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Bombay Dreams breakthrough for South Asians'

Manu Narayan is the lead in Andrew Lloyd Weber's Bombay Dreams, London's smash hit musical that is scheduled to open on Broadway April 29. For Americans this musical is a high profile way of getting the stories, images and music of Indian culture.

india Updated: Mar 01, 2004 13:03 IST
Indo-Asian News Service
Indo-Asian News Service

As he sat on a street-side table at an eatery here one evening, few passers-by spared Manu Narayan more than a cursory glance - despite his extraordinarily sparkling eyes and his cap slung low to hide his wild, curly locks of black hair.

But the days are not far when Narayan, 25, will not fail to be noticed wherever he happens to be, especially not in the environs of Times Square.

For he is the lead in Andrew Lloyd Weber's spectacular production of A.R. Rahman's "Bombay Dreams", London's smash hit musical that is scheduled to open on Broadway April 29.

"I think that in many ways this show is a breakthrough for South Asians as well as for the US," Narayan told IANS in an interview.

"For Americans this musical is a high profile way of getting the stories, images and music of Indian culture into the greater mainstream American consciousness.

"In so doing, many doors of possibilities open up for South Asian immigrants and South Asian Americans in both the professional and non- professional worlds.

"I believe the more we can expose the world to our talent, ability and cultures, the more the world can view us not as stereotypes but as individuals with our own unique stories."

Narayan also spoke to IANS on how humbled and elated he was on landing the prize role of Akaash.

"I am aware that it is the role of the decade; surely there is nothing higher going in the theatre world for a young South Asian male actor to dream of," he said, the exultation in his voice tamed by a touch of awe.

"Bombay Dreams" had its world premiere at London's Apollo Victoria Theatre June 19, 2002. The musical quickly became the biggest hit currently playing in London's West End.

Based on an idea by filmmaker Shekhar Kapur, "Bombay Dreams" tells the story of a handsome young slum-dweller, Akaash, and his dreams of becoming a Bollywood movie star. It weaves together glamour, romance and epic spectacle.

A graduate of Carnegie Mellon University, Narayan's theatre credits include the national tour of "Miss Saigon" (Thuy), Tom Stoppard's "Indian Ink" (Nirad Das) at the Wilma Theatre in Philadelphia, and David Henry Hwang's "Largo" (starring Cyndi Lauper and Fisher Stevens) at New York Stage and Film, as well as TV appearances on "Law and Order SVU" and "As the World Turns".

The part didn't just drop from the sky though - Narayan had been working all his life towards it. He has been acting, singing and dancing since he can remember.

"My parents are very supportive. My dad, J.B. Narayan, came to the US in the 1960s to study engineering. He went back to Chennai, where he met my mother, Vatsala, who is from Karnataka. They came back and settled in Pittsburgh.

"I am an only child and my parents enveloped me in love and support. They are very happy with my choice of acting as a career."

Of the rehearsals for 'Bombay Dreams', which began early this month, Narayan says: "Although it is play, and the best work possible for me, it is also taxing. It is the kind of work I love to do, but there are limits to the human body, and both your muscles and your mind are tested by the simultaneous singing, dancing and acting.

"We rehearse from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Three days a week I go to the gym for a one-hour workout. And it will be eight shows a week, with one rest day, after 'Bombay Dreams' opens at the Broadway Theatre."

Narayan had the privilege of singing for the queen of England, the president of the US, and various other dignitaries at the behest of Andrew Lloyd Webber in London at the US ambassador's residence in London.

"There were about 40 people in all, and we got to shake hands with the queen and the president. It was a big moment. But the biggest is coming... when the curtain rises at the Broadway on April 29."

First Published: Feb 27, 2004 13:49 IST