Why Abhay Deol chose to appear in a Bollywood-inspired musical in UK

Deepanjana Pal

Jun 13, 2013 12:38:38 IST

Last Sunday, in Bradford, UK, actor Abhay Deol appeared before a massive crowd on an enormous (fake) elephant, wearing a glittery sherwani-ish outfit. For an actor whose most masala film was the urbane bromance Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara, his performance as AD, the "king of Bollywood", in BBC Three's live production of Bollywood Carmen may not be the finest example of Deol's acting but it is definitely the flashiest entry in the actor's filmography so far.

"I pitched to him the whole Being John Malkovich thing," said Indra Bhose, who directed Bollywood Carmen. "There's this huge Bollywood star, he's called AD, he's got the same initials as you. He could be an Abhay Deol in an alternate universe." In the course of Bollywood Carmen, Bhose has Deol swanning around in a long jacket that looks suspiciously like it was stolen from magician PC Sorcar Jr's wardrobe, dancing to “Jai Ho” and shaking all the necessary body parts while lip syncing to "Chammak Challo" from Ra.One.

Why Abhay Deol chose to appear in a Bollywood-inspired musical in UK

Abhay Deol in the musical.

Bollywood Carmen is timed to celebrate 100 years of Indian cinema and show off Bradford's new city centre. The idea of adapting the opera by Georges Bizet into a live Bollywood musical is one that BBC producer Andy King-Dabbs has nursed for years now. Bhose became involved in the project because he was familiar with both Indian cinema and opera. "I kind of ticked all the boxes," said Bhose, who confesses he's not particularly well-versed with Bollywood. "My hero was always Satyajit Ray," he said. "But I have watched the classics, like Mughal-e-Azam and Sholay."

It's quite obvious that Bhose kept the Ray-worshipping side of his filmmaking persona under wraps while directing Bollywood Carmen. Kitsch was king in this production. In it, heads bobbed, the colours were bright and almost everyone flaunted some serious bling. Kuljit Bhamra, one of first to popularise bhangra globally, produced the music for Bollywood Carmen. There's a strong Punjabi flavour to the soundtrack, which has a few English numbers and remixed versions of Hindi film favourites like "Kabhi Kabhi" and "Dum Maaro Dum".

The final performance was put together in two weeks, which is impressive for a show that has as many moving parts as Bollywood Carmen. Watching a recording of the show means you don't feel that adrenaline buzz that makes live shows so much fun. Consequently, you’re also more aware of the awkward jumps in storytelling, the creaky acting and how cringe-inducing much of the choreography was. The live audience, on the other hand, seems to have been charmed.

Technically speaking, Bhose's venture was more complicated than the usual live staged event. Instead of keeping all the action on one set, Bhose had multiple locations, making Bollywood Carmen as cinematic as it was theatrical. In terms of story, Bhose tweaked the original to turn the gypsy girl Carmen into a young woman who dreams of becoming a Bollywood star. "If you know the opera by Bizet and you watch our Bollywood Carmen, you'll see the same characters, the same themes, the same scenes happening," said Bhose.

In case you were wondering if there's a scene in Bizet's Carmen in which a character enters like Deol did on an elephant with an entourage of dancers, there isn't. "The toreador in the opera, Escamillo, is the great hero," said Bhose. "He arrives, the women all love him, the men all want to be like him. So we turned that into a Bollywood star who's coming to town." Bhose's inspiration for AD was Shah Rukh Khan. "I was watching a Bollywood award function and Shah Rukh Khan came in on a winged, bird-like creature," recalled the director. "I saw that and I thought, I've got to use something like that." Don José in Bhose's version is a security guard called Don (Stephen Rahman-Hughes) who is smitten by Carmen and can't handle being rejected by her. Rahman-Hughes sings a sad version of "Kolaveri" and visually, that song is one of the more striking scenes in Bollywood Carmen.

The lead character of Carmen also got tweaked. "Instead of being just a man-eater, she has an ambition," said Bhose. His Carmen, played by Preeya Kalidas, is desperate to get out of Bradford, where she's labelled a troublemaker, and make a fresh and glamorous start in Bollywood. The story of the aspiring Bollywood starlet isn't one we hear too often and the dream of being spotted by a director — like Carmen hopes to be spotted by AD when he's going past on his elephant — is one cloud castle that hasn't crumbled over the past 100 years. Young women have done everything from college plays to commercials to showing up in a director's room wearing next to nothing, in the hope that a director or producer will spot a heroine in them.  Unlike the aspiring actress in Zoya Akhtar’s Luck By Chance, which was Bollywood’s attempt at introspection, Carmen has no illusion that acting talent will make her dreams come true. It’s a vicious business and she knows her womanly wiles are her best arsenal. So she uses them unabashedly. It works initially, but the tables soon turn on her.

Bhose's Carmen embodies every actress who has wanted to be a Bollywood star. There is something about Carmen and her almost delusional conviction that she is destined to be a Bollywood star that feels poignant at a time when India is still devouring every bit of news and gossip about Jiah Khan's suicide. The Bollywood spectacle in Bollywood Carmen comes across as a smoothly-running machine that tosses out one actress out to replace her with another. At the end of Bollywood Carmen, a young woman who wanted to be a star lies alone, dead and in gathering darkness. Particularly when you think of Khan’s “bold” behaviour when she first entered Bollywood and how the labels that were stuck on her affected not just her life but also how she’s being remembered after her suicide, Bollywood Carmen feels strangely connected to Indian show business despite being set in faraway Bradford.

Updated Date: Jun 13, 2013 13:00:57 IST