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'The Merchants of Bollywood' show at Staller Center


The "Merchants of Bollywood" comes to the Staller Center at Stony Brook University on Saturday, Oct. 30. Photo Credit: Handout

Once relegated to movie stores in South Asian communities, the Bollywood entertainment scene has made its way to wider audiences in recent years, thanks, in part, to Andrew Lloyd Webber's "Bombay Dreams," which opened on Broadway in 2004, and the 2008 Oscar-winning film "Slumdog Millionaire."

"The Merchants of Bollywood" - a show that presents original music and choreography from the Bollywood hit movies as well as classical Indian and folk songs - continues this tradition Saturday at Stony Brook University's Staller Center for the Arts.

The show embarked on its first North American Tour earlier this month, hitting Chicago, Newark and other cities. But the performance has been seen by audiences in China, Southeast Asia, Dubai, Europe and South Africa since its premiere in Australia in 2005.

With 25 Bollywood dancers, about 1,200 costumes and 2,500 pieces of elaborate jewelry, the colorful performance unfurls to tell a slightly fictionalized story of Vaibhavi Merchant - the show's choreographer - and her family dynasty of acclaimed filmmakers and choreographers. 


The plot centers on the conflict of Merchant ("Ayesha") with her grandfather and famed choreographer, Hiralaji Merchant ("Shantilal").

Ayesha wants to do more than just maintain the family's devotion to traditional temple dance and, against Shantilal's wishes, leaves her hometown to make films. Years later, after cementing a successful film career, she decides to reconcile with him.

The family drama is used as a means to retrace the Hindi film industry from the 1950s to present day, resulting in a feast for the eyes, according to Shruti Merchant, the show's assistant choreographer and sister of Vaibhavi Merchant.

"The main point," Merchant says, is "you need to stick to your roots . . . so you know where you're heading."


Dancing horses. (Check). Colorful kites. (Check). More than 1,000 dance steps. (Check). Glitzy costumes, including saris, body suits and "hot shorts." (Check. Check. Check.)

Audiences also can expect to hear original, prerecorded scores, including a range of Indian classical music genres (such as tabla, sitar and dholak) set to disco beats. The songs are in Hindi and Gujarati, while the narrative dialogue is in English.

The finale combines Indian folk, classical and modern dance forms with Western styles. Most audiences join in dancing for the final number, Merchant says.

Carol Furtado, who plays Ayesha, described the experience of performing as a "great privilege" to "represent India."

Still, "the kind of energy that goes into the show is completely exhausting," she says. "Sometimes, I feel like you need to have an ambulance in the wings," Furtado adds, laughing.


"It's a great way of understanding Indian culture," Furtado says. "If you've ever been curious, I think it's a great way to take a peek at the color, flavors and music."

"Everyone should just come in and [prepare to] have a blast," Merchant says. "It's a roller-coaster ride. It's very high-paced. It's beautifully staged. It's the perfect amalgamation of pure entertainment - Bollywood style!"

'The Merchants of Bollywood'

WHEN | WHERE: 8 p.m. Saturday, Staller Center for the Arts, Stony Brook University, 100 Nicolls Rd., Stony Brook.

INFO: 631-632-2787,

TICKETS: $42 ($21 ages 12 and younger). Sold out, but call for last-minute availability.


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