appear on stage in the suburbs of Chicago and do what they do best: deliver
To my mind, Bollywood
stage shows like the Bachchans' Unforgettable Tour are an extension
of the spirit of wholehearted generosity that runs through popular Hindi
films. However, that wonderful disposition aside, "unforgettable"
is a very ambitious objective. It's not even necessarily a desirable concept
- many dreadful experiences are unforgettable. The Bachchan brigade -
including Preity Zinta, Ritesh Deshmukh, and Vishal and Shekhar - brought
their traveling show to the Chicago suburbs last weekend, dishing out
over three hours of entertainment. Here are the moments I won't forget
The night began inauspiciously.
As show time neared, a growing crowd swamped the measly duo of ticket-takers
at the gate. Some impatient soul decided the solution was to start shoving.
As I got more and more squished, unable to move an inch in any direction,
I offered a silent prayer to the filmi gods to please prevent a stampede.
May be Mr. Bachchan backstage heard me somehow; order eventually resumed,
and I reached my nosebleed seat, safe but shaken.
The look of the show
was generally classy and appropriate to the songs performed, with backup
dancers attired in costumes more elegant than their on-screen counterparts.
Sparkles and glitter plastered the stars' wardrobes, shimmering across
the arena. But nothing could outshine the illuminated jackets donned by
the younger cast members in a nod to the elder Bachchan in Yaarana.
I only wish similar items had been available as souvenirs.
As someone who often
finds herself wishing for juicier, more relevant roles for Hindi cinema's
many talented females, it breaks my heart to say that the solo sets by
Preity Zinta and Aishwarya Rai Bachchan were so lackluster. Both women
stepped perfunctorily through a few of their recent hits. Later in the
show, they perked up considerably in the ensemble numbers and tributes
to Amitabh Bachchan, but we have cinematic proof that they are capable
of so much more. Disappointingly unforgettable, especially Zinta, who
was sublime when I saw her in the Heat tour of 2006.
Vishal and Shekhar
seemed not to realise that the audience was not particularly interested
in them, pumping their fists and veering far off pitch as they tried to
rouse us. To be fair, I'm sure it's awful to face a crowd who is waiting
for the Big B. What mere music director can compete with him? Much to
my surprise, Sa Re Ga Ma Pa's Amanat Ali managed to do so, striding
coolly through his short pre-show set.
Tour's biggest enticement for me was Abhishek Bachchan. I had decided
months ago that $80 was a small price to pay to see my favorite working
star (if only Shashi Kapoor went on tour!), and I was not disappointed,
not one little bit. The producers' earnest styling of him as "an
unforgettable dude" was mercifully countered by his tongue-in-cheek
riffing on his Bluffmaster hip-hop incarnation. The good-humored
young man who enthusiastically greeted the roaring crowd was an effortless
host, appearing completely comfortable balancing his celebrity and everyman
Ritesh Deshmukh danced
with boundless energy and a smile I could see from the last row of seats.
It would be so easy, as the least famous person on the tour, simply to
walk on stage, do a few steps, then exit, assuming no one was there to
see you anyway, but he was so far from that, so much more passionate and
engaging. Such a delightful surprise—and absolutely memorable!
The goal of making
the tour unforgettable played out wildly differently in the tour's parental
figures. Jaya Bachchan seemed bored by her speech about global warming
and showed not an ounce of conviction about this incredibly important
and complex problem. My first reaction was to snatch away her note card
to see if she had anything to say that wasn't written down for her; my
second was to go turn on the car engine just to spite her dour expression.
Happily, her husband presided with dignity and cheer, singing some old
favorites, even "Main Hoon Don," though minus the tiger mask.
The show's bloated, worshipful film montages of his career highlights
did nothing to stifle his charisma on stage. He was exactly as I imagined
he would be, exhibiting both gravitas and buoyancy. Amitabh Bachchan is,
as we all know, as we were reminded all night long, unforgettable through
his presence alone – but the actor in him too met every expectation.
He led a show that tapped into what I love most about Hindi cinema—creating
genuine entertainment and shared celebration.
When she's not watching films and writing about them at
http://bethlovesbollywood.blogspot.com, Beth Watkins works in a museum,
reads fiction, and knits.