Samir Bhamra

Covid strikes Bombay Superstar Company but NPO success opens new pathways

Samir Bhamra

Samir Bhamra talks about Phizzical’s NPO success.

Phizzical, a small fleet of foot project funded company is currently touring a large scale South Asian musical. Before we reached The Lowry in Salford, we’d been hit by Covid. Our determination not to cancel performances played a major role in re-igniting audiences to return to theatres post Covid. Like others, we anxiously waited the outcome of the NPO announcements. There had been delays – as a sector we knew changes were afoot.

In a miraculous moment, Phizzical, a company I founded almost 20 years ago, was told we will be one of the 276 new organisations joining ACE’s national portfolio of 990 organisations. This news will provide us with a stable pathway to realise our purpose of reaching and engaging with the all to often ignored communities and create entertaining work informed by their stories, which connects with our communities.

We recognise we must be brave and authentic, open to the promise of change and support the opportunity to work in new ways, to deliver quality work, new partnerships, nurture diverse talent and increase engagement.

At Phizzical we have always strived to make work that fizzes. The ‘cal’ in our name, refers to the South Asian word ‘kal’ meaning both yesterday and tomorrow. Influenced by our histories, we tell tomorrow’s stories today.

We develop our communities’ hidden artistic talent, diversifying the national pool of professional artists. We use Bollywood art forms as a vehicle to tell our communities’ stories in entertaining, engaging, quality work touring nationally, be it

Shakespeare’s Cymbeline set in Bombay and Dubai looking at Hindu-Muslim relationships; an immersive visual arts and performance installation, Ticket 2 Bollywood, for the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Cultural Olympiad; the national tour of the musical Bring on the Bollywood or, the first iteration of Stardust, addressing South Asian cultural values and philosophy through a Bollywood musical on same-sex marriages.

Our current and Phizzical’s 50th project, Bombay Superstar, a retro Bollywood musical is made for our parents and grandparents, using songs from Bollywood films of the legendary actor, Amitabh Bachchan, whose films instilled hope in the newly migrant SA families, integrating divergent communities across caste, religion and class.

Our successful run at The Lowry saw South Asian audiences return repeatedly, bringing with them new audiences, sharing with us the need for our work:

“Productions like this are so important for us to connect to what our parents loved and passed onto us.”

For many working-class British born South Asians and immigrants, the ’60’s Bollywood cinema was a way of life. These stories gave us a value system beyond the mythological texts or film re-interpretations of Shakespeare’s plays. The stars and their characters were role models for our parents. Their interviews challenged the imperialistic morals left by the British post-independence, with some of the leading heroines paving the way for progressive attitudes towards equality for South Asian women

“Phizzical deserve praise for exposing the sexism… championing women’s rights and girl power.”

Phizzical enables a greater understanding of South Asian communities. The recent tension in Leicester demonstrated what I, a mixed faith South Asian has said for over three decades: “We are not all the same, but one thing that unites us is a good Bollywood song and dance – nostalgia that Bombay Superstar evokes”.

In the Arts Council’s richer and more varied portfolio, Phizzical will help ignite creativity and support the next generation of visionary artists. We want to work with partners to commission, co-produce and programme work that questions and engages and be part of a changing culture to transform access to the arts. What we hope is there are partner organisations able to join us on this vital journey.

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