About every year, a group of Bollywood stars embark on worldwide concert tours, recreating famous dance numbers from their films live for their fans outside of India and across the globe. While this year's major tour, the "Heat 2006" show, didn't boast the immense star power of the previous show I'd attended, "Breathless 2004" (which featured as a headliner none other than the Bolly-to-Holly crossover queen Aishwarya Rai) the quintet of stars--Akshay Kumar, Preity Zinta, Saif Ali Khan, Sushmita Sen, and Celina Jaitley--taking to the stage on April 9 at the Shrine Auditorium did not fail to put on a spectacular show. (To help those of you follow what I'm saying--somewhat at least--wherever possible I've included links to the original film musical numbers, as well as clips from video taken at a different stop of the "Heat" tour.)
The proceedings got off to a rocky start, however--that is, when they finally started. The scheduled start time as stated on all the advertising and the tickets themselves was 6:30pm, but at that time the doors to the venue were still closed, with masses of people congregating outside waiting to get in; it wasn't another 45 minutes until the doors finally opened, and then only people were allowed into the lobby (and the wings, where food was being sold), not the auditorium proper, which remained closed for another 20-30 minutes. The wait was frustrating, but it enabled me to survey the crowd a bit, and while it was largely Indian, there were some Caucasian, Asian, and African-American faces around. The lights finally dimmed to a more relieved than excited roar of applause at around 8:20pm, and a little video intro to the show came up on the video screens. Oddly enough, much of thegraphics came from the opening title sequences of the last few James Bond films: Tomorrow Never Dies, The World Is Not Enough, Die Another Day. (Shots from GoldenEye were curiously absent.) As with the "Breathless" concert in 2004, the shots of the stars got big reactions.
This was followed by the opening number, which just featured the very talented back-up dance troupe. One of the male dancers stood out like a sore thumb to me as he had a shaved head while all the other guys were sporting the long, damp, just-got-out-of-the-shower John Abraham locks. The song they danced to was "Dhoom Machale"--the English language version sung by Thai pop superstar Tata Young--from the summer 2004 hit Dhoom (Blast), which I found to be an odd choice since not a single star of the Neal Moritz-style motorcycle action film was on the bill. But the song is as rousing a curtain-raiser as any, and its popularity and recognition factor got the crowd worked up.
First up: Celina Jaitley. She did a medley of maybe three or four songs, and as I haven't seen too many (I will use the Bollywood media tradition of referring to stars by their first names) Celina movies, so I wasn't completely certain if they actually were from any of her movies (at least they weren't in the ones I've seen, best as I can recall)--that is, until the last one, which was the title song of the summer 2005 comedy hit No Entry--but then that number in the film is a showcase for her sultry co-star Bipasha Basu, so it isn't really hers, technically. But she looked great and moved well though I couldn't feel a little bad for her as the reaction from the audience was warm but not overwhelmingly enthusiastic. It's kind of sad how a lot of her appeal still lies in her former Miss India (2001) status rather than any of her movies. She doesn't even have a terribly huge hit item number to call her own (a point that came all too distractingly obvious later).
Miss Universe 1994 Sushmita Sen was probably the biggest revelation of the night. Why she isn't a bigger film star is beyond me--she has such amazing stage presence, is a true knockout, and has great personality and humor. Seeing her perform live makes one wish people will give her a big role and not just big item numbers to do; she could easily be the Bollywood answer to Catherine Zeta-Jones if someone would give her a big shot. She definitely took over the show with her bit, which she began by dancing to "Dus Bahane" from last summer's ensemble actioner Dus (Ten) (which she didn't star in) and "Mehboob Mere" (her famous item number from 2000's justly acclaimed drama Fiza). She then paused a little bit to greet the crowd and say that in India they always ask for more, and then she broke into a number called "Black Machine." The lights dimmed, the crowd went wild, then suddenly a voice in the dark went "You aren't done with me yet!" After the lights came up, she thanked L.A. for being so hospitable when she lived here for a few years post-Miss Universe reign and thanked the crowd for showing such love since she doesn't tour often (this was only her second one in her whole film career). To show her love, she wanted to meet as many people as possible, and so she went into the crowd shaking a number of hands in the front of the auditorium while her classic "Dilbar Dilbar" from the 1999 You've Got Mail-inspired romance Sirf Tum (Only You) played. As if she already didn't have the crowd eating out of her hand, she then brought up a little girl on stage, and then the two of them danced the last minute of the song together. The girl, named Natasha, was absolutely adorable, and Sush mentioned that she's around the same size and age as her daughter. She returned the girl to her parents and then left the stage.
Akshay Kumar's appeal has never quite won me over; I never disliked him, but I never loved him either. He's a decent enough actor, good enough screen presence, but I'm generally indifferent to him as a whole. And, above else, I never thought him too impressive a dancer, particularly since his bulk always made his moves a bit slow and jerky for my taste, and seeing him live let me nail down what I think the problem is: he's a trained martial artist, and he attacks the dancing like fighting, with the harsh movements and general lack of fluidity. It helps him in the fight and action scenes but not so much in the musical numbers. The director/choreographer of the show must get credit, then, for not having him rely entirely upon dancing--especially since the backup guys were quite impressive. His first song incorporated a nunchuck demonstration (that wasn't bad) with some dance moves that really resembled martial arts moves. Then he surprised everyone by taking to the mic himself and crooning a ballad while a dancer named Jennifer (yes, just Jennifer) did some rhythmic gymnastics with a ribbon and doing all sorts of Cirque du Soleil-level contortions. Akshay jumped from the stage into the floor for a little bit during his song (which he was perfectly OK on; leading male Bollywood playback singers Sonu Nigam and Udit Narayan have nothing to lose sleep over, though), which foreshadowed what he had in store on the second half of the show
Then it was intermission. The announcer said the interval would only last 15 minutes, and everyone was a bit surprised when it indeed didn't last a second longer. The lights dimmed, and we got that same Bond-cribbing intro video again, but to much less reaction of course. First up was singer Ajivit Roy, a more pop-oriented singer who also made his way all the way from Bombay. It took a while for the crowd to really get into his set, but as he got warmed up so did the crowd, and his energy--and some familiar tunes, none of which I can name--eventually put him over, and he got a nice healthy reception from the crowd. Next, our single-named contortionist Jennifer returned for a rather lengthy and high-energy dance/item number mélange. The audience gave her a nice ovation, but at this point it was obvious the collective patience was wearing a little thin.
The lights dimmed, and we again got that same 007-ripping video, and now it didn't get any reaction at all. First up again, Celina, and here's where her lack of actual hits to call her own really showed as she launched into a couple of numbers from films she didn't appear in: "Tauba Tauba" from the unintentionally hilarious 2004 jungle slasher thriller Kaal (Time to Die), which then segued into "Kajra Re" from last summer's entertaining hit caper comedy Bunty aur Babli (Bunty and Babli). She began the latter with her back to the crowd à la Aishwarya Rai in the original movie number, and the crowd started to go wild, but then when she turned around the reaction calmed down a bit--it was almost as if some people were expecting Ash to unexpectedly materialize. Celina did the number some justice, but it goes without saying that she at the very least doesn't have Ash's charisma and star quality, and something ended up getting lost in translation--and this was reflected by the nice but definitely fairly tepid (in comparison to others') applause. Then the faceless announcer of the night made himself known: Abu Malik, show director. He brought out promoters Sultan Allaudin (who blamed the start time delays to "Indian technical difficulties") and Safdan Hussain, who both said brief words that were greeted with polite applause. They both thanked all the stars for coming out--especially Saif, who they said was ordered by doctors not to travel overseas for the tour, but he really wanted to come, so he did--but they not so surprisingly forgot to name Celina. Poor girl. Abu then set up the next act...
...Preity, in full "Bumbro" regalia, doing quite the spot-on recreation of that classic number from 2000's acclaimed action drama Mission Kashmir, and then that segued into a more modern dance number that was definitely familiar, but I couldn't quite place it. I should take this moment to note that I think Mr. Malik took the title "Heat" a bit too much to heart as there was a lot of pyro in this show, and it came off as a bit much since this was in an auditorium setting and not an arena--especially during this Preity set, as there was one surprising blast that was, quite literally, blinding. The audience had to rub their eyes for a few seconds after that one. She closed out the last number by throwing teddy bears into the crowd; she tried throwing one into the higher box seats, but she didn't arc her throw enough. After the set, Preity took to the mic and apologized for her bad aim and gushed with gratitude over the highly appreciative crowd, who reciprocated the love and then some. There was this one young woman who held up a big posterboard sign reading "Preity is awesome," which was cool--but, again, this being a formal theatre setting, I imagine the people sitting in the rows right behind her didn't think it was so cool. Of course, guys from various corners of the auditorium, from the balcony and beyond, yelled their declarations of love to a visibly flattered and quite charming Miss Zinta.
Next was Sush and Akshay duet sequence, which had some vague storyline of Akshay chasing Sush around the stage until she finally gave in (basically the plot progression of 85% of all Bollywood movies, no?). Among the songs covered were "Tumse Milke Dilka Jo Haal" from her hit 2004 actioner Main Hoon Na (I'm Here Now) and, of course, the title song from his silly hit '04 comedy Mujshe Shaadi Karogi (Let's Get Married). The latter included a full mock wedding, confetti shower, and a cutesy "nine months later" bit in which the backup dancers threw a sheet over Sush and Akshay, and they emerged with a "baby." After that, Akshay snuck off, and it was the Sush show yet again, and she and did more work with the crowd, calling out a boy who yelled out that their baby was a doll. She had him come up to the stage, and she ended up giving him the doll. I heard some groans of unfairness as the boy was already holding one of those teddy bears that Preity threw into the crowd.
The girl with the big sign for Preity had one for Sush as well, and all her screaming and such led Sush then called her up on stage. Sush said that she had an important announcement to make about Akshay, and the mention of his name incited a lot of screaming interruption, which prompted Sush to faux-sulk about how all she hears is "Akshay," "Saif," "Preity" and never "Sush" (again, Celina's name was not uttered), and so she got the crowd to say her name for her. It was a lot more fun and charming than it sounds--and, again, why isn't this woman a bigger star? She has such an ease and appeal with the crowd. She then mentioned Akshay's work for cancer treatment and how he set up a cancer center in Canada, and that set up the music video for his charity single (proceeds to cancer research), which then played as Sush took that very lucky fan backstage to meet everyone. It was a nice little austere bit of video; nothing terribly exciting if you're not a huge Akshay fan, and he didn't sound bad. Then it was back to live Akshay, and keeping with the more martial arts slant, his first bit had him demonstrating his skills with the stick before launching into some more purely dancey bits. I can't quite remember the songs though I do remember that "Thoia Thoing" ripoff "Gela Gela" from the 2004 Disclosure remake Aitraaz (Objection). Again, not too impressed with the dancing especially along side those pros in the background--he didn't move as easily and seemed to get a little winded--but he gives it his all. But little did I know he had even more to give...
...and this is where I gained a lot of respect for Mr. Kumar. He gave a little greeting and thanks for everyone, and then he launched into an incredibly long, high-energy medley of punjabi/bhangra songs. Nothing quite prepared me for the spectacle of Akshay jumping from the stage, running from one end of the auditorium to another, up the stairs and standing on the ledge of the box seats, all the while never losing his breath to miss a lyric or a beat, dancing with audience members. Needless to say he gave the security people major headaches as people ran up the aisles from the back of the auditorium, and everyone got on their feet. For this 20-minute stretch, it was no longer the "Heat" concert but "Akshay's Punjabi Dance Party," and his energy was amazing. Forget the crooning thing, or even the somber charity single--the punjabi/bhangra beat is where it's at for Akshay, and should the film thing flame out for him, he has a very healthy career in this arena for him. He ended the lengthy set by, appropriately enough, collapsing to the floor in front of the front row. It was quite the entertaining, energizing spectacle.
How does one follow that? One doesn't really, so there was a rather half-hearted finale centering around the title song for last fall's smash hit (but quite mediocre) Saif/Preity romantic comedy Salaam | Namaste, which suggested a larger duet section featuring the dynamic duo had he been 100%, which is disappointing). The two were rather cute, wearing tank tops with "Preity" and "Saif" on front, and on the back "Salaam" (her) and "Namaste" (his). She kept on pulling his shirt up to expose his appendix bandage. They did do the moves on one of the choruses, and again Saif deserves credit for doing as much as he can under what I imagine is a fair amount of pain medication. After the first verse and chorus, the other three joined Saif, Preity, and the dancers on stage for bows and waves amid another shower of confetti, this time covering the entire auditorium. Things were about to wrap up when someone a South Asian organization in Los Angeles gave every one of the stars and the promoters certificates of commendation. It wasn't on the huge level of the official city commendations that Aishwarya Rai and Hrithik Roshan received at the "Breathless" concert in '04, but it was nice nonetheless. It was while they were getting their certificates that I realized that every one of the stars had some time with the mic to greet and thank the crowd... except Celina. She really can't catch a break.
And so "Heat 2006" was a good show that exceeded most any expectations. It was disappointing that Saif wasn't able to really do his thing, but that couldn't be helped. Also a little disappointed that Sush didn't perform the classic "Shakalaka Baby" from the 2001 adventure Nayak: The Real Hero--you'd think she would, considering the western profile that song has now thanks to its prominent placement in the Andrew Lloyd Webber-produced Broadway musical Bombay Dreams--but oh well...