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Thursday, September 21, 2023

Disco Dancer The Musical Review: Visual Stunner Distracted By Futile & Insensitive Comedy Act

Disco Dancer The Musical makes its world premiere debut at Sadler’s Wells with production running across seven shows. The 1982 Hindi super hit of the same name was India’s first ever 100 crore film, starring the inimitable King of Dance, Mithun Chakraborty, and directed by B. Subhash. Celebrated composer, the late Bappi Lahiri, crafted its evergreen and progressive soundtrack.

Like the movie, the play chronicles the romance between Jimmy and Kim and Jimmy’s anguish as his mother dies in a wicked conspiracy. Written by Nicholas Bernard, Irfan, Ali Haji, Khush Mullick and Veer Panchal. Adapted from the original script by Dr Rahi Masoom Reza and Deepak Balraj Vij, the story chronicles the romance between Jimmy and Kim and Jimmy’s anguish as his mother dies in a wicked conspiracy. It features Arjun Tanwar, Hriday Gattani, Salonie Khanna, Tia Kar, Varun Tewari and Dipeesh Kashyap, joined by an ensemble of 28 dancers.

Like every other Rajeev Goswami musical, for instance Beyond Bollywood, this too is stunning. Using the stage and three screens with a shimmer-like overlay creates a 3D effect, enriching the lights and colourful visuals. Glitzy costumes perfectly depict the 80s era, topped with Salim-Sulaiman’s atmospheric background score. The stage adaptation adds allure to the 80s film which is otherwise earthy and ‘nostalgic’. Visually, the production is captured well – as are the dance sequences and singing.

However, a deterrent is an unrequired comedy by Shazia Mirza. Posed almost like a narrator, the jokes made are unnecessary and highly disrespectful. For a cult classic like this, it is insensitive to describe its city/country of origin as ‘smelling of farts’. Even mocking a sequence like ‘Krishna Dharti Pe Aaja Tu’ for the country having several Gods is a subliminal punch to India’s cultural roots as well as popular culture. If this was a non-Desi person making such jokes, perhaps the outcome/reaction would’ve been different.

Most people walking into the show are aware of how Bollywood had its era of cringe and cheesiness. Commenting and having a dialogue on that is acceptable, but delivering punch lines to patronise a country is not. Mirza, as a comedian, does not set the premise at all for Disco Dancer. On the contrary, the jokes push the white stereotypical remarks of Indians and Desis (generally), which should not happen. We as a community are working hard to change the narrative and such gigs push us back to square one.

Being a film from the 80s, we hear her talking about current politics and Rishi Sunak? The quips are irrelevant and illogical. The idea of having a comedian making tongue-in-cheek commentary about the film as the drama unfolds, (like Gogglebox format) is a good idea. However, the wrong comedian was chosen to execute it. This comedy is a disservice to the play’s cohesiveness.

Apparently, the actors playing principal roles are interchangeable. When I saw the play, Arjun Tanwar plays Jimmy. He does a stellar job in all three departments of acting, singing and dancing. Despite performing high-octane choreography, he manages to assemble energy for crooning the next track. Several technical glitches occurred. Post-interval, the mics were not switched on. Tanwar’s headset mic fell off in the middle of his performance, yet he continued the act with grace and dignity. The sign of a true artist.

The beauty of Goswami’s productions is their visual appeal as well as raising awareness of Indian culture to Western audiences. The play attempts to do that via the drama, but the comedy acts in between act as a major hindrance. It sticks out like a rotten thumb. Besides that though, Disco Dancer The Musical deserves appreciation for the immense effort gone in behind-the-scenes.

Disco Dancer The Musical is playing at Sadler’s Wells. 

Anuj Radia
Journalist and film enthusiast.

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