By: Asjad Nazir
Watching classic multi-starrers on VHS video tapes at family gatherings and looking forward to Hindi film magazines every month connected Samir Bhamra to Bollywood from a young age.
He saw how the larger-than-life stars united people and that led him towards setting up his theatre company Phizzical and producing stage musicals rooted in Indian culture. Sensing a need to unify people again inspired him to create new theatre show Bombay Superstar.
The colourful musical – connected to those days of watching masala entertainers as a child – premieres at Belgrade Theatre in Coventry on October 18, before embarking on a UK tour.
Eastern Eye caught up with the writer-director of the show to find out more.
How do you reflect on your journey?
It’s a hustle to make an ambitious musical and yet when it’s seen by our communities, I feel overwhelmed. I’m learning every single day about people from all walks of life and how stories we tell on stage help the disparate generations understand changing value systems. I wish our community believed and invested in our talent more, so that we could all grow together.
How does Bombay Superstar compare to your previous theatre projects?
This is my biggest and most complex production. With each show, I’ve been learning, growing, and developing. Each show has led to this point. This is my 50th production and it’s ambitious, colourful, funny, and features the best songs from the golden era, all cleverly woven into a story of love and betrayal, set in the era of bell bottoms and sequin saris. I’ve had a ball designing costumes, which I know audiences will want to steal.
Tell us about the story…
Bombay Superstar is the story of blooming starlet Laila and her romance with dashing hero Sikandar. They star together in blockbuster musicals, where heroes wear their hearts on their sleeves and rescue beautiful damsels from the clutches of villains, on the mean streets of Bombay. As their passion secretly grows, the intensity of their emotions threatens to burn everything in the city of hope and dreams. Will there be a happily ever after for the star-crossed lovers? Laila is a trailblazer, inspired by leading ladies of the day such as Zeenat Aman, Rekha, and Parveen Babi.
Tell us about the music in the show?
Fresh new arrangements for the songs by Hinal Pattani will be played by the fantastic 515 Crew, with intricate choreography by Shruti and Rohan Shah from the Bollywood Dance School. My fabulous heroines such as Nisha Aaliya, Pia Sutaria, Amar, and Sheetal Pandya present the best of Indian and homegrown talent.
Your favourite moment in the show…
Everyone who has read the show has told me that it’s a delicious script with sensational lines and they love how I have woven iconic songs into the story to give them new meaning. Personally, I loved writing the characters, the choices they make in their lives and how their arcs lead to a major twist.
What according to you makes for good theatre?
Stories that help our society to grow and become progressive. Under my leadership at Phizzical, we look at our histories to identify areas in our lives that need to grow. So essentially, we tell tomorrow’s stories today in an entertaining and thought-provoking way.
What do you love about Bollywood musicals?
When words can’t convey an emotion, then songs do that. And when a song doesn’t convey an emotion, then a dance does. Ultimately, it’s a seamless blending of drama, music, dance, and fashion.
Who is your own Bollywood hero?
As a child, I loved Amitabh Bachchan and Rekha’s films. When Sridevi entered the Hindi film industry, I was immediately drawn to her. I identified with her introverted personality. I remain intrigued about how she could come alive to portray these fantastical characters and perform some of the best dance sequences of her time.
How do you feel ahead of a new show touring?
Nervous and excited. I’m collaborating with an amazing team who look up to me as a leader and want to make a show that audiences love, so it leads to my collaborators getting more work. I’m excited because we want to create a fun night out through a story that has never been done on the British stage or even in Bollywood. I’ve not watered the script down to suit a western gaze. We are telling it in the most authentic way with today’s generation of British Asian and Indian artists.
Why should we watch this new show?
We all need to be entertained. Just like you need to go to the doctor for medicine, you need to come and see Bombay Superstar to feel happy.
Bombay Superstar is on at Belgrade Theatre, Belgrade Square, Coventry CV1 1GS from October 18 – Saturday October 22 before going on tour.