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Westward bound?

"Bombay Dreams", which opened in London on June 19, and has been extended by six months, has paved the way for composer A.R. Rahman, to head for Hollywood.

"AFTER THE breakdown of the Soviet Union, I thought a new musical voice would emerge from that region. But I never thought it would arise from India", British composer Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber said. The context... his latest West End production, "Bombay Dreams." And the subject... A.R. Rahman.

There has been much hype and hoopla surrounding the musical ever since director Shekar Kapur brought Webber and Rahman together, nearly three years ago. Since then, speculations have been rife as to whether a theme that is so rooted in the Indian sensibility will be able to succeed on British stage.

When the musical opened on June 19 at London's Apollo Victoria, the reactions were mixed. As for the critics, most of them either hated the show or simply loved it. In fact, one of them felt the show might just about survive the cricket season. The one area of production that received uniform praise, however, was the musical score by Rahman.

According to latest reports, bookings for the show have been extended by six months up to March 2003. Also, reports say it's the only show that has bucked the trend at West End, where bigger shows have failed to draw audiences. What's more, there is talk of the production going to Broadway!

For Rahman, it opened up new vistas... after breaking Bollywood barriers, now he was heading for Hollywood, though he is evasive about the offers he's got. "Could be Columbia or Miramax or somebody else!"

"I never knew musicals were so powerful till I watched a couple. Only then did I understand the scale and reach of this medium," said the composer minus his trademark curls ("The barber told me this was the latest style!"), while interacting with members of the press at the Taj Coromandel, recently to promote the album.

Working with Webber was an invigorating experience, says the musical wizard. "He was very encouraging. He understands the unique quality of the London stage very well, and knows exactly what is required of me."

The desi tunes, some of them Anglicised version of Rahman's Indian hits, combined with Western notes and mid-eastern rhythms, have definitely caught the imagination of a new generation, and Indian music was being accepted by foreign ears. Sir Webber is believed to have said, "We were nervous about how the show would be received... but it absolutely captured the imagination of people who normally don't watch musicals. Rahman added, "People like something original." When asked if the audience liked his compositions, he said in his characteristic style, "I suppose so. In fact, a lot of Italian and French tourists, waiting outside the theatre, wanted autographs from me."

The music might not have a too novel edge for Indian listeners, as almost six songs have been chart toppers, including "Chaiyya Chaiyya" (the song that actually made Lord Webber sit up and take notice of the composer from Chennai), "Shakalaka Baby", "Yayere yayere", "Oo lalala" and "Ishq bina". Some might dispute the fact that the English lyrics do not gel well with the tunes, but according to reports the showstoppers have been "Chaiyya chaiyya" (it was choreographed almost like the original version by Farah Khan) and "Shakala Baby"!

Why did Rahman repeat the tracks? "Because Andrew wanted it", he replied. Will the show ever make it to the Indian stage? (Laughing) "I am sure you don't want to see another Hindi film on stage! Actually, it's an expensive proposition." And expensive it is. Webber is reported to have pumped in 4 million for the show.

The cast comprises British-born Raza Jaffrey and Preeya Kalidas, while Ayesha Dharker and Dalip Tahil are from India. The surprise packet is Dalip Tahil, whose baritone voice goes hands in hand with the tempo. Why were more actors from India not hired? "Well, not many can sing, dance and act at the same time!"

Back to the music, the overture is distinctly Rahman. Carnatic ragas are melded with Western classical harmonies and the result is haunting. Incidentally, it's his favourite piece from the soundtrack.

So, is Rahman migrating to the West? "No. Never, Chennai is my home. I may stay away for some months, but I will always return to base."

Sure enough, back home, Rahman's immediate priority is to wrap up "Baba". In fact, walking out of the lobby of the Taj, one noticed Suresh Krissna, director of "Baba", waiting patiently for the man whom the British press dubbed "Mozart of Madras".

SAVITHA GAUTAM

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