From Bollywood Boulevard in New Jersey, to Himalayan art extravaganza in New York

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‘Bollywood Boulevard’, in New York City, in 2017.

NEW YORK – Despite its myriad controversies – including the sustained inflammatory row by the fringe group Karni Sena over the release of ‘Padmaavat’, which puts the violence by Shiv Sainiks over Deepa Mehta’s ‘Fire’ more than 20 years ago, in the shade; relentless mediocrity which at times is more churlish and crude than Spanish TV soaps, and lost allure for western audiences except for the rare ‘Baahubali’ big budget action extravaganza, Bollywood continues to thrive and enthrall millions of people in India and across the world.

If one day it’s the Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his wife Sara going gaga over Bollywood films, getting unabashedly selfies with Amitabh Bachchan and Aishwarya Rai Bachchan in Mumbai, imploring producers to make Hindi films in their country, the next day it’s news that Aamir Khan’s ‘Secret Superstar’ – which was a box office flop in India, at least according to the inimitable Khan’s standards making less than Rs. 100 crores – made more than Rupees 174 crore ($27 million plus), in just three days of release in China, this past weekend. Khan’s ‘Dangal’ had made more than Rs. 417 crores during its run in China.

Of course, it’s another story that Aamir Khan, Salman Khan and Shah Rukh Khan refused to meet with Netanyahu, at the Mumbai bash. Or that not every Hindi film enjoys such spectacular success in China – it’s only admiration for Khan’s histrionics which ensures the success of his films.

Here in America, Bollywood, apart from the rare success in theaters, has now a solid platform to showcase itself, and blossom: streaming services, at least on Netflix, Fandor and YouTube, for the wider audience, and for niche desi audiences, plenty of other services, including Sling TV.

Over the decades, interest for Bollywood – be it films, concerts, or shows that mix and match dance and song, has not waned for the first generation Indian American, or successive generations, apart from the new immigrants who find succor and solace in it.

Despite the overwhelming, inane mediocrity, the overriding mantra, as far as Bollywood films and entertainment go, is that there’s always hope: for a better film, a better show. Flops are taken into stride. Tolerance and patience levels are phenomenal. It doesn’t matter the only Indian-themed musical on Broadway, ‘Bombay Dreams’ was a dismal failure. What matters is that ‘Slumdog Millionaire’ made it at the Academy Awards.

It’s not surprising then that despite the surfeit of Indian films, songs and entertainment available online and on streaming services, Bollywood tries to entwine its magical tentacles to new audiences, through evolving, eclectic live formats.

A case in point is ‘Bollywood Boulevard: A Journey Through Hindi Cinema’, which attracted over 4,000 people for its premiere at Lincoln Center ‘Out of Doors’ series in the summer of 2017, in Manhattan.  The musical extravaganza is flaring its wings, will be seen next at the New Jersey Performing Arts Center, for two performances next month, on February 24th.

‘Bollywood Boulevard’, in New York City, in 2017.

‘Bollywood Boulevard’ gives insight into the artistry of India’s biggest movie industry, featuring 14 dancers, 9 musicians, digital backdrops and short films, all on stage.  It’s a spectacular fusion of live music, dance and multimedia imagery that celebrates Hindi movies, from black-and-white classics and the timeless songs of Bollywood’s ‘Golden Era’ to the colorful, foot-tapping blockbusters of today.

While the performers in ‘Bollywood Boulevard’ are from the Tristate area, the project itself is an international collaboration, conceived by Heena Patel of Mela Productions and created in partnership with Rushi Vakil of Aaditaal Music Project.

“Inspired by the music of R.D. Burman, Lata Mangeshkar, and A.R. Rahman, the dance moves of superstars like Amitabh Bachchan and Priyanka Chopra and the lush romance personified by big-screen actors like Raj Kapoor and directors like Yash Raj Chopra, this is Bollywood as you’ve never experienced it before. The cast of this exuberant stage show will transform NJPAC into India’s grand palaces, mountain vistas, and sweeping mustard fields, capturing the spirit of films that have captivated billions,” the show promises, in a press release.

“Every person involved is an ardent fan of Hindi cinema and their passion could be seen in each aspect of the show,” said India-based executive producer, creator, and music director Rushi Vakil, in a statement.

“The premiere was more than what we could have imagined. It truly was an evening of pure love, joy, and beauty, and to see the show so thoroughly enjoyed made all the hard work of the last eight months worth it; and now we are beyond excited to bring this to NJPAC,” said U.S.-based executive producer and creator, Heena Patel.

SOTHEBY’S TO SHOWCASE HIMALAYAN ART

Spring is yet far away, despite some warm temperatures this week, but for aficionados of Indian and South Asian art, come March, the art season in New York City will swing back in full form.

A forthcoming highlight will be ‘The Richard R. & Magdalena Ernst Collection of Himalayan Art’ at Sotheby’s, to be showcased on March 15, ahead of the dedicated auction on March 22.

An unrivaled compilation of painting and sculpture, the collection of art from the Himalayas, mainly from Tibet, ranging from the 12th through the 18th centuries, over 50 years by the couple, is one of the most significant to come to auction. At present, it’s on view in a special exhibition at Sotheby’s in Zurich.

“Marked by connoisseurship, taste and passion, the Ernst Collection of Himalayan Art is extraordinary in its depth and captivating in its beauty. Thoughtfully curated by Richard and Magdalena Ernst over the course of five decades, we are privileged to present their vision this spring. The first dedicated auction of its kind in over 12 years, the auction promises to be a remarkable event in the field of Indian, Himalayan and Southeast Asian Art,” Yamini Mehta, Senior Director, International Head of Indian and South Asian Art, said of the forthcoming auction.

An interesting fact is that the collector Richard Ernst is a Nobel Laureate, having won the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1991. His interest in Himalayan art was inculcated during a trip with his wife to Kathmandu in March, 1968. Since then, they have the foremost collection of Buddhist and Bön paintings from Tibet and Nepal.

The auction will see Tibetan portraits priced as much as $2 million go under the hammer.

(Sujeet Rajan is Executive Editor, Parikh Worldwide Media. Email him: sujeet@newsindiatimes.com Follow him on Twitter @SujeetRajan1)

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