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Posted on Aug 28, 2008

Bachchans in Amreeka

The Bachchans 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 anytime soon.

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.

The Unforgettable 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 personas.

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.

Posted on Aug 28, 2008



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