Indian classic Devdas gets a Bollywood and Broadway crossover in Singapore premiere
The brightest of Bollywood stars – from Shah Rukh Khan to Dilip Kumar – have played the lead Devdas in chart-topping films of the same name.
From April 21 to 23, Singapore audiences can watch an extravagant retelling of one of India’s most beloved stories live at the Esplanade Theatre.
Devdas – The Musical will feature Indian actor Sunil Kumar Palwal as the titular character. It will also showcase original songs as well as familiar tunes drawn from the 2002 film starring Khan, with original performances by prominent Bollywood singers.
Recognising Devdas’ illustrious film legacy, director and scriptwriter Toby Gough tells the Straits Times over a Zoom call from Cuba: “I want to deliver the famous moments from the films that everyone loves.”
Devdas – The Musical, based on Bengali novelist Sarat Chandra Chattopadhyay’s 1917 novel of the same name, follows a man who spirals into alcoholism after his wealthy parents spurn his childhood love.
Gough calls the story “India’s Romeo and Juliet”.
The 52-year-old British director of Shakespeare is no stranger to telling Indian stories.
The Merchants Of Bollywood, his first collaboration with Indian choreographers, is a window into the glitzy world of Mumbai’s Film City. The hit show toured the world from 2006 and had multiple reruns in Singapore.
His most recent, Mumbai Masala – a spicy cabaret spin-off of a Bollywood master chef’s life – played on London’s West End in 2022.
An earlier iteration of Devdas: The Musical played in Mumbai in 2018 and was meant to come to Singapore in 2020 before the pandemic shut all theatres.
But the Singapore production in April will be a completely new show. The pandemic provided an opportunity for producer Ashvin Gidwani to rethink the musical, bringing in a new creative team to refresh the show.
Gough is co-directing the musical with renowned Indian director Ranga Godbole.
With two directors helming this multicultural collaboration, Godbole says in a Zoom call from Mumbai: “We are going to have a lot of fights.”
Godbole, for example, is adamant about including purely Bengali music even as Gough thinks that an international audience would not notice.
The 62-year-old explains that, in terms of music, “what (Toby) sees as a monochrome, I see it as multicolour. Every music has a different shade for me”.
But Godbole is confident that these creative differences will make for a better musical. “We’ll come up with a script that is palatable for Western audiences and also Indian audiences.”
He adds: “It’s like starting an Indian restaurant in New York. The food should be palatable for Westerners and, at the same time, be authentically Indian.”
In a bid to woo new audiences, the musical will be performed in both Hindi and English with surtitles in Mandarin for the English show.
Gough is confident that it will be true to the novel while appealing to new audiences through spectacular visual projections, aerial acrobatics and more than 20 dances.
He says: “I’m really excited about bringing this show to Singapore because it is my favourite city in the world. It’s a great reason to come back to Singapore for (Devdas’) world premiere on its first step in its journey around the world.”
After Singapore, Devdas is slated to tour Mumbai, Delhi, Bengaluru, Dubai, London and Japan.
Book It/Ashvin Gidwani’s Devdas – The Musical
Where: Esplanade Theatre, 1 Esplanade Drive
When: April 21 and 22, 8pm (Hindi with English surtitles); April 22, 3pm, and April 23, 5pm (English with Mandarin surtitles)
Admission: $58 to $258