Indian classical dance in Broadway style.
By Suman Bajpai
Bringing on stage one of the most celebrated Indian classical dance forms – Kathak collaborating with western as well as Bollywood style – Kingdom of Dreams (KOD) musical titled ‘Abhimanyu, The Fastest Feat’ is a dancing extravaganza that beautifully represents Indian dance forms in Broadway style.
Abhimanyu is the brainchild of Kathak maestro Pandit Sandeep Mahavir who recently received the prestigious Bismilla Khan Yuva Award by Sangeet Natak Akademi in the field of Kathak. It took Pandit Mahavir seven years to plan this entire show along with its storyline and enchanting music and another year to get it on the floors.
This show is a path-breaking musical that will showcase Indian dance forms, especially classical dances in a Broadway style musical, something that has never been done before. It’s grand and exciting to the core, the story of Abhimanyu The Fastest Feet, revolves around an Indian artist, how he manages to rise above all and reaches a global platform to represent his culture and makes his family and nation proud. Abhimanyu is a Kathak dancer and teacher at a gurukul in Bidasar, Rajasthan. The village is suffering from lack of water and adequate facilities. It is up to Abhimanyu to save his dying village- all hopes are pegged on him. A Broadway dancer sees him perform during a trip to India, and asks him to join her dance company. He goes abroad in the hope that he will earn enough money to run his dance school.
The show chiefly presents two dance forms, classical Indian Kathak and hip hop, artistically merged together with a remarkable music. The captivating journey of Abhimanyu from the colourful land of Rajasthan to the international platform is brought alive by 12 songs.
Beginning with the first act the show set amidst the colourful panorama of the royal state of Rajasthan, with its thriving lores and traditions, sweeps the audience into the world of its protagonist Abhimanyu. India’s rich colours, culture, relations and the various festivals full of joy and verve along with an original and melodious score of music form the backdrop of Abhimanyu’s journey to propagate his culture and take his art to every corner of the world while fulfilling commitments like his father’s dream, his village’s problems, etc.
The second act of the show is witness to the major transition of this native boy on to the International Broadway when he is recognised and taken to the USA by a Broadway dancer. The glitz and the glamour of the International theatrical world intoxicates Abhimanyu and sweeps him off his feet, bringing him face to face with heartbreak and shattered hopes. But luck does smile on a true artist and he receives a chance for redemption through an opportunity to compete on a world platform. He succeeds in breaking all the barriers, wins his pride, his love, his dreams and his life back in a show-stopping finale depicting the victory of good over evil, through the war waged by Lord Rama on the notorious king Ravana. The grand and stunning finale brings together two of the most famous
styles of dance, Classical Indian Kathak and the contemporary Hip Hop in a mesmerising crescendo of music and dance. The show ends with the protagonist redeeming himself and making his late father’s dream come true.
Captivating songs and dances
Also, the fact that Ram is played by a woman is refreshing. Produced and directed by Sandeep Mahavir who also plays the protagonist Abhimanyu said, “Abhimanyu has been a labour of love for me. It has been a long and eventful journey since I conceived the idea, leading to this day of its spectacular debut on stage.” Mahavir doesn’t only adorn the role of a producer and actor, he is also the choreographer and music composer of the show.
The musical has total of 140 dancers and is made in a budget of `10 crore. This kind of money going into an Indian classical and folk dance-based show is completely unheard of. But Pandit Mahavir and his team has shown that it is not just Bollywood dance shows that can have big budgets but even the traditional dances of India are capable of getting the same platform if the thought and idea is brilliant. Kathak is the main essence of the musical Abhimanyu, but it has lots of Indian folk dances like Chau, Lavni, Ghoomar and Lezim too. Then there is Hip Hop, Contemporary, Krumping, B Boying and loads of lifts and tricks from the international dance side. The entire classical and folk dance choreography is done by Pandit Mahavir and the international forms are set by Arvind Thakur.
There are 12 choreographies in the 2-hour-plus musical, of which at least three are quite remarkable. One of these is a dance show in the US, though it is rather unfortunately named Hello Rama (the title is a portmanteau of Halloween and the Ramayan). Ravan and Ram face-off in this stylised show-within-a-show. The demon army of Ravan sports masks that are reminiscent of Michael Jackson’s Thriller. In one segment, the supporting dancers jump off the stage to perform in the aisles. The stage space has been used cleverly in this sequence. Platforms that rise and descend below the normal stage level are deployed particularly well in one segment where Ram climbs on to a “chariot”. The vehicle is made by the supporting dancers’ intertwined arms, while the stage is below eye level. When the dancers come back into view, they make a stunning picture. The segment also uses fire; people sitting in the front rows will feel the heat from the flames. The choreography is by Bollywood choreographer Arvind Thakur and Mahavir.
Overall good experience
The story, though somewhat predictable, is fast-paced. Along with the percussion-heavy background score, the pace holds the audiences’ interest for the entire duration. The action travels from Bidasar in Act I to New York City, US, and back in the second half. There are dance rehearsals, a Ganesh Utsav celebration, an item song in Mumbai, a Panchayat meeting and a dance competition. There is also a love triangle. Though the show is no match to KoD’s earlier ventures, Jhumroo and Zangoora, Abhimanyu.
The comic interludes are also predictable and underwhelming. The village idiot, Manjha (Purshottam; he uses only one name), is in love with Bawri (Mughda Mane), Abhimanyu’s love interest, and becomes the butt of a cruel joke. The hip hop sequences seldom have the sharpness one wants to see in a production of this quality. But it’s the overall experience that eclipses these minor flaws. Dreamy romantic dance sequences mesmerise the audience, while the Ganesha sequence brings alive festive splendour, and the show-off between Hip hop and kathak is a befitting finale.