New show perfectly encapsulates magic of Bollywood and captures hearts and minds doubly with film star lookalikes…
By Momtaz Begum-Hossain
‘TAJ EXPRESS’ is not a play about a curry house, though with its title you can be forgiven for assuming it might be.
It is in fact a vibrant, colourful dancefest that surprisingly has more masala than you’ll find on a typical restaurant menu with its spoonfuls of spicy seductive moves, sprinkles of cheesy one-liners and a huge seasoning of sparkling sequins.
It’s a total feast for all your senses, perfectly capturing the allure and spectacle that gives Bollywood its universal appeal.
Created by the team behind the international stage super hit ‘The Merchants of Bollywood’, it’s a high-energy show featuring fast-paced routines executed with precision by a troupe of talented performers.
The soundtrack comprises the most popular Bollywood hits of recent years from sing-a-long tracks like ‘Chammak Challo’ and ‘Bang Bang’ to Slumdog Millionaire’s ‘Jai Ho’.
It’s sensible to book yourself an aisle seat because you’ll need the additional space to be able to shake your limbs while watching the show.
Balancing out the epic dance numbers where the stage is flooded by dancers, there’s also a good measure of slower paced solo and duo performances where you can sit back and enjoy the splendour.
It’s these sections that attract the loudest applause from the audience, as they are a chance to properly appreciate the show’s spellbinding choreography.
Of secondary importance is the storyline. There’s a loose one tying each dance together, and it turns out to be even more sugary sweet than the usual formulaic clichéd Bollywood films – our heroine is not just a superstar Bollywood actress, she (spoiler alert!) also turns into a princess and the film charts her ‘transition’ from escaping the world of fame to a life of normality…(which turns out to be even more abnormal than being an A-lister.)
Played by a doppelganger of screen star Alia Bhatt, Tanvi Patil moves exquisitely through each routine and captures the same youthfulness and vitality that Alia possesses.
Her co-star is played by Hiten Shah, a dancing sensation who with his impressive 10-pack physique (he is topless a lot) and killer moves gives Hrithik Roshan a run for his money.
He also has more than a passing resemblance to Shahid Kapoor which for a Bollywood loving audience enhances the experience: it’s like watching a Bollywood stage shows with lookalikes taking the place of the real thing.
‘Taj Express’ is marketed as a tribute to the songs of AR Rahman which isn’t strictly accurate. The soundtrack is varied though does include hit tracks like Rahman’s ‘Humma Humma’ along with the hypnotic sounds of auteur Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s score for ‘Bajirao Mastani’.
There are a staggering 1,000 costumes in the production and outfit changes are aplenty. Pay enough attention and you’ll observe the different regional influences that appear in the costumes, reflecting the fact the protagonists are aboard the Taj Express train, journeying through India’s many states while falling in love along the way.
The main narration is told from the eyes of a composer Shankar who has just been commissioned to write his first film score and aspires to be as good as AR Rahman.
With his curly mop of hair, he resembles a younger version of the Oscar-nominated composer but far more interesting than him is the session musicians who are tasked with performing his soundtrack; notably rock guitarist Flash aka the ‘Indian Slash’ who at one point stops the show to lead an audience yoga class. His constant cynicism for Bollywood also brings a refreshing twist to the show.
While on the surface ‘Taj Express’ seems like an ordinary Bollywood dance show, its strength lies in the fact it’s not afraid to laugh at itself.
By celebrating the absurdity of Bollywood it has a level of likeability that’s missing from some other stage representations of Bollywood which can sometimes feel too ‘try hard’.
Fun and flamboyant, ‘Taj Express’ is a show built on the feel-good factor. It’s pure unadulterated entertainment for all the family and as the finale dance descends into a medley of popular hits like ‘Kaala Chashma’ and ‘London Thumakda’ which will force you out of your seat and have you dancing in the aisles, you’ll know you’ve made a good decision to be here.
Taj Express, The Peacock Theatre, Portugal St, London WC2A 2HT London, WC2A
Until July 2
Acv rating: **** (out of five)