Mithun Chakraborty was cast by B Subhash in Disco Dancer because of his long legs, to match John Travolta’s dance-walk from Saturday Night Fever, the obvious inspiration for the Hindi film. Back in 1982, when Disco Dancer was released, plagiarism was not such a big issue. Bappi Lahiri, whose music propelled the film to superhit status, had cut-pasted a few songs from several sources. The bad reviews hardly mattered. The film became such a success that over time it acquired cult status. Which is why 40 years later, it has been converted to a stage musical to make audiences with twitchy feet relive the 1980s. It’s quite another matter that nostalgia for that period is felt only by those who did not live through it.
Through whatever lens it is seen or remembered, the film was awful. Despite a co-writer like Rahi Masoom Reza, the script was laughably bad – poor boy beats evil rich man and also woos his daughter. There was no pretence of even basic technical finesse, but lots of girls in shiny, skimpy outfits in the many dance numbers with psychedelic lights and mirrored disco balls.
Disco Dancer – The Musical, currently being staged in Mumbai, has been directed and choreographed by Rajeev Goswami. Salim-Sulaiman reimagine Lahiri’s memorable songs I Am A Disco Dancer, Jimmy Jimmy, Yaad Aa Raha Hai, Goron Ki Na Kaalon Ki, Auva Auva and Krishna Dharti Pe Aaja Tu and add a few of their own.
Like the film, the Suniel Shetty-Saregama production offers uncomplicated enjoyment. If Disco Dancer was kitschy, the musical is blindingly gaudy, from the fluorescent costumes to the bright LED lights and over-saturated backdrop projections. When the dance numbers are on, globules of light gyrate at the front of the stage.
The film’s plot is further simplified by the play by Irfan Siddiqui, Sharad Tripathi and Nicholas Khakhongor. Poor street dancer Jimmy (Arjun Tanwar) is propelled into disco dancing fame by manager David (Raman Chanjotra), who wants to teach the reigning dancing star Sam (Varun Tiwari) a lesson. Sam’s father (Gautam Berde) tries his best to destroy Jimmy, while Sam’s sister Kim (Tia Kar) falls for his rival.
Jimmy’s white-clad mother (Komal Chhabria) looks incongruous amidst the bright bursts of colour. There are a few additions and deletions in terms of characters. Like in traditional Parsi theatre, a comedian (Rajat Sood) steps onto the stage between scenes with a stand-up act and ridiculous poetry. The romance is extended because of which the most popular songs are crammed into the second half.
The dances are far better choreographed in the musical than in the film. The actors also manage the tough task of singing live, so the occasional off-key rendition can be overlooked.
Indian audiences have never been discomfited by garishness on or off the screen. They did not object to it in the film and they are likely to enjoy it even more on the stage, where it is dialled up by several notches. If it is restraint or sophistication they are looking for, they bought the wrong tickets.