NEW YORK – “The word tribute is cliché in the performing arts world,” says Heena Patel, the executive producer and artistic director of Bollywood Boulevard, a show that takes the audience through the journey of the Hindi film industry.
Patel told News India Times that she has been performing her entire life and is now a cultural connector for South Asian performing arts.
“I grew up watching Bollywood movies and I thought why not make it my career,” she said, adding that when not working on the show, she helps other artists build their career as South Asian performers “because these are artists who need to be heard.”
As a high school student, Patel used to participate on her raas-garba team in Toronto, Canada and from there she ended up participating on other dance teams that went on to winning several competitions.
After earning her degree in environmental engineering, Patel went to India where she helped to build toilets in rural areas.
But she still kept in touch with the performing arts world and learned tabla for 10 years. That’s where she met Rushi Vakil, a music director who composes his own music.
“We had the same teacher,” said Patel, adding that the major thrill they had in common was their passion for Bollywood.
So they decided to create a show called Bollywood Boulevard, tying together music, dance and multimedia into a 90-minute presentation that showcases the evolution of Bollywood from its inception in 1913 to today.
“Each sequence of dance represents a different type of era and the dance it brought into the industry, for example qawwalis and mujra,” Patel added.
Bollywood Boulevard started out as an idea in the latter half of 2016 and became a reality in the summer of 2017 when it premiered outdoors in New York City.
“We didn’t know it would be such a huge success right away,” Patel said, as she was unaware of the impact Bollywood had on others’ lives, not just Indians but other nationalities as well.
“While growing up in Toronto, it was the magic and influence of Bollywood along with the learning of Indian classical music that grounded me culturally. That is why I came up with the idea of a show that teaches everyone the history and evolution of Bollywood. Bollywood is the soundtrack of the world. It has shaped us to be who we are today,” said Patel, who loves dancing to Madhuri Dixit’s songs from the 1990s.
But she says she couldn’t have done it alone.
“Half of the credit goes to (Rushi) Vakil,” she said.
Vakil, in an interview to News India Times, talked about the significance of Bollywood Boulevard.
“In the 90-minute production, we show how the industry has evolved and reached to the level it has today. We want the audience to feel like they are watching a live movie while experiencing the journey of Bollywood,” said Vakil, saying that when it comes to the music for the show, “we mix our creativity with the original soundtrack.”
Patel added: “We try to stay true to the original while adding our own creativity to each act,” eplaining how the multimedia aspect of the show is used to introduce each era of Bollywood as well as highlight the significant events which took place throughout the years in Bollywood.
“Our team doesn’t consist of a bunch of good dancers and musicians; in fact, it consists of talented artists who share the same passion for Bollywood as we do, who appreciate Bollywood for what it was back in the golden days and for what it is now,” said Vakil, adding how he himself loves the music of R.D. Burman, “that man was crazy, he just composed anything.”
Vakil said he got into composing music when he began muting his favorite show Tom & Jerry and make his own musical soundtrack to the comedy created by Tom & Jerry on the screen.
Bridging the Gap
Patel said it was her parents who pushed her to embrace her culture while living in Toronto, something that she is thankful for today.
This was part of the reason why she ended up going to India in the first place.
It is also what helped her collaborate with Vakil as well.
“Here at Bollywood Boulevard, our team is made up of artists from India and the United States,” Patel said, adding how this bridges the cultural gap between the two countries and how she wants to help other South Asian artists start and maintain their careers in the performing arts world.
Although, some may think that it is full of glitz, glamour and gossip, Bollywood is truly the best way any Indian-American can learn about their culture and help bridge that awkward cultural gap that exists between generations in many families.
Bollywood Boulevard will be showcased at Byham Theater in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania on February 22, New Jersey Performing Arts Center in Newark, New Jersey on February 24 and Bromeley Family Theater in Bradford, Pennsylvania on March 24.
Patel and Vakil intend to expand Bollywood Boulevard by doing many more shows in the future throughout the United States and eventually, throughout the world.