that was used as early as 1932 to refer to the cinema of West Bengal, based in Tollygunge, Calcutta.
- Credit for the revival of the modern western movie musical (e.g. Chicago, The Producers, Hairspray, Sweeney Todd, The Phantom of the Opera, and Mamma Mia!) can be attributed to Bollywood’s influence on 2001’s Moulin Rouge! which included traditional Bollywood elements.
- Bollywood film music (called filmi music) is generally pre-recorded by professional singers, with the actors lip-synching the words, often while dancing. Unlike early American movie musicals, these singers are prominently featured in the opening credits and even have their own fan-bases (if that had been the case here, Marnie Nixon would be a household name today – see my article entitled “Movies to Musicals – CSI or What Do These Movie-Musical Stars Have in Common? ” for some reason my internal links aren’t working).
- There is a big market for Bollywood films in South Asian communities around the world, and Americans see more films from India than from any other non-English speaking country
- Indian audiences are increasingly interested in seeing films depicting foreign places. Many Bollywood films since the 1990’s have been largely or entirely shot in New York, Los Angeles, Vancouver and Toronto.
I suppose my one big take-away is how big Bollywood really is. Like most westerners, I forget that a large part of the world does not speak English as a first language and that there’s a whole world of culture out there, including musical theatre culture, that we never – or rarely – get a glimpse of.
Go to ATP PlayRites Festival for more information on what’s playing this weekend.