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Pravesh Kumar MBE - Frankie Goes To Bollywood Interview

From the makers of Britain’s Got Bhangra comes the world premiere of a new British musical.

Get ready to be swept away into the dazzling world of Bollywood!

Rifco’s most ambitious musical yet, Frankie Goes to Bollywood is a breathtakingly colourful journey of romance, epic songs, and spectacular dance - inspired by real stories of British women caught in the spotlight of the biggest film industry in the world.

Pravesh Kumar MBE

Frankie never wanted to be a star, and after a chance encounter with a director, she finds herself transported to the ruthless world of Bollywood. As she climbs the sparkling staircase of stardom, Frankie must confront what she is willing to do for fame and fortune. Can she stay in the Bollywood family and still be true to herself?

Amidst the heroes and villains, ornate costumes and sweeping sets, get ready for this tale of being British in Bollywood.

The new musical is conceived and has a book by Rifco Theatre's Artistic Director Pravesh Kumar MBE with songs and music by Niraj Chag and songs and lyrics by Tasha Taylor Johnson.

We caught up with Pravesh to chat about his career and the show.

Where did your arts career begin?
Like most people I started as an actor, because I did not really know there were other roles. I always had an urge to create though, and pretty soon I was writing and directing. There was a decade where I was back and forth between the UK and Bollywood, trying to find my feet somewhere.
In 2000 me and some creative friends got together and decided to make something. I took out as much credit card debt as I could and created a show called Bollywood 2000 - and people came! It blew me away that there was this audience who had never been to the theatre but would come if you made authentic stories that spoke to them, and that realisation was the foundation of Rifco and all the work we have done since. And I paid off my credit card!

How did you approach a career in the arts?
I think the advantage I has had is that I produce, write and direct, so my fate always felt in my own hands. It would have killed me to sit at home and have to wait for my shot, I decided to create my own door rather than waiting for one to open.  In those early years it was just about staying alive. Roger McCann from the Arts Council came to an early show, and that opened a way to project funding and later being an NPO.  I had to learn quick, it was tough doing everything and being creative. 
I always knew that we were doing something nobody else was, and that was our strength. If you wanted to connect with that British South Asian audience, we were the only people doing it. I am very protective of the Rifco audience, it is my job to put on work they want to see and advocate for their stories having a place on our stages. I look at my career as being one long conversation with my community, and my role as being both to hold up a mirror and ask some difficult questions, but also to celebrate the wonderful aspects.
Were there any performances or people that had a big impact on your formal years?
I’ve always loved the work of Mike Leigh and the forensic work he does with characters. 

What inspired you to write and create Frankie Goes To Bollywood?
There were two major things. The first was that I worked in Bollywood on and off for a decade, and I saw how cruel it can be, what an insular world it is, and how people, particularly talented young woman, can be taken advantage of. I wanted to call this out, to say that it is no longer acceptable for 55 year me to be chasing around 20-year-olds like they are disposable eye candy. I had a daughter a few years ago, and it made me think about who her role models were - I want her to grow up with a better, healthier, culture.
The second thing was, I just had so much juicy material! Bollywood is full of a colourful cast of characters who are this crazy combination of egotistical and charming, and it seemed to me like the perfect setting for a big, bold story. I have this wonderful love/hate relationship with Bollywood, I love the songs, the colour and tales of enduring family and love but I have to ask myself how does this effect society and what role does popular culture play. 
How would you describe the piece to anyone not familiar with your writing style?
I am here for your entertainment. I have something to say, but the most important thing is that people come out of the theatre smiling and hopefully singing. I want to make you laugh, cry, and think. This play has a strong, fierce woman at the centre who takes you on her journey, and then there is the singing, the dancing, the costumes, everything is dialled up to the max. It is a spectacle with a heart.
How much of you and your own experiences are in this piece?
I have been an observer of Bollywood from the inside and outside, so I drew a lot on what I saw - but fundamentally, I saw my job here as getting out the way and platforming other peoples’ stories. Frankie Goes to Bollywood is not about the male writer, it is about the women caught in the spotlight of the world's biggest film industry. But my views are peppered through all the characters, the film director who wants to change the world with his films, the film star who wants to find belonging and home. The ageing film star, trying to keep on top of their career.  It all comes from within. 
Did you have to do much research whilst developing the show?
I have been thinking about this show for 20 years, so there was a lot knocking around in my head already. It also seemed important to me to present the authentic experience of the characters, so I took a few years to interview people and make sure I was getting it right. I have many friends still working right in the heart of Bollywood, so I have a direct line into what’s going on.
What is the biggest challenge of bringing a new musical to the stage?
These are massive undertakings, and it requires a lot of resources. There is a reason why not many big new musicals get made. It can take years to develop musicals, because often you are collocating with other writers, I have been working with my co-creators for nearly seven years (we have had breaks, especially during covid) but we have to manage our lives and writing, then multiple workshops to measure and check the work, and the endless rewriting! 
The other thing that can be difficult is maintaining your vision of the big picture. A musical has so many art forms colliding, and my job is to make sure everything fits together. There are times when the choreography is happening in one room, singing rehearsals in another, the cast are in and out for costume fittings, and I am shuttling between everything trying to keep a handle on it. If I have done my job right, everything will feel like it is of a piece.

How do you approach the collaboration of book writing alongside Niraj Chag and Tasha Taylor Johnson’s music and lyrics?
The great thing about this team is that we bring a variety of experience - Niraj has a background in world music and provides these beautiful soundscapes for us to build on. Tasha is a great lyricist because she really understands that a song needs intention and has to carry the story. With every team you have to find your rhythm and way of working together, but with this one it has felt very natural.

If you could have dinner with any 3 people (past or present), who would you invite?
Diljit Dosanjh, Francis Ford Copolla, Meena Kumari

If you were a biscuit, which would you be and why?
A cookie - crunchy, sweet, and salty, and ultimately a surprise in the middle.

What do you hope an audience takes away from seeing Frankie Goes To Bollywood?
I want them to have a great night out first and foremost. I want them to come out smiling and singing. If later that night, they ponder on the rampant sexism in modern day Bollywood, job done! I would love for them to leave with questions and have full discussions on the way home.

What keeps you inspired?
I have a group of people around me who keep me on my toes. Working with talent is the best inspiration, and I get to work with new people with new ideas on each production. 
Really, my career is about the Rifco audience, about showing their authentic stories onstage and telling them they deserve a voice in our cultural landscapes. Seeing them react to having their lived experience platformed is what keeps me going.  It is important that we can all feel represented in an authentic way. It is the job of artists to ask important questions and show a mirror to society and that keeps me going, to hopefully create a better world.   

Where can people see the show and follow your career beyond?
We are on tour all across the UK - you can see our full schedule at I hope to see you at one of our shows! You can also follow me for for updates on Instagram @praveshkumar_mbe  Facebook Pravesh Kumar

Frankie Goes To Bollywood is opening at the Watford Palace Theatre from 25th April - 11th of May, before going on a UK-wide tour. For more information, and for tickets, go to

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