Skip to main content

Frankie Goes to Bollywood

Watford Palace Theatre
4 May 2024
Reviewed by Sanjeevini Dutta

Rifco Company’s Frankie Goes to Bollywood, at the Watford Palace Theatre attracted one of the largest Asian audiences that I have ever seen in a mid-scale venue. What they witnessed in the course of the evening appeared to have exceeded expectations. It gave them the glamour and glitz of a Bollywood film but watched with a live cast. The lavishness started with a spectacular set created with a series of telescoping Mughal arches, dripping in gorgeous hues that alternated between turquoise, pink, green, gold and red, a veritable Bollywood set.

The story begins with a young Frankie ghosting karate moves as she fights the ‘baddies’ in the movies and begs her mum to be allowed to stay up to watch the Hindi film that has inspired her. Swiftly the scene changes to a cinema and to Frankie (Laila Zaidi) and cousin Goldy (Katy Stasi) the ‘sisterhood of the brown girls’ who are ushers. We learn that Frankie’s mother has died. Goldy (heart of gold, but not much in the looks department due to her large size) dreams of a role in the movies while Frankie (the heroine and therefore the slim one) has her feet more firmly on the ground. Through a chance encounter with a director in which she asks for a role for cousin Goldy, Frankie finds herself instead being offered the part in an Indian film.

So Frankie makes her way to Film City Bombay. Our clear-eyed heroine is at first flattered and thrilled. There are some memorable scenes with the camp choreographer Shona Chatterji, brilliantly played by Gigi Zahir. The song and dance routine to the idea that for an actor to ask for a ‘script’ is a no-no in Bollywood (why would you need one when song and dance is where it’s at!), is side-splitting! This is a dig  at the film industry which is controlled by a few families who dictate the formula-driven movies. The script writer and directors are reduced to mere lackeys of the producers. In the scenario, the sleazy aging actor with his sense of entitlement to the best parts, the most attractive female leads and film awards is shown as a spoilt mummy’s brat. Shakil Hussain is superbly cast as Raju King, the prevailing main man whose time is running out. 

The inevitable happens, our heroine is sucked up by the Bollywood whirlpool, brilliantly conveyed by director Pravesh Kumar, through an ever faster turnover of song and dance numbers that are spewed out with less and less substance as dresses become skimpier and more revealing. The bright eyes are dulled and Frankie’s spirit broken as she has rejected her director boyfriend who had artistic ambition and signed over her own freedom to join the film ‘family’. She has lost her thread with her past, that of the sisterhood with Goldy.

From her inner depths Frankie pulls out a tiny hope after connecting with other down-trodden female cast-outs and they launch a number which projects female- power. The only way to escape the system is to assume the power to write your own scripts with different stories and find a place for a Goldy character to be the heroine.

A two hour twenty-minute production has not a slack section –  the pace and interest is maintained  through a gorgeous parade of costume, strong dancing, a vibrant set and lighting design, great casting and a heartwarming friendship at the center of the story.