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Few people realise that his Phantom of the Opera has outgrossed the Titanic with revenues of $ 3 billion worldwide. With Cats having also grossed over $ 2.5 billion and eight productions about to be on at the same time on the West End and Broadway, Andrew Lloyd Webber is the hottest name in showbiz. That is why everyone expects his Bombay Dreams to bring India centrestage.

Here he is, in conversation with
Pritish Nandy.

At what stage is Bombay Dreams?
Well, we have got the basic idea in place, but a lot of work still needs to be done. That is why I am here in Bombay. I want to look around, get a feel of the city and spend some time with Rahman. You know, Mr Nandy, he is simply brilliant. What you might possibly call the best. His work is very different, very unusual and he himself is such a simple and humble guy that it would be a pleasure for us to work with him. He will bring a different kind of flavour to a musical production in the West.
How did you happen to discover his work?

Shekhar. Shekhar Kapur showed me a video. I liked it immensely. So he showed me more work. I find him very different, very creative. I think he will make a strong impression out there in the West.

What video was that? Do you remember its title?
Dil Se. It was remarkable. He is an extraordinary melodic composer whose work deserves to be heard all over the world.

It is not that I was unfamiliar with Indian composers. Talvin Singh, who lives in London, is a friend of mine and I like his music very much. But that is largely percussions. This is great melody. The time has come in the West (I believe) for Asian music to make a strong presence and Indian music is going to be at the centre of this new movement. For it is strong on both melody and percussions. Someone like Rahman could provide the leadership. Yes, I feel very strongly about his music.

How will you share the creative responsibilities between yourselves?
I wouldn't. Rahman will do all the compositions himself.

What will you do? Write the songs?
No, I can never write songs. I will work on the story. But I will leave Rahman to compose the melodies. That will make it different. Different from all the work I have done before.

What is your most recent work?
I am premiering this play on September 19 called The Beautiful Game. It is based in Northern Ireland and is about a bunch of Irish kids who love to play football, but get caught in all the violence and bloodshed that is taking place out there. It is about civil war and the kind of impact it leaves on the mind and spirit of young people who have actually nothing to do with it.

It is set in the mid-'60s and attempts to show the futility of all religious conflict. Whether it is Catholics versus Protestants, Christians versus Muslims, Jews versus Muslims, or (for that matter) Muslims versus Hindus as out here. All religious conflict is meaningless, pernicious.

No, it is not a political play. It is about young people trapped by an environment not of their own making and how that environment changes their life entirely. It is not a happy play in that sense and I do not even know if it will run. It could simply shut down after a day or two. It is so different from the kind of work I have done before that I am not even sure how it will do. I am frankly prepared for the worst, if you ask me.

Which is your favourite? Phantom of the Opera?
It is difficult for me to say that. I would rather say my latest work -- The Beautiful Game. It takes a lot of risks. Actually, I am still in two minds over where to premiere it. London or Dublin. Initially I was sure about Dublin, but now I am not quite sure that London should not be the place. Anyway, as I said before, I am very uncertain about the play and whether it will work or not. It could close down within a week for all I know.

Why don't you take a chance and premiere it in Bombay?
Aah, that would be fun. I was thinking about Bombay Dreams as well. I would be happy to premiere it here but the problem is that it might become too expensive. We would have to bring down not just the cast but all the properties of the show and that will not be an easy thing to do.

Why? Are the sets too big, too complex?
That is never the problem. The problem is that there are many other things that need to be moved and that is not always easy. Which is why we are also concerned about premiering in Dublin and may not eventually do so. It could prove to be a logistics nightmare. Frankly, the sets are the least of the problems. A play has many more complex elements that become doubly complex when you move out of London or wherever it is that you conceived it. But, no, I am not writing off the possibility of premiering Bombay Dreams here. I may still do it.

How long does it take you to write your musicals?
Normally, two years, start to finish. I have written 18 plays in about 35 years. But some take longer. Sometimes three years. The Beautiful Game play took a much shorter time. Even less than a year. Bombay Dreams too, could finish faster since Rahman will be composing all the music and he is used to working fast for the movies.

How do you react to Hollywood versions of your musicals? Evita, for instance?
I am disappointed. That is why I am happy that Shekhar is making Phantom of the Opera. It will be different, I am sure. I am keen to develop DVD versions of these musicals. They will be more interesting, more faithful to the originals. Hollywood tends to get carried away and what it produces eventually is very disappointing from my point of view.

New opportunities are now emerging to avoid Hollywood and DVD is just one of them. I am sure many more such opportunities will come that will not need to cater to public taste in the way Hollywood does and compromise on the originals. Why don't I send you a DVD and you will see what I mean? They are so much better than these big screen versions.

But Hollywood gives your work size, spectacle, and glamour. Why cry off that when you are in showbiz? Madonna brought Evita a certain magic. Would you deny that?
Absolutely. I am not interested in all that. My works must survive the test of time and that is impossible in their larger-than-life Hollywood versions. I would prefer to stick to DVDs. To versions that are true to the originals.

source: rediff news, photographs: Jewella C Miranda




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