ITEM: Dear Bollywood, I love you but we need to talk

ITEM: Dear Bollywood, I love you but we need to talk
By Nakhre Crew of Dance Masala. New Benner Theatre, Metro Arts Brisbane. 18 & 19 August 2023

Dancer and choreographer, Drea Lam, runs Brisbane-based Dance Masala Bollywood Dance School. She grew up on Bollywood movies and loves the genre dearly, but has issues with its attitude to gender roles, ideals of beauty and inherent ageism. Her performance piece, ITEM, tackles all these issues through the role of the ‘Item girl’ – the sexy and romantic lead dancer. ITEM is a love letter with a serious P.S. – as in, ‘Bollywood, we need to talk!’ This action-packed hour-long show starts with some dynamic dancing from Drea and her core team of gorgeous performers: Mugdha Khatavkar, Janaki Gerard, Ashwin Singh and Angela Nair Skinner. It was a real joy to be in a capacity crowd, hearing enthusiastic cheers as the audience enjoyed the infectious Bollywood beats and intricate steps performed by this expert dance team.

Created by Drea Lam and directed by Lisa Fa’alafi, ITEM is a deftly created mosaic performance piece. The storytelling features fabulous costumes, with projected images and interviews, with cinematography by Julian Palma, and lighting by Steven May. Along with some very funny sequences – such as the crew’s take on Bhangra boys tips on how to win over a woman, bullying Bollywood directors, fantasy scenes featuring sarees and leaf-blowers, and dancing tubes of ‘Fair & Lovely’ face-lightening cream – are the very real voices of Asian-Australian women who reveal their Bollywood yearnings and trepidations. Alongside their deep emotional attachment, the women have the industry’s endemic racism, sexism and ageism to contend with. The ITEM team manage to explore these serious topics in a humorous and heartfelt way. The commentators are women who love Bollywood as part of their cultural identity, but they admit that they haven’t always had an equal relationship with their flamboyant but sometimes old-fashioned and seriously out-of-step suitor.

Bollywood dance is a delicious fusion of traditional Indian folk, Middle Eastern belly dancing, African American hip hop, jazz and Western influences. This mix of influences is what ITEM celebrates with its own ‘Item’ performers and contributors. ITEM enlightens us to the Asian-Australian feminist experience and cultural history, using a vibrant, pumping heart of fabulous dancing and passionate storytelling that is uplifting and inspiring. There is much foot-stomping, hand-clapping fun – and even a little warm and welcoming audience participation. I was not surprised to learn that even the preview performance of ITEM’s short run was sold out! I think Metro Arts have a hit on their hands and may need to extend or revisit the show later in the season. I hope a Brisbane Festival redux is possible.

Beth Keehn

Read our interview with creator, Drea Lam, to find out how ITEM evolved:

Photographer: Morgan Roberts

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