Often regarded as the strongest form of magic, music is principally considered to be a part of all forms of entertainment. With rhythm and harmony, music has been breathing life into musicals plays. Although one may think if theatre a dying art form? Many would agree, but few know it has and will continue survive as a celebrated art form. In times of numerous options for entertainment, Indians have been closely associated to theatre and musicals for decades. Today, musical plays continue to be respected and encouraged by the audiences.
Acknowledged to be home to Bollywood, Mumbai is the ideal union of the old and new. Based on 1960’s classic film Mughal-e-Azam, Feroz Abbas Khan took up the challenge of retelling the tragic love story of Saleem and Anarkali. This broadway musical is a magnificent homage to K Asif’s timeless Mughal-e-Azam. The play premiered in 2016 at National Centre for the Performing Arts (NCPA), with over 350 people cast and crew.
Hailing from the beautiful valleys of Jammu and Kashmir, Sunil Kumar Palwal was blessed to play Saleem in Mughal-e-Azam. Talking about his journey as the lead in the musical, he said, “Music in theatre is essential as it weaves the story forward, melodiously. Feroz Abbas Khan absolutely loves music. When I was preparing for my role in Mughal-e-Azam as Saleem, we, all the actors, used to have music classes in the morning. This helped the transition from a theatrical to musical. At the end of the day, music is the soul of Mughal-e-Azam – the play.”
Back with yet another season, the grand splendour of Mughal-e-Azam will leave you spellbound. With mellow songs including the evergreen Pyar Kiya Toh Darna Kya, dramatic dialogues, Manish Malhotra’s costumes and stunning choreography, this broadway musical is a sheer experience. There have been quite a handful famed theatre groups who continued to produce brilliant musicals. Playing his part in the amazing journey of recreating an evergreen feature film, Sunil is currently prepping for Devdas which is likely to premiere later this year.
A celebration of legendary Urdu poet and film lyricist Kaifi Azmi’s life and works seen through the eyes of his wife, renowned theatre and film actress, Shaukat Kaifi. Kaifi Aur Main is brought to life by his daughter Shabana Azmi and son-in-law Javed Akhtar. The narrative is beautifully interspersed with renditions of Kaifi’s poems and songs. An ardent fan of musicals, Jaswindar Singh was privileged to be associated with Kaifi Aur Main from the beginning. “Kaifi Aur Main is a theatrical experience because it has the drama, romance, poetry and live music. Kaifi Saheb’s songs are expressive and meaningful. It is through music in theatre, you can directly connect with the audience.”
Having been closely connected to IPTA and theatre, Jaswindar grew up understanding the art of drama and music in a play. “The oldest theatre group, Indian People’s Theatre Association (IPTA) made sure to integrate music in their plays. Their musical play Bakri had around fourteen or fifteen songs. Another musical Safad Kundli where Shabana Azmi was the lead, too, had a number of songs. It was my father, Kuldeep Singh, who used to give the music.”
India has been encouraging, but commercial theatre gives little space of growth to experimental and new theatre. One needs to be truly committed to theatre and, Jaswinder believes most actors and musicians would rather get into Bollywood in the hope to become stars overnight. “It is a scripted play. The moment Javed Saheb’s or Shabana’s dialogue ends I have to immediately start. Normally, professional singer sur lagenge aur phir dekhenge… There is no retake or room for corrections. Singing live during a performance in a play is extremely difficult. Musicians or artists will only peruse this form of performance if they are truly passionate. Aaj kal sab cheez paise se tola jati hai. Zamaana commercialised hogaya hai isliye woh aag honi chahiye theatre mein liye gaane ki,” he explained.
Today, he is a professional Ghazal singer. However, it is his learnings from theatre that clearly reflects in his live performance on stage. “Music is the integral part of theatre. There are several productions which is primarily drama, but music plays a vital role. Back in the day, even the old theatre productions, music used to play an important role. Theatre is a raw form of everything – jo hai aap ke samne hai. At the same time, the focus, commitment and drama is everything this world,” he added.
With time, things will look up for overall performance fields. It is more than enough that live performances have survived in the age of sophisticated graphics in movies. Talking about graphics, Balle Balle premiered mid-November last year starring 48 talented actors singing Bollywood’s smash hits live with brilliant visuals on stage.
Given his specialisation in broadway-style theatrical extravaganza and in large scale productions, musical plays have become his forte. Viraf Sarkari truly believes a musical is fifty-percent drama and the other half is song and dance. “The conventional theatre is completely different from a musical. Basically, musical plays are theatre on steroids. There is element of production design, dance, live music and drama. Musical plays are more of a spectacle than just a conventional theatre. These days, it is rather difficult to find talent who can act, sing and dance. Not just that, but look the character. For Balle Balle, we have used popular Bollywood tracks from the last three decades. We are essentially giving a boost to theatre with music.”
After successful musical productions Zangoora, Jhumroo and Jaan-e-Jigar, Wizcraft is back the crazy joys of an Indian wedding topped off with dash of Bollywood. With phenomenal performances, incredible costumes, breath-taking visuals and sizzling choreography, Balle Balle perfectly packages everything about an Indian wedding.
Developed from the light of opera in early 20th century, musicals has gradually been appreciated by the audiences. India has celebrated the amalgamation of music and theatre – musicals will continue to grow. Keeping that in mind, the future of musicals is bright because this is just the beginning.