Everything in Bombay Dreams resembles something else. The untouchables look as clean and stylishly dressed as the rich Brahmans; their squatter slum looks like the tenement from Les Miz, only in Technicolor. The dance numbers, which tend to look a lot like each other, also look like leftovers from the ’70s TV show Hullabaloo, with Hindu hand gestures added. And A.R. Rahman’s songs often sound like the disco hits of that era, drizzled with orchestral tamarind sauce. (Bombay Dreams may, in fact, be the best disco musical of the ’70s—too bad they’re over.) The songs do sound noticeably catchier whenever they leave Don Black’s drab English lyrics behind and lapse into whichever one of India’s innumerable languages coined the word shakalaka.
The script, too, is a curry-flavored TV dinner, not evoking Bombay and Bollywood as much as it does the early-’30s Hollywood musicals that gave Bollywood the cue in the first place. A low-class boy loves a high-class girl, makes it big for her sake, gets tempted away by a glamorous star, and comes to his senses just in time to rescue the girl (and his own slumtown pals) from her stuffy, crooked fiancé. Didn’t Ben Lyon and Bebe Daniels shoot this scenario in 1931, with Gershwin instead of Ganesh? About all that’s authentically Indian in Bombay Dreams, in fact, is its appealing cast, especially tireless Manu Narayan as the hero, eternally graceful Madhur Jaffrey as his grandmother, and Ayesha Dharker, impishly parodying a narcissistic film diva. But if this show is really what Bombay dreams, it’s time to open the bomb bay and let the munitions drop.
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on April 27, 2004