I took the assignment of Om Shanti: Once Upon a Time in Bollywood on a complete whim. I had never experienced anything like it before. The closest I had come was attending my friends’ Persian wedding last year…and when I saw Slumdog Millionaire.
After repeatedly chanting “BOLLYWOOOOOOD!” on the way to the Long Center, my wife and I made our way to grab our tickets and head inside. We were genuinely excited. Upon looking into it, I discovered that Om Shanti was the first ever regionally-produced, large-scale Bollywood musical to come to Austin. Not only was it new to me, but probably to a few others in attendance as well.
The production opens in an old, dusty school library. Two young children, Rahul and Anjali, are poking around, trying to ease their innocent boredom. Anjali stumbles upon a large book sitting by itself on top of a bookcase, and thus begins the tale of Om Shanti.
The book appears to summon a lovable character named Mr. India. He begins to tell the children the story of Om, a court dancer, and his overwhelming love for Shanti, a princess. Rahul and Anjali are transported to the land of Bollywood, where they witness men and women joyfully partaking in exuberant song and dance. The children become so involved that they’re even able to interact with some of the characters.
The musical proved to be visually stunning on several occasions throughout the evening. Vibrant reds, oranges, and yellows consistently overtook the stage. Drapes of deep red and gold hung in the background, and there seemed to be glitter and sparkles everywhere. I also have to admit that I was a little taken with Shanti myself. I felt where Om was coming from.
The villain in the story, Prince Kahn, deceptively romances Shanti while Om can only watch. Once they marry and Kahn becomes King, he turns Bollywood into a very dark place, void of the song and dance it once thrived on. But that’s only the beginning of Om’s quest to revive the land and capture the heart of the woman he loves so strongly.
There are 80 dancers and 20 actors in the Om Shanti cast, all of which add their own personal flair through attire, dance moves, and dialogue. Om is played by Prakash Mohandas, an Austin local who wrote and co-directed the musical.
Mohandas also recruited most of the talent for the production through his film and theatre company, Agni Entertainment. Austin dance groups featured were Austin City Showgirls, Esquina Tango, Dance International, Ravaan Persian Dance Company, and Sabaya Bellydance Collective.
I must say, there was some subtle humor that flew over my head throughout the night. But all in all, the musical was really enjoyable. It was refreshing to see something so different and multicultural, right here at home in Austin.
The night ended the only proper way possible, with a long standing ovation and a colorful, jubilant dance party that included all the actors and dancers. As we wandered outside, an actor’s mother called over to us excitedly, “DID YOU LIKE IT?” We laughed and told her we did. She smiled as we danced towards the parking garage.
What is your favorite theatre performance that you’ve seen in Austin?
Disclaimer: I received two complimentary tickets for the purposes of reviewing the show. All opinions are my own.