'Beauty and the Beast' is back with a second season; how Disney India scored its big hit
It was an evening towards the end of October 2015. The crowd was a mix — families, corporate, celebrities and groups of children — all jostling to get into the Dome at NSCI Worli, Mumbai. Once inside the Dome, it was almost as though the city just outside didn’t exist. Outside, there was noise and traffic and clamour; inside, there was magic, although no one knew it just yet. All they knew, was this was the very first production of Beauty and the Beast in India, and the largest production of the beloved Disney musical in the world.
Then the curtains went up, Belle stepped on to the stage — and with the very first notes of her song, set the tone for the rest of the evening. By the time the Beast had effected his transformation and the entire cast (100 performers are on stage together at certain points during the performance) had stepped forward for the curtain call, the applause made it very evident that the audience had been won over completely.
And while it must have been a big relief to every member of the cast and crew, we imagine one man felt the pleasure of the acclaim most keenly.
Vikranth Pawar joined as the creative head for live entertainment at Disney India in 2012. The company was looking to create unique live entertainment experiences for families in India — offer the family audience something that didn’t involve watching a movie or going to a mall or eating at a restaurant. Staging a musical like Beauty and the Beast seemed like a good experiment to “test the waters” with. Nothing of the size and scale the team had in mind had ever been attempted in India before — but Vikranth, with his experience heading productions like Zangoora at the Kingdom of Dreams, was in the right position to steer the experiment.
Despite apprehensions over whether or not a Broadway-style musical would work in India, and if a production so vast in scope could even be attempted, Vikranth and Disney found they had a stupendous success on their hands with Beauty and the Beast. They had sold-out shows in Mumbai and Delhi, and have now returned for a “second season”. The last show in Mumbai will be held on 22 May.
Looking back over that first season from the vantage point of the second, Vikranth tells us it has been like “visiting a familiar, yet spectacular wonder”: “The beauty of live theatre is that every show has something new to offer — even if the content is the same. In this perspective, of course the second season feels different but the show isn’t, it is the same show.”
In putting together this mammoth event, and making it all run so seamlessly, Vikranth says the contribution of his team — actors, dancers, crew, technicians, stage managers, backstage hands, production — has been paramount. The choreography by Terence Lewis, music by Lesle Lewis, set design by Varsha Jain and costumes by Gavin Miguel were pitch perfect, as were the performances by the lead pair: Meher Mistry as Belle and Edwin Joseph as the Beast.
For his lead pair, Vikranth has words of high praise: “Meher and Edwin are an absolute delight to work with, their talent is unlike any other. Meher just lights up the stage as soon as she steps on, she plays Belle with such sincerity and conviction that you believe that it is her. Edwin is a gifted singer and has a great presence on stage, he brings a childlike energy to Beast when he is impatient and immature and then as Beast falls in love with Belle, Edwin plays him with equal maturity,” he says.
Vikranth’s proudest of the fact that the entire production (except for the script and score which are from the original Broadway version) has been created locally: “From the sets, costumes, choreography… everything was created here by an Indian cast, crew and creative talent. We are proud of that as it has really given our theatre ecosystem a chance to show that we can create world class shows, right here in India.”
Beauty and the Beast’s success on the live entertainment and theatre ecosystem in India still remains to be seen — will it pave the path for more such productions? Despite the lack of a “Broadway culture”, the Indian audience is no stranger to musicals — or rather song-and-dance productions — courtesy our films. Has that made us more receptive to more productions like this one?
“The tradition of musical theatre in India is timeless. From the Sanskrit dramas to the contemporary regional theatre, musicals have always been an integral part of storytelling on stage,” says Vikranth. “While musicals on film have their own charm and impact, on stage — besides the live singing performances (no lip syncing /no playback) the audience plays a very important part in the show because it is live. Every show tends to be different because of the kind of audience that watches it as it affects the performance of the actors. And so musicals on stage and in films can coexist as they are two different experiences.”