Monday, 2 February 2009

Bharati in Paris - a taste of India with a serving of kitsch

Have you ever had the sensation that even though apparently you're watching or experiencing the same thing as everybody around you, somehow and in some way, what you're feeling isn't exactly in keeping with the overriding sentiment?

You've perhaps missed something or maybe everyone else has got it wrong.

Such was the impression of one particular member of the audience - currently sitting not a million miles from this keyboard - at the Bharati spectacle in Paris this weekend.

YouTube Video

First up it has to be admitted that this certain someone was clearly in the minority if the reaction of the rest of the 3,500 plus people who had packed into the main auditorium at Le Palais des Congrès on Saturday was anything to go by.

Just for the record, Bharati is described variously in reviews elsewhere as a modern day fairy tale bringing to today's audience centuries of Indian history and culture with the colour, verve, and entrancing music, singing and dancing that might be expected from over 100 performers.

Those reviews have been overwhelmingly favourable as the show has been on the road now for over two years entertaining audiences and playing to full houses in Germany, the Netherlands, Switzerland and Austria.

The current run in Paris is the show's second appearance in the French capital. And from the general reception it was given, it has more than struck the right note, riding the wave of interest in all things Indian which seems to be very much à la mode at the moment.

The whole spectacle - because that's what it is - is a multi-coloured marvel combining all the elements of (Indian) dance, acrobatics, costumes and music you could wish for in the very best Bollywood fashion.

There was general whooping at the vigourous dancing, spontaneous clapping as the music ratcheted up a notch and enthusiastic applause after every number and there's no denying that it was all very much a feast for the eyes.

The rhythm and beat are without doubt infectious, the singing wafts you away and of course the highly synchronised dancing is a pure delight. The men are manly and the women.....well womanly.

It has, to say the least, a rather limp narrative, which is almost redundant apart from giving the performers a deserved break from their exertions and time to catch their breath.

The (rather enormous) programme describes the show as "a musical extravaganza, a delectable composite mix of the varied dances, music and folk traditions of India."

And over the course of one and a half hours we're promised "a the hidden treasures of this vast and enchanting land; its regional, linguistic, historical and philosophical diversity; its myriad peoples, life-styles and traditions."

Therein perhaps lies the problem - at least for one obviously grumpy old man - because the show is all very Bollywood (at its best and worst) and leaves you with the sense that there is more, so much more to India than the clichés on offer.

But there again, maybe that's exactly what people want.

Given the number of flashes that seemed to twinkle around the auditorium each time a new number was presented or a costume change made, along with the time many people seemed to be spending watching the show through their camera lens as they recorded huge chunks of the proceedings, maybe Bharati and Bollywood is all they wish to know about India.

Bharati will be at Le Palais des Congrès until February 15 before transferring to Brussels and then going on tour around France.

On March 11 it'll cross the channel for a performance at the Hammersmith Apollo in London, and there are also plans to take it to North America at some point this year.

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