Thursday 8 August 2019

Bollywood Jane

Curve, Leicester
7th August, 2019

“In big places such small things happen”

Following last year’s colossal production of Fiddler on the Roof (featuring a company of over 100), Curve has, in part, returned to a more humble offering with their community production of Amanda Whittington’s Bollywood Jane. Making use of the intimate studio space, director Siobhán Cannon-Brownlie recreates the indie movie theatre setting of the play, while a cast of locals dive head-first into the dazzling world of Bollywood.

I believe Amanda Whittington is underrated. Her skill, as in Ladies Day and The Thrill of Love, is in creating strong female characters in plot-driven stories and putting them in a popular form. In Bollywood Jane, which was first shown at Leicester Haymarket in 2003, she clashes together two very different worlds. A down-and-out single mother and her 16-year-old daughter, Jane, move from a Coalville estate to a bedsit on Belgrave Road, aka ‘The Golden Mile’, the centre of Leicester’s Asian community. Having never been settled in one place, and with only ‘one GSCE and a swimming certificate’ to her name, when Jane is told she must earn her keep the prospect looks grim. Yet, a chance meeting with local lad and wannabe superstar, Dini (Rav Moore), introduces her to the romantic escapism of Bollywood films. Jane is hired as an intern at the run-down and struggling Star Cinema by Dini’s boss and proprietor, Amir (Sanjay Dattani), where she fantasises freely about the glamour and melodrama of the Punjabi stories of the silver screen. Yet, in the real world nothing is as it seems and everyone has a secret to hide…

Whittington has an admirable stab at marrying traditional British kitchen sink drama with the often surreal and kitsch aesthetic of Bollywood. The physical space of the Star Cinema is the gateway between these two worlds, where the make-believe joy of the films play in stark contrast to the near derelict and poverty-stricken surroundings. The faltering and faintly-lit star which hangs over Eleanor Field’s set is a reminder of a once-bright/ could-be bright realm. It’s interesting to read that Whittington has apparently updated the text to ingrain poverty more into the characters’ lives. It is also to Whittington’s credit that the play is far less formulaic than it might initially seem. She certainly throws a few curveballs which are refreshingly subversive for a play based on steadfast screen tropes. However, I found that following the energy and effervescence displayed in the Bollywood scenes, the stasis of the kitchen table duologues between Jane and Kate are a little dull in comparison.

Cannon-Brownlie excels at bringing out the brightness in the play. Dance routines (in which the company mimes along to the songs and re-enact Bollywood fantasy scenes) play out as day dream manifestations of Jane’s adolescent, idolising mind. Belgrave Sari shop mannequins spring to life, and passers-by become adoring fans; Cannon-Brownlie and choreographer Kesha Raithatha thus ensure the transitions are at once smooth and playfully knowing.

Chloe Wilson’s Jane is suitably wide-eyed, cheeky and stroppy when needs be, and her passion for dance is evident in her gleeful performance during the Bollywood numbers. Yet it is Rav Moore’s irrepressible Dini Kapur that steals the show. Moore is charismatic, likeable and does a pretty impressive imitation of a typical Bollywood leading man. The conviction with which he portrays Dini’s starry-eyed wonder makes it easy to see why Jane falls so completely under the spell of Bollywood culture. The leads are backed up by the community cast that are, as ever, having a ball. Watching people who enjoy theatre partake so wholeheartedly in creating it is always a pleasure to witness.

While perhaps not a classic community production, with Bollywood Jane Whittington and Cannon-Brownlie have balanced whimsy and grit in a piece that doesn’t take itself too seriously, and is all the more entertaining for it.

Bollywood Jane plays at Curve until 11th August.
The cast of Bollywood Jane
Credit: Pamela Raith

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