Toby Gough, the man behind the first Bollywood dance spectacular to tour Britain, talks to Terry Grimley
Although it is billed as the first authentic dance spectacular direct from Bollywood City, The Merchants of Bollywood actually arrives in Birmingham this week by a more circuitous route.
The show, which was premiered to UK audiences at the Alexandra Theatre tomorrow, has just been seen in Zurich and Berlin. Writer and director Toby Gough was still working in the German capital when I spoke to him last week.
"It's gone down very well," he says. "The theatre here holds 2,000 and we've had about 1,800 every night."
The son of a Mumbai-born father, Toby travelled around India as a child and has created shows there before. In this case, he was attracted to the story of one of the dynastic families who have served the Hindi film industry for decades.
"The music and rituals and history of India have played a big part in my life," says Toby. "I was going to create a Bollywood show and I was looking for a story, but first by meeting the choreographer (Vaibhavi Merchant) and talking to her, the story presented itself to me.
"Her grandfather was a choreographer in the 1950s and she was determined to follow in his footsteps, so the story covers 60-70 years of the industry.
"The family is from Rajisthan, a part of India with a strong folk tradition, and they were the only keepers of a dance to honour the gods.
"So within the show you get a context of 5,000 years of Indian history and in close-up you have the focus on a family who have been involved in the last 50 years of Hindi film.
"It’s a great vehicle for expressing all these forms of music in one show – and part of the show is based on a true story.
"We have 52 people from Mumbai, including costume and make-up, and it's choreographed by the people the show is about.
"It’s an authentic introduction to Bollywood which is educational and entertaining."
Vaibhavi's grandfather died before she became successful, and as a women following him was not without its struggles.
"There’s a Billy Elliot strand to the story," says Toby. "It follows a very standard formula of family values and family conflict.
"A lot of people don’t understand the magic of the Indian film industry – but, now that India’s economy is starting to boom, the culture is becoming a lot more fascinating."
Like the glamorous Hollywood musicals of the 1930s, Bollywood films are a powerful form of escapism, an opportunity for people to escape for a couple of hours into an air-conditioned cinema and enjoy a glamorous fantasy life.
But Toby doubts that the demand for glitter is under any threat from a booming economy in India.
"I think there's more and more demand for escapist films and dreams of what people want in their lives," he says.
"Bollywood now makes 800 films a year, and 15 million tickets are sold every day."
Bollywood also has a huge following in Britain. What is perhaps more surprising about The Merchants of Bollywood has been its success in other European countries which do not have close cultural links to the Indian subcontinent.
"If the story works and the people enjoy it that's my job done," says Toby. "If I can send 2,000 people out of the theatre happy, that's good."
The Merchants of Bollywood is at Birmingham’s Alexandra Theatre until Saturday night. Box office: 0870 607 7533.