Salim and Sulaiman Merchant on Disco Dancer—The Musical: 'We are hoping to start a culture of musicals in India'

Salim and Sulaiman Merchant on Disco Dancer—The Musical: 'We are hoping to start a culture of musicals in India'

Composer duo, Salim and Sulaiman Merchant, have reimagined Bappi Lahiri’s superhit songs, and created two new ones, for the musical based on the blockbuster

Roshmila BhattacharyaUpdated: Saturday, April 29, 2023, 09:16 PM IST
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Salim and Sulaiman |

Let’s flashback to 1982. Sulaiman Merchant was 11 and his brother Salim eight when they watched Mithun Chakraborty’s Disco Dancer for the first time and were instantly hooked on to the songs, from the title track I am a Disco Dancer to Auva Auva and Jimmy Jimmy. So also, their father, Sadruddin Merchant. “Dad had a small band (Ismaili Scouts Orchestra) then and the songs were so huge that they performed the cover versions all year,” Sulaiman reminisces with a smile.

What has changed in these 41 years is that while Merchant Senior was dancing to the chartbusters then, now, it’s the turn of the composer duo’s kids to swing to the disco beat. And what makes it all the more exciting is that the younger Merchants are also grooving to the two new songs Salim and Sulaiman have specially scored for Disco Dancer—The Musical, which premiered in Mumbai on April 14.

“There was scope for two more songs in the live stage show. The challenge was to make sure they fit in homogeneously with Bappida’s (film’s composer Bappi Lahiri) original compositions and arrangements. We have retained the beautiful horn sections and orchestral melodies, reimagining them in today’s era, the music blending with the sets, costumes and performances to come together in one big, beautiful package,” shares an excited Salim, enthused by the response not just from their wives and children, but also the gathered audience.

Still from Disco Dancer  — The Musical

Still from Disco Dancer — The Musical |

The Broadway-like musical, directed and choreographed by Rajeev Goswami, got on the road in 2019 before being stopped in its tracks by an errant Covid-19. It returned in 2021, going to the UK last year where it played in London’s West End Theatre, back-to-back, sold-out shows. This year, Salim and Sulaiman were delighted to flag off the India run in Mumbai which doesn’t get to enjoy too many live musicals.

“We will be taking it to Delhi and Ahmedabad next. The plan is for it to run all over India. We will be travelling with it to Singapore, hopefully the Middle East too, and definitely North America,” informs Sulaiman.

Salim adds, “Depending on the political situation, we would also love to take it to Russia where not just the film and the songs, even Mithunda (Chakraborty) is a huge craze. We hope to go to China someday given the popularity of the film and the music there. They even have a version of Jimmy Jimmy.”

Mithun Chakraborty in Disco Dancer

Mithun Chakraborty in Disco Dancer |

Talking of Mithun, the actor was present at the Mumbai premiere and the composer duo was excited to see his reactions to the songs and dances. “The musical brought the film alive for him, bringing back memories of the great Bappida (Lahiri). Mithunda was mesmerised by the way our lead actor, Arjun

Tanwar, performed the same steps he once did on screen, and  to see Tia Kar in Kim’s role,” Salim beams. Sulaiman points out that while B. Subhash’s film brought the disco era to India, the craze hasn’t abated in the last four decades. “We have only injected fresh energy into the disco scene and are hoping to start a culture of musicals in India. Reliving the ’80s, listening to music from that time reimagined in today’s era, watching a much-loved film play out on stage is a great way to party on a Friday night.”

Disco Dancer’s producer-director B Subhash, who was also in the audience at the Mumbai premiere, has been wanting to take the Bollywood cult classic to Hollywood for almost a decade now. The ‘Merchants of Music’ believe it can easily be remade in any country. “It has all the ingredients, from action and drama to music and dance. There’s a rags-to-riches story, the emotional connection with the mother, bad guys and a happy ending with dreams coming true. Even my daughter Amayra was intrigued by the plot and the superhero protagonist,” Sulaiman guffaw.

In 2020, they had staged Umrao Jaan Ada—The Musical, performing at London’s Sadler’s Wells Theatre. What’s the next musical extravaganza they have up their sleeve?

“There are plans afoot, but I can’t divulge details. Somebody else may jump in and beat us to them,” he signs off.

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