The Merchants of Bollywood is a show that truly transcends cultural boundaries, says lead artist Carol Furtado—the show’s producers are Australians, the director’s English, the cast is Indian and the crew is a mix of Europeans, Americans and South Asians
Theatrical extravaganza “The Merchants of Bollywood”, which is coming to Australia soon, features a cast of more than 30 performers direct from Film City Mumbai—the home of Bollywood cinema.
Since its premiere 15 years ago, the show has had worldwide success playing to more than 2 million patrons, 4 sold out London shows followed by sell-out performances in the U.S, Europe and South East Asia. Bangles and beads, swirling colours in costumes and sets, and high-energy music, excites the senses in this lavish new production that is bigger, bolder, brighter and featuring all the smash hit songs from the biggest Bollywood blockbusters.
A fictional story, yet based on real life, “The Merchants of Bollywood” reveals to the Western audience the workings of cinema and the part it plays in the heart and soul of Indian society in an extraordinary evening of music and dance at the heart of which lies a heartfelt story of a young girl, her grandfather and their love of dance.
The Indian Sun speaks with Carol Furtado, lead artist in The Merchants of Bollywood.
Are you excited about returning to Australia for another gig?
Of course, Australia is a land filled with positivity, multiculturalism and mateship! I love the lively spirit of the Australians.
It is also home to the producers of Merchants of Bollywood so we always do a tour of Australia whenever the show is revived. As a result we have quite a fan following there.
I’ve performed in Australia so many times now and met so many lovely people who have shown both, the show and its cast and crew, so much love at times it feels like I have surrogate families in different cities in Australia. I think for many Australians, Bollywood is synonymous with Indian culture and what they fall in love with is the culture — be it the food, the music or the dancing.
How did you come to be part of Merchants of Bollywood and be cast in the role of Ayesha?
I was never keen on being a part of the Bollywood scene. I only auditioned for The Merchants of Bollywood to humour a friend, who without consulting with me, recommended me to the producer and director of the show and shared my pictures with them.
When I went for my meeting with the director I was escorted to a conference hall where veteran actors of the show happened to also be present at the time of my audition. I was a bundle of nerves throughout the script reading because I was so conscious of the fact that they were all sizing me up. Somehow I made it to the last page, and before I knew it we were discussing schedules, negotiating contracts… The entire selection process was rather quick compared to the lasting impact The Merchants of Bollywood has had on my life.
How has the response to the show been from around the world?
The Merchants of Bollywood has been a smashing success around the world, even with audiences that don’t speak English. Its international appeal may have something to do with the fact that the show’s producers are Australians, the director’s English, the cast is Indian and the crew is a mix of Europeans, Americans and South Asians. Some things transcend language and culture; for instance the heart thumping, foot tapping music that makes audiences (no matter their age, gender or what part of the world they’re from) jump out of their seat and shimmy along with the dancers on stage. It’s always amazing to get those reactions no matter how many times we perform.
We’ve received much love from people around the world. It is my belief that The Merchants of Bollywood has been successful largely due to fans returning to watch the show over and over again. There are many fans that keep in touch with us via social media with a few dedicated ones even following the show to different cities. These wonderful people make it such a pleasure for us to do our job by bringing their excitement and enthusiasm to the theatre every time they return to watch us.
How was the theatrical performance received by stars in Bollywood?
Since the show has never been performed in India, the only Bollywood stars to have watched The Merchants of Bollywood were either ones who happened to be touring the same city as us, or ones who travelled overseas especially to see the show. We were very fortunate to have been graced early on by the presence of a superstar like Mr. Amitabh Bachchan who expressed pride in what we had managed to achieve with the show. More recently, Mr. Kabir Bedi watched the show and made it a point to come backstage to compliment the entire cast on our performances.
What makes Bollywood so appealing as a genre?
I think Bollywood’s appeal lies in the fact that it was never meant for a niche audience, but for everyone in general (which is why we have the masala films with a bit of drama, some action and romance thrown in with a dash of comedy to produce something which has mass appeal).
When it comes to entertainment people generally have a great deal of curiosity in foreign cultures; they’d like a glimpse into the lives of people different from them. And since Indian culture is no monolith with Bollywood, westerners get a good sampling of the various Indian cultures.