Sunday, July 14

Frankie Goes To Bollywood – Bradford Alhambra

One of the joys of theatre is it can transport to worlds that you have no experience of in real life, and Frankie Goes To Bollywood takes us into heart of a flamboyant billion dollar movie industry that puts millions of bums on seats in India and entertains diaspora South-Asians around the world including the UK.

Every year Bollywood filmmakers based in Mumbai churn out hundreds of films taking people away from their daily grind to a glitzy world where they can forget their troubles for a few hours. That was the inspiration for the book by RIFCO Theatre Company’s Artistic director Pravesh Kumar – who has worked in Bollywood – that he says is an ode to those movies, but also a call to action for an industry still rife with sexism.

Like so many Bollywood movies it is a fantasy where naïve wannabe Bollywood star Frankie is discovered by a Bollywood director in Milton Keynes of all places. In classic Bollywood style she is whisked off to Mumbai to become an unlikely star before finding out that behind all the glamour it’s a world where the men in the families of local production companies rule with an iron fist.  Along the way there are numerous costume changes and dance routines that ape how a Bollywood classic might look.

Kumar’s musical takes inspiration from the classic Masala movies, which like the famous curries have a dash of everything in it – songs, big dance routines, action, comedy and, of course, cheesy melodrama. So this production follows that model with the added edge of asking why female performers are thrown on the scrapheap when their looks fade, but male stars can go on into their dotage.  Kumar asks why young female stars are often seen as falling in love onscreen with men old enough to be their fathers?

But if you just want a taste of why so many people love Bollywood then Kumar has pulled off a minor miracle of giving us a glimpse of those spectacular over the top movies on a much more limited budget. The small cast works hard to recreate the complex dance routines that are such a staple of the movies making the most of Andy Kumar’s glittery costumes and choreography, inspired by own time in Bollywood, although some of the movement away from big numbers felt a bit clunky.

Niraj Chag and Tasha Taylor Johnson’s songs blend Disney and more traditional influences, although the variable vocal talents of the cast don’t always fill this big theatre.

Liala Zaidi is a decent singer, but proved to be a charming leading lady in the Bollywood tradition, while also honestly showing Frankie’s challenges as a woman in a man’s world.  Dhruv Ravi is wonderfully wooden as arrogant male Bollywood star Raju King, although it’s not entirely clear if that is an artistic choice.

Gigi Zahir is the best singer on show as the flamboyant fixer Shona, and Helen K. Wint is also a strong singer bringing real pathos to fading Bollywood star Malika. In the midst of all the singing and dancing there’s plenty of laughs, with lots of in-jokes for the Bollywood aficionados in a much more diverse audience than usual, and Katie Stasi is great fun as Frankie’s sister/cousin Goldy.

Kumar does offer the traditional Bollywood happy ending, but despite his clear affection for the movies should take great credit for more than gently prodding an industry that needs to move with the times. Alternatively, you can just luxuriate in a warm hearted show that offers a window into a unique form of movie making for the masses.

Frankie Goes To Bollywood is at Bradford Alhambra until Saturday 22nd June. To book or 01274 432500.

Reviewer: Paul Clarke

Reviewed: 19th June 2024

North West End UK Rating:

Rating: 3 out of 5.