“Poetry is so much bigger than what it is made out to be because it is through poetry and music that the innermost self is revealed in the purest way,” says Nelofar Currimbhoy, President, Shahnaz Herbals and daughter of Shahnaaz Hussain, the founder of the iconic brand.
Those close to Nelofar know that this businesswoman has an alter ego as a writer and soon she is all set to add another dimension to her creative self as a producer of a mega musical based on her book Ananda.
The drama will be directed by the multifaceted Muzaffar Ali and have the deep-voiced Kabir Bedi lending his baritone as narrator.
Nelofar’s first book was a biography of her mother Shahnaz Husain, a household name in India for herbal cosmetics for several decades now. The book Flame: The Inspiring Story of My Mother, was translated into Hindi, Bengali and Tamil with the Hindi version being released at the Jaipur Literature festival.
Now, it is Nelofar’s second book Ananda, Eyes of the Healer that is being staged as a musical drama at the end of October at Kamani Auditorium, New Delhi.
Nelofar says, “I have always been writing poetry since young. Ananda, the stage version, is based on my book, Eyes of the Healer, which started as a jotting of thoughts in a diary and organically grew into a book. It was a spontaneous outpouring of emotion and not a worked upon text at the behest of the publisher. Luckily, my publishers thought it made for interesting reading.”
Nelofar describes the book in detail.
“At the core of the book is the desire of a young man to travel within himself to discover a more meaningful existence and an entire universe within himself. It is envisaged as a love story between a beautiful queen and a young 17-year-old restless boy, who is a healer. The book published by Bloomsbury came a few years ago in 2017. Actor Kabir Bedi released the book,” she explains.
Kabir then did an audio version for YouTube in his voice. He advised Nelofar to turn the book into a full-fledged theatrical production.
“Later, at some point, he met Muzaffar Ali at a wedding in Mauritius and they somehow got around to discussing my book. Muzaffar agreed it would be interesting to direct it as a musical drama. That set the ball rolling and the next thing I knew, it was a stage production. It is as if the book has a life of its own!”
The lead role of Ananda is being played by Mumbaikar Rudra Soni, an 18-year-old actor who has worked in films like Baji Rao Mastani, Tumbbad and Shamshera.
Says Rudra, who is currently busy rehearsing in the Capital, “I have never played such a calm character before. The roles I have done earlier have all been warrior type roles. This is also my first theatre experience so it is all very new and very challenging but also a lot of learning and fun. I am very excited about it.”
Before the Nelofar-Muzaffar-Kabir collaboration happened, the writer had thought of producing it with Mallika Sarabhai and even spoke to her but somehow things did not work out.
She recalls, “Then I spoke to an American producer but again the idea fell through because he and I couldn’t think along the same lines. However, with Muzaffar, everything fell in place and within a period of a hectic six months we are ready to stage it. The project seems to have picked up a creative velocity on its own.”
The hour-and-20-minute long production is in English and hence suitable for a global audience. It has a mixture of genres — musical, drama, dance, poetry — making it difficult to categorise it.
Nelofar explains, “Besides my own religion (Islam), I have also been somewhat influenced by Buddhist philosophy and have conducted beauty classes at Tibetan SOS villages. So, you may find nuances of Buddhist thinking too. So many influences and a variety of creative processes as well as personal beliefs have poured into my writing and then into this dramatised version that I find myself searching for words to describe the production. I think it is a different artistic expression and I just hope the audience will enjoy it.”
The drama is to be staged at Kamani Auditorium in New Delhi initially, to be followed by Mumbai and Bengaluru and Nelofer hopes to take it to New York someday.
She says, “Working with Muzaffar has been the most enriching experience of my life. He has composed the music and not a single note is second best. He is a perfectionist and working almost round the clock to get everything just right without any compromise whatsoever. During the rehearsals I sometimes had to remind him to break for lunch. When Muzaffar first read the book, he said you’ve written something good.”
Nelofar was thrilled to hear the positive review. She progressed to explore the next level with the book.
“Delhi is a city that caters to many different artistic tastes and genres. I feel you have to bring new experiences to people to test their taste. The more quality productions the audience have a chance to enjoy, the more adept they will be at appreciating good art and theatre.”
Muzaffar says he was drawn to the story because it was interesting and ethereal.
As he puts it, “There is a mystical quality which was exciting to present through music and dance. It was a challenge to blend different dance forms in a unique style. I have always been charmed by the stage and by how you can shape light and sound and create music that enhances the poetic quality of the narrative which has been beautifully penned by Nelofar Currimbhoy.”
Bedi, the actor, says it was the sensitive creativity and the inquiring spirit of the author that was inspiring and resulted in his involvement.
Nelofar says Ananda is the culmination and realisation of her own dream.
She explains, “I have spent my life working on my mother’s dream, the company she founded, Shahnaaz Herbals. This production is my own personal milestone and the culmination of my own dream. I have brought together the best talent to create a theatre experience which I feel will be memorable.”