Taking a ride on the Taj Express

Paint, perspiration, make-up, nicotine, spiced tea, cologne, glucose powder, pain relief spray... these are some of the things that you smell as you stand backstage at the Taj Express. Plus, a fair dose of excitement, anxiety, exhilaration and, in a few cases, fear.

This air doesn't go past the stage... it is something reserved for the cast, the crew and the few others privileged enough to be permitted to loiter behind the scenes. The people in the audience inhale a very different scent. One that reeks of glitz, glamour, joy, high energy, stardom.

How do I know this?

I breathed the air on both sides of the curtain at the Esplanade Theatre. For five days - June 6 to 10 - I was associate, reviewer, partner, supporter and friend of the Bollywood musical which was presented by tabla! and sponsored by Si2i, part of the Spice Group.

Thanks to the generosity of the producers Quintessence Entertainment Productions, which also promoted the show in Singapore along with De Ideaz, Go-Vin Holdings and Harry's, I was permitted to mingle with the cast and crew from the day they set up shop at the Esplanade. And, believe me, I had a very different view from those of you who were lucky enough to watch the show.

While the audience saw what seemed like an inexhaustible well of energy as the dancers performed for 21/2 hours, behind the paint and the pretty costumes it was a different picture.

Backstage and in the wings, as the colourful show unfolded on stage like an Indian film, an air of calm tension engulfed the area. As some performed on stage, others warmed up for their turn in the spotlights, the sheen of perspiration on their skin. Some nervously sipped spiced tea as they kept their eyes on proceedings, others used the short periods between their time on stage to glug down glucose water to recharge themselves.

And all through this the slightly medicated smell of pain relief spray flirted with the nostrils. After all, it was being liberally used by the performers for injuries - sprained ankles and toes, cramping calves were some of them - sustained during the six-show run.

Not that the audience would ever know if any of the performers had been struck with an injury or an illness.

A good example was lead actress Pallavi Sharda who played Meera in the musical... she was very sick during the show's run here but nobody in the audience could tell.

She shared with tabla! that a bout of gastroenteritis saw her hospitalised in Mumbai where she is based. She even had to be put on a drip a day before she left for Singapore.

"I was throwing up between intervals. On the day of the world premiere it was really bad. That's when I felt I was fainting. I think I would have probably eaten four bananas in four days. I couldn't eat very much," said the petite Indian-Australian actress who was given electrolyte drinks by her mother who had flown in from Melbourne for the shows.

As the late Freddie Mercury of Queen once sang so operatically, the show must go on... Sharda kept a big smile on her face, danced like a professional and delivered her lines convincingly even as her stomach did the bhangra every night.

Even actor Priyanshu Painyuli, the newbie of the group - he was brought into the show a month before it opened in Singapore - told tabla! that he was feeling very poorly before the show on June 10 but a lozenge provided by one of the dancers made him feel better.

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