"My Heart Goes Thadak Thadak" is an ode to 1970s Bollywood cinema and the big dreams of a production company on the verge of collapse. Written and directed by Ahi Karunaharan, now one of New Zealand's most influential theatre-makers, it is a production that doesn't just deserve to be seen - it needs to be seen.
Set among the paraphernalia of a studio film set, the story is replete with divas, huge backdrops, a wannabe actor, an over-compensating producer, sibling rivalry and some innocent New Zealanders who are unable to articulate their feelings so express themselves through music – and conveniently, provide the soundscape for the show.
Iconic director Rakesh Ramsey has died but his presence is felt (mostly by a temperamental smoke machine) as his team attempt to realise his unfulfilled dream: A desi western called "Dust of the Delhi Plains".
Led by the overbearing and pedantic producer Manjit (Mustaq Missouri) the first act is heavily expositional. We are introduced, somewhat tediously, to the young Shankar (Shaan Kesha) craving a bit role; the determined but ageing queen Ranikumari (Rashmi Pilapitiya) and, eventually, the children of the deceased director, Roshan (Mayen Mehta) and Kamala (Sanaya Doctor), who are forced to reckon with the reality of finishing the film on a shoe-string budget in a world crying out for change.
Pilapitiya, in particular, stands out for questioning the roles for women and the fickle nature of the film industry, while Doctor and Mehta show by turns genuine frustration and affection as brother and sister.
Young Kesha is the ideal kowtowing actor who'll do anything for a moment of fame and Missouri has a special moment during the discussion of cultural appropriation when he unequivocally denounces such behaviour.
It's a moment, like many others peppered throughout the show, that remind the audiences that while it may be set in 1975, the conversations had definitely begun - and to do this day continue. Julia Roberts as African American Harriet Tubman, anyone?
Jennifer Lal's lighting is beautiful, Leon Radojkovic and Daniel Williams' design is detailed and quietly magnificent and Padma Akula's costumes reflect the era. The music, while brilliant, tends to overwhelm the story at times and the script needs more dramaturgical support, especially in the first act when the storyline is ambiguous.
However, in the second act, as stakes rise and the team realises it needs to make this film and stop horsing around, the story finally lands with a resounding finale.
"Thadak Thadak" brims with potential to be deeply satirical, a nostalgic homage or a black comedy but at the moment its form is blurred and the intentions lacking in clarity.
Nevertheless, the show is vital because it challenges the current diet of existing theatrical fare and, importantly, has the seeds for dismantling some of the dysfunctional infrastructure in the sector that has seeped through the decades.
What: My heart Goes Thadak Thadak
Where & when: Rangatira at Q Theatre, until Saturday December 14
Reviewed by Dione Joseph