American and Western audiences have a particular image of Indian culture in their heads, and it likely wouldn’t have been planted there without Bollywood. For decades the Mumbai film industry has churned out big, colorful musicals with elaborate dance numbers, often telling the stories of star-crossed lovers.
Bollywood films have reached audiences far beyond India, and they’ve even inspired a brief musical revival in Hollywood — meaning without Bollywood, there would have been no Moulin Rouge!
This specific genre of Indian film also lends itself well to large stage productions, so why haven’t there been more Bollywood-inspired productions for the stage?
“I didn’t understand why nobody had ventured into an actual Bollywood musical,” says Om Shanti writer and lead actor Prakash Mohandas.
If you’ve ever wanted to see the marriage between Bollywood and Broadway, your dreams will come true this weekend with the Austin premiere of Om Shanti – Once Upon a Time in Bollywood at the Long Center for the Performing Arts.
“I felt there was a big gap in the market,” says Agni Entertainment founder and CEO Prakash Mohandas. “After watching multiple musicals in Broadway and other places, I didn’t really understand why nobody had ventured into an actual Bollywood musical.”
Mohandas and team set about producing the musical, and Mohandas stayed extra busy writing Om Shanti and taking on the lead role.
“I started working on picking up things from existing Bollywood movies and adapting them to a non-Indian or an American setting,” says Mohandas, citing Hindi films such as Om Shanti Om, Mr. India and Sholay as some of the direct influences.
A cultural showcase
Mohandas describes Om Shanti — the tale of court dancer Om, who falls in love with Princess Shanti — as a diverse combination that is “Bollywood meets Phantom of the Opera meets Romeo and Juliet. … There’s the setting of a kingdom, there’s dancers in the court, it’s in English and it’s been adapted to fit what the non-Indian audience — the people unfamiliar with Bollywood — are used to seeing. It’s a blend of all of those.”
Although Om Shanti draws much of its influence and inspiration from South Asian culture, Mohandas made sure that the final result was also very inclusive toward the rest of the Austin community. And it’s big.
“This is the largest show until now of South Asian origin,” he says. "There are [other] shows around town that happen, but they’re a much smaller scale, and they appeal only to the South Asian groups.
“This one has kind of gone mainstream at this point because of the marketing, the idea behind it, and because of the fact that the cast and crew itself is almost 80 percent non-Indian. So that’s why this is now where it is.”
But don’t expect Mohandas and the rest of the cast and crew to sit back after the first run this weekend at the Long Center. Om Shanti looks to hit stages in Dallas and Houston next, and if it proves successful enough, it might leave the Lone Star State for a national tour.
Agni Entertainment will also stay busy as a production company off of the stage, with hopes of beginning work on a feature film and a new nonprofit organization.
Om Shanti runs August 23-25. Tickets start at $23.