Bollywood musical Taj ExpressBollywood movies have always been a big part of my life ‒ the settings, the sometimes convoluted but always touching storylines, the moving songs, the dancing, the gorgeous men and women and more importantly, being able to learn and see the culture of one half of my heritage, which I rarely get to experience, is why I can sit through movie after movie on cable TV.

Honestly though, the allure of Bollywood is hard to capture in a paragraph.

So aside from checking out one or two films to really understand what I mean (latest recommendations if you’re interested: Kites, Jhoota hi Sahi and Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara), you’ll have to watch the new musical Taj Express, hitting the Esplanade from June 6 to 10, as it’s truly akin to seeing a Bollywood movie unfold in front of your eyes.

The show, named after a real train service in India, choreographed by veteran Vaibhavi Merchant who’s worked with the biggest names in the business (Amitabh Bachchan, Shah Rukh Khan, Aamir Khan etc), and produced and directed by her younger sister Shruti Merchant, is a stirring look at all the facets of India.

As the latter puts it, “after buying a ticket to the Taj Express, the next ticket you’ll buy is one to India.”

At the heart of it is a story between a former thief and his one true love, although the sisters declined to reveal more about the plot during the press conference held on May 11.

And of course, there are rousing song and dance numbers ‒ trust me, you’ll be clapping and even dancing along during the show.

Bollywood musical Taj Express Bollywood musical Taj Express
Bollywood musical Taj Mahal, staged at the Esplanade from June 6 to 10

“There are 29 states in India, many languages and so many different forms of dance. We can talk about India for hours and putting it in a two hour show is a challenge. But that’s what’s exciting for us,” says Vaibhavi.

And in an industry where contemporary theatre is still in its nascent stages, the musical has garnered a lot of support from the who’s who of Bollywood ‒ Rani Mukherjee (whom the Merchants consider family) and Salman Khan will be attending the premiere in Singapore while Abishek Bachchan, Aishwarya Rai, Katrina Kaif and other stars have all voiced their support for the effort.

Why a love story? “It’s an emotion anyone in the world can relate to. And maybe making a story about love will also bring love into our lives,” she jokes.

However, during our 20-minute interview, it was clear that the two did have love in their lives ‒ that arising from a strong, sisterly bond with them almost intuitively finishing each other’s sentences and laughing easily throughout.  

Bollywood musical Taj ExpressThe elder Merchant admits the family is extremely protective of their youngest and it’s no wonder to discover that they and their elder brother Salim, who is one of the musical directors for the show (and manages the finances), seldom fight and have not gone a day without speaking to each other.

Shruti also credits her family for helping her realise her dreams.

“It was a big plunge which Vaibhavi and my entire family encouraged me to do because they saw my passion. I didn’t know I had that in me. I will be indebted to them for life,” she says, getting a little emotional.

Her goal is for Taj Express to have 5,000 shows which is sure to entail lots staying up late and missing out on family time.

But the sisters, who were involved in a previous musical The Merchants of Bollywood, have managed to find some sort of balance between work and life, and want to see more women joining the theatre: “Women’s aesthetic skills are far better, and we’re good at multi-tasking. It’s a beautiful medium and career path to choose. I’d love for Quintessence (her entertainment company) to be an all-woman team.”

Taj Express will be showing at the Esplanade Theatre from June 6 to 10, 2pm and 8pm. Prices are from $35 to $225 from SISTIC. Log on to www.facebook.com/pages/Taj-Express-The-Musical/214992811874161 for more.

Vanessa is a freelance writer and can be found at thesewingwriter.tumblr.com.