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  • Staging British South Asian Culture: Bollywood and Bhangra in British Theatre by Jerri Daboo
  • Merritt Denman

Jeri Daboo's text Staging British South Asian Culture: Bollywood and Bhangra in British Theatre introduces its reader to the practice of analyzing culture in diasporic performance through the lens of South Asian culture on the British stage. The constant flux of cultural identity renders the process of analysis difficult in any context; however, when encountering a displaced or translated culture that fluctuation is thrown into sharp relief. In her introductory chapter Daboo clearly articulates the complex cultural and geographical translations associated with historical and contemporary England, and then applies that history to the staging of the South Asian diaspora in Britain. She chooses a representative sample of theatrical productions (along with a few notable television programs) and explores the ways in which British South Asian culture and identity were staged over the past few decades. As well as being a genuinely enjoyable read, this book represents a valuable contribution to the fields of South Asian, British, and diaspora studies.

Daboo's text opens by examining the three major components of her argument in her first chapter: "Bollywood, Bhangra, and Being British." This chapter explains the concepts of Bollywood and Bhangra and contextualizes them in their diasporic British setting in a manner that is concise, accessible to the uninitiated reader, and yet manages to convey the complex nature of these cultural phenomena.

Throughout the book, Daboo leans into the questions that naturally arise when dealing with issues of representation and acculturation on stage and effectively navigates these difficult waters. She discusses the concept of the "burden of representation," or the questions that arise when one or two people belonging to a group are assumed representatives of that group. She notes that frequently the British South Asians who appear in the works discussed are assumed to stand in as synecdochic emblems of their group. While this is certainly a task which any one individual cannot be reasonably asked to fulfill, these artists are attempting to stage their personal experiences of being British South Asian. So while Daboo acknowledges the problems of the burden of representation she also acknowledges the value of telling an individual's story in a manner which stays true to cultural experience.

Daboo again deftly handles difficult subject matter when she discusses the use of stereotyping on stage. She notes that many of the productions which she explores employ stereotypes as comic cultural [End Page 253] touchstones. The employment of stereotype inevitably raises the problem of reception. How can the artist be certain that the use of the stereotype is not further reinforcing racist ideology? Rather than answering such a large and fraught question Daboo presents all views of the issue. And it is these spaces in which tension between large abstract issues intersect with these actual productions where Daboo's writing is most effective. She is willing to ask difficult questions and show how they play out in production, but does not display a sense of urgency at giving definitive answers. Instead she allows the works and the artists to speak for themselves and, in doing so, demonstrates the value of questioning.

While the text is a valuable contribution to fields relating to contemporary cultural studies, it also provides insight to those interested in performance studies. Because she is dealing with questions regarding the nature of putting specific cultural representations on stage, Daboo offers insight into the unique qualities and effects of live performance. As she points out, liveness itself is a form of adaptation. One example she gives is that the act of seeing live scenes audiences might already be familiar with in Bollywood film can drastically change the experience and/or reading of those same moments. Furthermore, Daboo asserts that theatre itself offers a physical space for the embodiment of diaspora rather than the liminal space it usually occupies. Through the exploration of these productions, she illustrates that diaspora can find concrete expression in the physical space of the theatre. Furthermore, in the third chapter Daboo draws...


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pp. 253-256
Launched on MUSE
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