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Frankie Goes To Bollywood is inspired by real stories of British women caught in the spotlight of the biggest film industry in the world and is due to run from 31 July –⁠ 18 August at Queen Elizabeth Hall, Southbank Centre. To date, Rifco’s most ambitious musical, Frankie Goes to Bollywood, is a breathtakingly colourful journey of romance, epic songs, and spectacular dance. QX interviewed theatre director and writer Pravesh Kumar.

You lead Rifco Theatre Productions, one of the UK’s most successful touring theatre companies. Please tell us about the company’s ambitions.

Rifco Theatre Company has been around for two decades. I established the company due to the lack of authentic representation on our stages. As a brown theatre and filmmaker from the LGBTQ+ community, I often observe both as an insider and an outsider, giving me a unique perspective. My aim is to tell untold, diverse British stories that are both entertaining and ask important questions about our society.

Rifco’s 2017 production of Miss Meena and the Masala Queens is a story inspired by the British South Asian drag queen community. Rifco consulted with that community during the creative process. Do you see a more progressive landscape for South Asian queer stories to be presented to a broader South Asian audience in the UK?

When we performed “Miss Meena,” I aimed to have a respectful conversation with a community that rarely discusses LGBTQ stories. I carefully balanced asking questions and engaging in genuine dialogue with the community. I didn’t want to preach to the converted. When the show began, I was amazed to see even conservative British South Asian families coming out to support the story and dancing with us. It was a significant achievement.

Even today, many families in Britain find it challenging to have conversations about coming out, as they still hold conservative values from their home countries. However, many families have moved away from that and embrace their children’s sexuality.  Personally, my partner, daughter, and I have the support of my mother, who stands proudly with us in front of the temple and the entire community, celebrating our “rainbow family” and says that it’s their problem, not ours. But this has been a journey, and it took us time to get there. 

Before Rifco, you worked in Bollywood. What was your experience of queer representation in that context?

The Bollywood queer story is yet to be told. Even today, in commercial Bollywood cinema, LGBTQ+ characters are often portrayed as sexual predators or hidden miseries. While there have been a couple of recent commercial films that have explored genuine LGBTQ relationships, they have been made by straight men and may not fully capture our genuine experience. To address this, I introduced an LGBTQ+ character in “Frankie Goes to Bollywood.” Shona Chatterji, played by the immensely talented non-binary actor Gigi Zahir, (Alias Crayola Queen) brings real gusto and celebrates us without apology. This character has been widely loved by audiences.

What inspired you to write the story?

I have many friends who still work there. Bollywood provides an escape into a fantasy land of musical colour and a kaleidoscope of emotions. However, it has a problematic relationship with young people and women and urgently needs a rejuvenation due to decades of nepotism, which has taken away real talent. The story is inspired by interviews I conducted with young hopefuls on their way into Bollywood.

Frankie Goes To Bollywood celebrates all the incredible energy and fabulous glitz of a Bollywood production. What can we expect of the show?

The show is a big celebration and a British musical. The songs are mostly in English. You can expect glitz, glamour, colour, a wide scope of emotions, and some really catchy numbers and songs. My co-writers, Niraj Chag and Tasha Taylor Johnson, have created some incredible songs, and I’m sure you will leave the theatre singing them. I also hope you will want to have a discussion about the themes that we have raised. All in all, I think it’s a good night out. It will make you smile, laugh, and maybe even think a little.

Finally, what other exciting projects are in the pipeline? 

Through my writing and producing, I am passionate about exploring the contemporary British South Asian LGBTQ+ experience. Each year, my company runs an associate scheme to support emerging and mid-career artists in developing their stories and advancing their careers. In January 2025, we will launch a bespoke programme specifically focused on British South Asian LGBTQ stories and artists. I hope that this initiative will lead to future collaborations with Rifco Theatre company. If anyone is interested in this scheme, please keep an eye on our website, www.rifcotheatre.com  

Frankie Goes To Bollywood runs from 31 July to 18 August at Southbank Centre, Queen Elizebeth Hall, Belvedere Road, London SE1 8XX, United Kingdom.

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