You know what was great on last night’s Smash 1×12 “Publicity”? The Bollywood number “A Thousand and One Nights” that occurred about halfway through the episode. Obviously it was faux-Bollywood — the show’s musical theater team Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman cooked it up — but it was incredibly fun. It all came about when Karen and Dev went out to dinner with Karen’s new movie star BFF Rebecca Duvall (Uma Thurman) at an Indian place, and Karen fell into a dream sequence where she imagined Dev declaring his love for her. And despite the lack of authenticity, the number was still stunning—the most ambitious sequence from the show so far, and imbued with the same energy and heart that characterized Karen and Ivy‘s audition song “Let Me Be Your Star” from the pilot.
I’m split on how to feel about Dev helming this song. My initial thought was that the producers just said, Oh, he’s Indian! Of course he can only do Bollywood. But research into actor Raza Jaffrey‘s career reveals that his big musical theater break was playing Sky in Mamma Mia! and starring in Bombay Dreams. (In fact, a BBC reviewer described him as “the most exciting new leading man to emerge in a London musical since Hugh Jackman became an overnight star in the National Theatre production of Oklahoma!“) With that in mind, it’s surprising that the writers waited twelve episodes to put him in a musical number.
A problem I’ve had with some of Smash‘s bigger musical numbers is that they come across as so unrealistic. Like, would the writers and assistants really be acting as Ivy’s backup when she wooed Nick Jonas with “I Never Met A Wolf Who Didn’t Love to Howl”? But because “A Thousand and One Nights” is a fantasy sequence, it makes sense that we see the other members of the ensemble through Karen’s imaginings: Julia and Frank‘s marriage fracturing while Leo suffers, Tom choosing between his two men, R.J. lusting after Dev, Rebecca reigning over everything. (I’m going to pretend that any glaring inaccuracies are because Karen is a self-involved jerk who couldn’t be bothered to envision proper Bollywood tropes.)
Just as my respect for Karen has eroded, so too do I find myself caring less and less about her and Dev, even though they were set up as the great love story in the pilot. So what I especially loved about “A Thousand and One Nights” was that it presents the Karen/Dev ultimatum: They both realize that their love has an expiration date, as he sings,
Will I shower you with riches every year the night we met?
Will you take my heart or melt it like it’s gold?
Will our love go on forever, or is this all that we get?
Is tonight the best or does the future hold
A lifetime of delight, or just a thousand and one nights?
When the series began, these two had been comfortably together for some time and looked to be making a life together in New York. But Karen’s obsession with fame and Dev’s anxiety that she doesn’t care about his career (not to mention his attraction to R.J.) is endangering what made them first love each other. I’ve listened to this song about five times over the course of writing this post, and that’s the surprising depth I got from it.
That said, we can’t entirely hate on the Marilyn numbers: Ivy’s rendition of the ballad “Secondhand White Baby Grand” was just lovely. Alternatively, if you hated “A Thousand and One Nights,” here’s a real Bollywood number: