In a flash of swirling colors and lights, “Taj Express: A Bollywood Musical Revue” burst onto the Bettersworth Auditorium stage Sunday night as a part of Mississippi State University’s Lyceum Series.
Christopher Hawkins is MSU’s assistant director for Student Activities and the director of the Lyceum Series, a program dedicated to enriching the MSU experience with a variety of cultural and academic performances. He described the vibrant flair of “Taj Express.”
“It’s a great production with a lot of animation and a lot of energy, kind of combines the Indian culture with pop music, Bollywood culture and the deep traditions of Indian culture full of dance and lights,” Hawkins said.
The performance began with a plea for audience members to interact with the cast—including cheering for the heroes, booing the villains and clapping to the beat—and quickly transitioned into a mesmerizing dance number to a song from the soundtrack of the award-winning film “Slumdog Millionaire.”
“Taj Express,” tells the story of a young composer, Shankar, and his efforts to compose music for his first Bollywood film. The plot of Shankar’s Bollywood movie, interwoven into the plot of the musical, follows the unfolding love between a famous actress and a humanitarian hero who must journey aboard the Taj Express to rediscover the meaning of dance and life.
The Lyceum Series’ performances are chosen by the Performing Arts Committee, which is a board of students, faculty and staff that represents a diverse range of academic concentrations and interests.
Cailin Sims, a junior majoring in mathematics and philosophy who attended the performance, said she was able to connect a book she read in a class taught by Eric Vivier, a member of the Performing Arts Committee, to the culture displayed in “Taj Express.”
“It was just something different and they talked about the culture a little bit, and I took Quest I with Dr. Vivier my freshman year, and we read Bhagavad Gita, so I made connections with that,” Sims said.
The performance’s explosive dance routines were interspersed with engaging dialogue and humorous quips, such as “I’ll give you a fight sequence more vicious than Mississippi State vs. Ole Miss” and “This is more stressful than the press secretary waking up and wondering what the hell Donald Trump tweeted all night.”
Joe Harrison, a graduate student studying public policy and administration and the graduate assistant of the Center for Student Activities, said “Taj Express,” along with the other Lyceum events, provides students with activities they would not normally experience.
“I think events specifically like this one, and sort of all our Lyceum events, is it’s just a nice opportunity to attain some sort of cultural enrichment. I’m assuming that most students on campus here probably aren’t very familiar with Bollywood,” Harrison said.
Hawkins said the Lyceum Series provides high-quality performances that attendees would normally only be able to see in bigger venues.
“Throughout the year we bring different acts from Bollywood to orchestras to plays to ballets to Patti La Belle. We had Patti LaBelle come last year, so the range of acts that we bring is great just to allow students and people in Starkville and area to see acts that come to New York or other large cities right here in Starkville,” Hawkins said.
This year, in addition to “Taj Express,” the Lyceum Series hosted the musicual group, the Akropolis Reed Quintet, and the ensemble called Hot Club of San Francisco.
The series’ upcoming events include Voctave, Artrageous and Aquila Theatre: “The Odyssey.”