As a Singaporean kid growing up in the ’90s, I’ll always have fond memories of Bollywood soap operas playing on the television when I got home from school. Language barrier didn’t change the fact that my late grandmother thoroughly enjoyed the energetic dancing, emotional storylines, and comic relief provided by these productions.

If you enjoy all things Bollywood, be sure to catch Devdas – The Musical as it makes its world premiere in Singapore’s Esplanade Theatre on April 21. Brought to life in a Broadway-style production, the musical is a theatre adaptation of Sarat Chandra Chattopadhyay’s classic novella of the same name.

Devdas is considered one of the most famous love sagas in Indian literature and this iconic tale has been re-told time and again, with the most notable being a Bollywood blockbuster headlined by Indian superstar Shah Rukh Khan in 2002. Featuring elaborate sets, lighting, and special effects, the 100-minute show tells the story of star-crossed lovers Devdas and Paro, torn apart by unfortunate circumstances in Calcutta during the early 1900s.

Expect a star-studded cast including prominent Bollywood actors such as Sunil Kumar Palwal, Aanchal Chauhan, Bhavna Pani, Jayesh Thakkar, and Smita Jaykar, who play key roles in the musical. But what’s a Bollywood musical without music and dancing? Fans will be pleased to know that the show will feature songs from the original score of the Bollywood movie Devdas, as well as new tracks. One of the highlights is, of course, the choreography—a fusion of Indian classic and contemporary dance styles created by Devendra Singh (Debu). We chat with him to understand what inspired his choreography and what challenges he faced in translating a classic tale to stage.

Bringing a classic tale to life onstage is no mean feat. How did you translate elements from the original text into the dance moves?
It was definitely a challenge. When I craft my choreographies, I work primarily with emotion: I want to keep the heart of each song intact and translate that into movement, all while adding a little twist of my own.

What inspired you to fuse both Indian classic and contemporary dance styles? Did you face any challenges?
I combined an essence of kathak — one of the eight major forms of Indian classical dance — and contemporary dance. Traditional forms like kathak are perfect for bringing to life and expressing some of the compositions in the music, while the free-flowing nature of contemporary dance is an amazing way to express the performers’ emotions. I wouldn’t say it is a challenge: When I teach my choreographies, I always perform with passion and that makes my work extremely fulfilling.

What do you think accounted for the rise in popularity for Bollywood musicals and movies?

More people are starting to become aware of, and thus appreciate, Bollywood musicals. With our musical, we really wanted to reach more people and a wider audience to show them how incredible Bollywood musicals can be. That’s why we offered shows in multiple languages—we have a show in Hindi with English subtitles and another one in English with Chinese subtitles. I believe that dance and music are universal languages and that they can connect people regardless of what they speak or where they come from. 

    What are some of your favourite Bollywood musicals and why?

    Devdas the Musical! Because I really love what we’ve done with it! We have glamorous costumes and fabulous dancers, and an extremely talented cast who were so eager to learn and are so ready to dance their hearts out. We’ve worked so incredibly hard on the musical and I’m really excited and proud to share our work with the audience in Singapore this weekend.

      There will be two shows in Hindi with English subtitles at 8pm on Friday, 21 April and Saturday, 22 April, and two shows in English with Mandarin subtitles on Saturday, 22 April at 3pm and on Sunday, 23 April at 5pm at the Esplanade Theatre.

      More information here.

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