A true-blue genie which says: “Chaata sky, isko laga daala toh bahut ko sulta dala” — a play on a satellite TV company advertisement. There is also a flying carpet on which Aladdin and Princess Jasmine take romantic rides. Iago and Abu make an appearance as well, although in a humanised form. But all of this is not happening on a TV or CGI screen. The story of Aladdin and the Magic Lamp is being presented as a musical on stage, where about 100 people, along with the lead cast, will twist, twirl and belt out their feelings musically.
Disney’s Aladdin is being presented and produced by BookMyShow in India, and will be staged in Delhi this weekend, after a successful run in Mumbai earlier his year. This is Disney’s second outing with a Broadway-style musical in India, the first being Beauty and the Beast (2015).
Aladdin and the Magic Lamp is a tale as old as time — owing its origins in The Book of Thousand and One Nights (The Arabian Nights). It’s various adaptations in film, stage and animated series have made sure pop culture is seeped with its references. Why a musical, that too in Hinglish? “Precisely for that very reason — almost every child in India has heard, read or seen this story. The adults can also get a healthy dose of nostalgia while watching it. I was part of the team that did Beauty and the Beast, and because I was not a Disney kid growing up, the songs were new to me. I wanted to make something far more relatable. Aladdin can be easily set in Lucknow. The dialogue about ‘Aladdin ka chirag’ has been used by everyone,” says Shruti Sharma, director of the show.
Aladdin — an adaptation of the original Disney version — is approximately two-and-a-hours long, and has many tweaks that give it an Indian flavour. But the story is very much set in Agrabah, where the original Aladdin was based. It follows the story of the pauper underdog, who falls in love with a princess. The musical takes us through the story, but in a mix of urban Hindi and English and with a sprinkling of popular culture. The cast includes Puranjit Dasgupta aka RJ Mantra as the playful genie, Vikrant Chaturvedi as the evil mastermind Jafar, Siddharth Menon and Taaruk Raina portray Aladdin, while Kira Narayanan is Princess Jasmine. Casting director Tess Joseph finalised the cast after four months of auditions around the country. Six months of rehearsals followed.
“Mantra as the genie was a masterstroke. The genie has normally been presented as rotund, jolly and mellow. Whereas Mantra is very stately, tall and majestic. He has changed the narrative around the genie. The character in itself is ageless and timeless, he could have existed in the Mughal era or in Narendra Modi’s time. He can say what he wants, and do what he wants,” says Sharma, 31.
Broadway-style musicals as a performance genre are still a rarity in India, though songs are an integral part of Hindi films. “I am struck by the paradox. Though if we look at the history of performing arts in the folk and regional space — the Jatra, Nautanki and Gujarati theatre — there was a lot of singing involved. We have had various forms of musical theatre, even if not in the same exact theatrical tradition of a Broadway. Also, issues of infrastructure, investment and the cost of entertainment play an important factor,” adds Sharma.
Live singing, of course, remains the fundamental difference between films with songs and a musical. “The thrill of listening to a chorus of 100 people sing their heart out is unparalleled. In spite of all hi-tech things, with HD presentation on TV, people still watch cricket and football live,” she says, “The music has been inspired from the original score by Alan Menken and given a ‘louder’ twist by Dhruv Ghanekar.” Sharma, a graduate from the Delhi University, who has worked on productions like Jhumroo and Zangoraa, says, “We have had some live singing in films before, in Singing in the Rain, Mary Poppins and The Greatest Showman with Hugh Jackman. Closer home, we have had Alia Bhatt singing in Highway.”
For the longest time, musicals were relegated to just being entertainment. Things changed with Hair and Rent, musicals that addressed social and political issues. Hamilton: An American Musical in 2015, too, was a gamechanger when its songs and rap lyrics were used to tell the story of founding father Alexander Hamilton by actor-singer Lin-Manuel Miranda. Sharma is hopeful something like this might emerge from India soon. “
We are on the right side of the curve. The audience is just warming up to this new experience. We will have to slowly build this culture. It will all depend on the content, as it will drive the market. We might just have a Hamilton of our own,” she says.