Laila Zaidi as Frankie and Katie Stasi as Goldy. Pictures: Michael Wharley

Frankie Goes to Bollywood

Wolverhampton Grand


It’s great fun, packed with life, has a storyline that grabs you and carries you along, has some great songs and it’s an original, British, home grown musical that hasn’t arrived from Broadway and isn’t based on some hit film – so come on, what’s not to like?

The result is a wonderful fusion of cultures, a masala (Hindi for a blend of spices) of its own, with South Asian culture rubbing shoulders with Western musicals. On the one hand we are in a Bollywood movie, with C-stands wheeled around the stage lighting the figures, with off the cuff musical dance numbers popping up at even a hint of dropped hat, while alongside that we have the more traditional Western formulae with some fine, emotive, telling ballads and a story not of legends, of heroes, romance and villains but real lives, friendships and the despair at empty promises.

Now, I must admit I am no expert on Mumbai’s Hindi film industry - Bollywood, nor indeed the whole Indian film sector which turned out a remarkable 1,796 movies last year – almost five a day.

But it seems it is a bit of a jungle and Frankie’s journey is part satire, part affection and part exposé of the goings on in the $1.3 billion a year Bollywood empire as Frankie follows her late mother’s dream of becoming a Mumbai movie star.

That scene is set as we join her with her cousin Goldy, a lovely performance from Katie Stasi, as the best friends keep body and soul together as usherettes-come-stale popcorn sellers in a Milton Keynes cinema.

frankie arrives

Starry-eyed Frankie arrives in Bollywood with Gigi Zahir as Shona, as ever in the background pulling strings.

Now from there to instant stardom on the silver screen might seem to be a bit of a stretch – but it’s a mere turn of the page in any self-respecting Bollywood script - cue joke about scripts or lack of them in Bollywood movies . . .

Frankie, a delightful performance from Laila Zaidi, has a chance meeting with nervous idealistic film director Prem Kapoor (Navin Kundra), who invites her to an audition for his next film. Frankie, who like her mother dreams of stardom but is frightened of actually being a star, declines, but she persuades him to audition her friend Goldy who dreams of stardom.

So, who gets the part without even an audition? The clue is in the title.

So off Frankie heads to Bollywood, little knowing the price she would have to pay for fame – and, even in real life, there is always a price.

Leading light, the king of Bollywood is Raju King played with a delicious OTT air by Dhruv Ravi, with Raju a poster boy for narcissism and misogyny.

Faded leading man Raju’s sell by date is so long past expiry it is in Latin but he, bus pass approaching, is kept at the top of the tree by the simple fact his father, grandfather, greatgrand. . . you get the picture . . . are leading producers and financiers, the power behind the Bollywood throne.

His days as a perceived sex symbol long behind him he sees the young beautiful and, most important, new Frankie as a perfect accoutrement to show his adoring (?) public he has still got it. Yeah, whatever . . .

Now that is something that does not go down too well with the now in danger of being dethroned queen of Bollywood, Malika, played by Helen K Wint, who sports a wonderful voice as both the aging queen and in her other role as Frankie’s mother.

She knows the way Bollywood, and Raju, works, the unwritten rules and machinations, the deceit and shallow lives, and rather than despising Frankie, warns her of the dangers and pitfalls, and eventually even becomes her friend and ally.

And then there is Mandy, Frankie’s Bollywood appointed assistant played by Nikita Johal, who wanted to be a scriptwriter and is another who arrived bright eyed and bushy tailed and whose dreams have been crushed by the Bollywood machine.

girls power

The aging Raju King, right, played by Dhruv Ravi, about to learn it's best not to mess with girl power and the sword wielding Frankie 

Mincing around it all with a finger in every pie, and one suspects toes as well once all fingers are occupied, is Gigi Zahir as Shona – choreographer, costume designer, matchmaker, fixer, TV host, restaurateur . . . if it pays he does it.

Along with Raju the pair almost bring an air of panto humour to proceedings which helps to lighten things in what could easily have become a darker, more sinister second act.

Indian society is hardly famed for its sexual equality and Bollywood’s male domination and treatment and depiction of female stars, described by Goldy as, “You run around a tree with some fat guy old enough to be your dad.”,  is questioned by Frankie and her new ally Malika as they break ranks with the Bollywood mafia of The Family and strike out for women’s rights.

It puts some bite into what had been up to then a genial, funny, entertaining musical. There is no angst or explosive moment, but its point is made, you might smile as you head home after an enjoyable evening, but the seed has been sown. The realisation there was more to this than songs, dances and laughs.

We end with the lost friendship of Goldy and Frankie. Frankie had been swept up in the false world of fame, leaving her past and perhaps who she was behind, and finally remembering what her mother had said “Find Your voice.  Find Your Tribe” she had come back down to earth, to her roots, what really mattered. One one thing that mattered was Goldy, the same Goldy she had rejected and ignored.  Goldy is back on the popcorn sales to pay the rent. The reunion was a painful and poignant  but above all a moment about what friendship means.

The musical has some Indian influenced songs and dance numbers but it also has numbers what would not look out of place in any musical with some fine ballads including a sad one about lost friends really belted out by Goldy.

Once clever aspect is the use of Indian instruments to accompany songs which are Western in nature, all under musical director Josh Sood, a University of Birmingham music alumni who was also musical director for the wonderful Bhangra Nation at Birmingham Rep.

The music and words come from Niraj Chag and Tasha Taylor Johnson who have individually written a fine musical score transcending East and West while the set from Rebecca Brower is deceptively simple, with an Oscars style stage with Indian style framing, roll on roll off props, all aided by a clever lighting plot from Philip Gladwell. The ever changing colour LED illuminated Indian architecture arches framing the stage were particularly effective while Andy Kumar also deserves a mention for some fabulous costumes.

Pravesh Kumar, the director and writer, has had the idea developing for years, and was aided in the final script by his musical duo Niraj Chag and Tasha Taylor Johnson, a trio with plenty of Bollywood experience, which gives authenticity and some pointed digs at the industry culture.

Kunar, in his programme notes expresses a love for Bollywood and the people who work in it, but recognises the pressing need for change.

It is a huge industry with influences way beyond South Asia and South Asian Culture, but forget Bollywood, you never need to have seen any of its films, Frankie is simply a hugely entertaining, funny and wonderful musical with great music, a fine cast and a tale with heart. Everyone seemed to be leaving with a smile on their face and a spring in their step and you can't ask for more than that. To 15-06-24.

Roger Clarke


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