Bollywood: It's the name for the wildly successful Mumbai-based, Hindi-language film industry, probably best known for its dazzling musical numbers, romantic melodramas and flamboyant costumes. But, said "My Bollywood Jukebox" creator and producer Heena Patel, to millions of fans, Bollywood means a lot more than entertainment.
"These films have influenced the dreams, the passions, even the decor and fashion sensibilities of those who've watched them," she said. "People know about the sequins and it being fun, but I wanted to show how it's really more than that."
Patel's new production (with MELA Arts Connect), which premieres at Stanford University's Frost Amphitheater on July 25, will take audiences on a music-and-dance-filled journey through Bollywood history, showcasing many time periods, genres and styles from early classics to modern blockbusters. At the same time, the show also ties the songs of Bollywood to the memories and experiences of South Asian immigrants and their children, examining "how Bollywood music and culture has shaped the lives of those in the diaspora," she said. "If there's an underlying theme of this show, it's really about the connecting that has been facilitated through this medium of film."
Patel's previous production, "Bollywood Boulevard," compressed nearly a century of Bollywood history into a 90-minute song-and-dance spectacular. She noticed how audiences at that show were relating with the material — some because they had grown up with the culture and some who were experiencing it for the first time.
"That show had become a conduit for people to step into the lives of their neighbors," she said.
When she began discussions with Stanford Live about bringing a new production there, it seemed a natural evolution to explore Bollywood from both more personal and wider perspectives, especially as many people are hungrier than ever for connections after more than a year of pandemic isolation. What developed — "My Bollywood Jukebox" — is a community memoir of sorts.
"I would say that the show is literally my soundtrack," Patel said. "And I incorporated not just my stories, but also a lot of conversations with friends, my parents and their friends to find the common themes and experiences we had. It's my story but it's also not my story. It's the story of these generations."
Raised in Toronto, Patel grew up singing and dancing along to Bollywood songs. She named the song "Chaudhvin Ka Chand" (from the 1960 film of the same name) as one of her earliest Bollywood memories, having heard her father sing it frequently around the house, inspired by his favorite singer, Mohammed Rafi. In the 1990s, Patel idolized the actress Madhuri Dixit.
"My dreams of being a Bollywood star and dancer are all connected to Madhuri Dixit," she said. "I grew up watching her movies on the VCR, rewinding to copy her, to do these dances at our community shows."
The Stanford Live production of "My Bollywood Jukebox" will include nine musicians and a group of eight or nine dancers. The primarily Northern California-based cast includes the Bay Area band Raga & Blues, and choreography for the show is by Anisha Babbar and Rohit Gijare. Patel herself will serve as narrator.
"What people are going to really get to see and hear is that Bollywood is not just one type of music or one type of dance. Bollywood is everything and nothing," Patel said. "It's not a particular movement vocabulary or sound aesthetic. There are jazz, classical, folk, pop and disco influences — so many musical influences — and a lot of different styles of dance in it as well."
Patel and company started working on the show in late May. "It's a rapidly evolving process," she said with a laugh. And she expects the show to continue to evolve and grow in future incarnations. While tickets to the family-friendly Stanford show are being sold in pods to allow for social distancing, Patel said she still hopes for plenty of audience participation from people of all ages.
"There's an invitation for the audience to really become a part of it and dance with us," she said. "So much of Bollywood is a celebration. It's about joy and it's about connection. I can't think of anything more powerful than celebrating with joy and music and stories."
"My Bollywood Jukebox" will premiere Sunday, July 25, at 6 p.m. at Frost Amphitheater, 351 Lasuen St., Stanford. Tickets are $30. More information is available at live.stanford.edu.