The Merchants of Bollywood

By Mira Saraf

The Merchants of Bollywood premiered on November 4, the day before Diwali, at The Sony Centre for the Performing Arts. Although I grew up on Bollywood films and have witnessed it through various evolutions of costume, plot line and flesh exposure, the only professionally staged show of the same sort of theme I’d ever seen was Bombay Dreams.

A collage of Hindi film posters greeted us as we took our seats amidst the buzz of opening night fervor. When the curtain came up, the set was simple, a Hindu deity gracing the back of a raised stage accessible by a set of stairs incorporated into the opening number.

What it lacked in set complexity – and believe me, an elaborate set really wasn’t required for this show – it made up for it glittering costumes.  They were in true Bollywood style with vibrant colours, flowing fabric and the music that ornate Indian jewelry creates.

The show follows the story of the Merchant family, a Bombay choreography dynasty of Rajasthani roots, who played a large role in the history of Indian cinema. It chronicles the challenges that rapid modernization of the film industry brought, and the dying art of Indian traditional dance.

Although a little light on plot and dialogue, an element that can be excused by the fact that the show is based on a true story, it was entertaining from start to finish. It was perfect for the seasoned fan of Bollywood; yet as my show partner so succinctly noted, “it’s a nice introduction to Bollywood, because they go into the history.”

For anyone who has watched Hindi movies for years like I have, there will be plenty of familiar numbers from some of the biggest films. Although the cast does not sing (true to Hindi film tradition) the dance moves are crisp and don’t miss a beat.

The show oscillates between Rajasthan, arguably one of India’s most colourful states, and Mumbai. It incorporates all the traditional elements that a film would have: dance, music, romance, family drama (particularly if it is inter-generational conflict) and most importantly comedy.

The narrator was a particularly entertaining character, so was “Tony,” a sleazy yet quite effeminate (which is an interesting combination to say the least) director whose focus is more on bare skin than on content. They stole the show for me.

My only complaint, if you can really call it a complaint, is it felt like they held back just a little. It could also be that the other show I saw (Bombay Dreams) had live singing, which allowed the performers energy to come through quite effectively and made it a truly spectacular show. This is much harder to do in a lip-synching situation.

That said the show was sensational and a performance to remember. I would recommend this show, whether you are just getting into Bollywood or have been watching Hindi films for years. It is a fun night out, and will have you humming Hindi film songs for hours afterwards.


The Merchants of Bollywood is playing at Sony Centre for the Performing Arts (1 Front Street E) until November 14, 2010

– Shows run Thursday to Saturday at 8pm, with an additional matinee on Sundays at 2pm and on Thursday November 11

– Ticket prices range from $40 – $100

– Tickets are available online, or through the box office at 416-872-2262