November 9, 2022
“Bombay Dreams changed my life,” said Vancouver-based Krystal Kiran, who was 19 when she won the role of lead understudy and ensemble dancer in the 2004 Broadway show. She had just moved to New York from a small town in British Columbia alone, and it was her first professional gig on stage. Quickly, the experience proved “magical,” from David Letterman’s stage door being right next to theirs to the likes of Hillary Clinton and Will Smith stopping by to see the show.
But Bombay Dreams didn’t just change Kiran’s life — it changed the face of Broadway, albeit for a season. Bombay Dreams was the first South Asian musical to land on New York’s hallowed stages, and a lot was riding on it, thanks to that very distinction. Producer Andrew Lloyd Webber, director Steven Pimlott, writer Meera Syal (of Goodness Gracious Me fame), choreographers Farah Khan and Anthony Van Laast, and, of course, composer A.R. Rahman were feeling the pressure. The musical, about a young man in Bombay who wants to become a Bollywood star, was already a modest hit on the West End, the U.K.’s Broadway. But the U.K. had a vibrant and significant South Asian population. In America, the show felt like “a huge gamble,” according to the production diary.
While Bombay Dreams would go on to make history, it received largelymixed reviews. It recouped its investment of $7.6 million (two-thirds of which came from Webber) within 15 months on the West End. But in New York, it closed its doors after a brief eight-month run, though it was far from a failure. Still, it would take almost two decades before another South Asian musical made its way to Broadway. With a crop of new Indian musicals, from Life of Pi to Come Fall in Love — aiming for New York in 2023, it seems like a significant moment in Broadway history. But how did we get here, and is this a sign of sustained change or just more smoke and mirrors?