Memories That Last Imran Khan, Zakir Alladin, and Meher Aria

It’s been said that the future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams, and there’s no better testament to this than Meher Aria, Imran Khan, and Zakir Alladin. These three powerhouses of creativity have been striving to present their innovative best in the entertainment space for many years. Exploring the same field – each with different expertise – they’ve time and again put their best feet forward. While Imran is a fashion choreographer who’s been in the industry for almost three decades, Zakir is an event manager who has been specialising in audio and lighting for the last 25 years. Meher, on the other hand, is an event planner known for her scintillating décor and attention to detail. Individually, and through their respective companies – Imran Khan’s Runway, Mowzz Entertainment Services, and Star Ventures– they make lasting memories.                     --- Niharika

MEHER ARIA

What’s driven your interest in event management?
Karma is a debt that you owe or a blessing that you receive. Event management is truly a blessing for me. I was always at the forefront of all activities right through school and college, and in my early years I marked my space on the landscape of our beautiful city with an abundance of social work. Being the Leo Club President at age 18, Rotaract Club President at 20, and Secretary of the Zoroastrian Youth League enabled me to participate in a multitude of events, both national and international. I owe a lot to the social causes I was associated with back then, and I’m always eager to give my time and talent to every social endeavour, as it most definitely is payback time.

Star Ventures was thus a very natural progression when my best friend Tanaz Wadia Sidhwa and I decided to go professional. The rest, as they say, is history.

You began Star Ventures way back in 1998 when event management wasn’t even heard of. What led to it?
I’ve always been a dreamer, and for me, putting together an event is virtual poetry in motion. After helming some super fabulous and very satisfying social projects, we thought why not share our expertise with the outside world. Event management was extremely nascent at that time. One could literally count the number of names in the Hyderabad event space back then.

Tanaz and I took the plunge and were extremely fortunate to get the love and support of a wide cross-section of clients who lapped up our creations. Tanaz, however, got married soon after, and moved to Mumbai, leaving me to handle the reins myself. ”I believe that I can and I will,” and so I moved on, giving my very best to every show.

Styling an event is in a sense uplifting – turning the ordinary moments of life into something spectacular, both for my clients and for me.

What were the challenges you faced back then?
Oh, many! For starters, I did everything myself from start to finish. Initially, it was quite tough to make clients understand the need for an event manager, and one had to personally spend hours unfolding the creative and production aspects of the event. Computers were just about there, and I remember having to travel all over by myself. One did not have the benefit of the immense data available on the Internet like we do now. It was a great learning experience, one that I will always cherish.

How has the industry grown since when you started?
By leaps and bounds! It’s unimaginable. There are event companies springing up every day by the hour. The need has increased tremendously, too. Almost everyone who’s a someone, big or small, wants a professional to handle his or her event. Be it a corporate annual gala, a birthday party or the Big Fat Indian Wedding.

I believe that every event is dreamt and then conceptualised before it can find its manifestation in material form. Fortunately there are professionals in every department of event handling: decor and flowers, sound and lights, LED, production, tent house, choreographers, artistes...the list is endless.

Moreover, education and full-fledged courses in event management have helped youngsters who want to embrace the profession get a better understanding of the job before actually taking the plunge. It’s a myth that this industry is all about glamour and easy money. Take it from me that it’s far from it. Commitment and dedication, with an intense desire to achieve and excel, are the only way forward. The industry is growing everyday, and I believe there is place under the sun for everyone.

A wedding is the biggest and most memorable event of one’s lifetime. How do you make each wedding set different from the next?
It’s my endeavour to extend my ideas, creativity, experience and skill with meticulous detailing to all those who are eager to find its expression. A wedding is most definitely a once-in-a-lifetime affair. So it’s extremely important to understand the personality of the bride and groom and their families while designing a wedding concept. Constant innovation and new ideas are the order of the day. Wedding decor must be a mellifluous blend of design, structure, colour, flowers, and accessories, all seamlessly put together to make that perfect whole.

It’s amazing how a little creativity – a different way in which you place an element, a change in colour, a unique layout, or an out-of-the-box idea – can transform the look of a space.

I have a keen eye for detail and I’m a stickler for perfection. This is something that defines me and gives me an edge over others.

How do you keep up with changes in the industry?
Every day brings learning, and every event brings new challenges. Reading, surfing the Internet, and some amount of travel is a great teacher. Connecting and collaborating with different sections of the industry – exchanging ideas and concepts too helps in keeping abreast of the latest trends.

What’s the biggest and most memorable event that you have put together?
The biggest was for a corporate event last year: Mytrah Energy. Since the company is in the wind energy sector, I styled the entire show around the "Power of One" (the achievement of attaining one giga watt of wind power). From having the very enthralling Nobel Laureate Kailash Satyarthi as key speaker, to Bollywood actors and singers performing, to production and technicals of a very high order – the entire experience was a thriller.
There have been many memorable ones. A wedding reception last year for Narendra Chebrolu’s son, to a fabulous destination wedding at the Taj Falaknuma Palace, to the more recent wedding celebrations of Shweta Keerthi and Akash Sethia. Each of these and many more have left both clients and guests asking for more.

Event management has suddenly become a preferred line of work among young people. What advice would you give to someone who’s just starting out?
For me, my work is exhilarating and I strive to make every event a classic that is unique in innovation and quality. My advice to others is to work with commitment, dedication, passion and integrity. Put the client’s interest above all else and, most importantly, always remain grounded. Believe that your work is nature’s rhythm. And finally, believe that there is the alchemist within you to unleash that inner power. This is what I also constantly tell my son Daanesh, who has recently taken the plunge into events.

We surge ahead with fire in our souls to reach for the stars with newer and bigger events. Cheers to the entire fraternity!

ZAKIR ALLADIN

You’ve been in the entertainment industry for the last 25 years. How did it all begin?
I had an influence of activities provided at home during my childhood that changed the way I looked at things. I was always encouraged to participate in music and theatre, right from my school days. I was in fact a part of my school, The Hyderabad Public School’s, first ever band. I was the lead singer and guitarist in it. All this gave me an idea of what the entertainment industry was all about. I continued to pursue music and theatre even in college, and then I went on to becoming part of the Dramatic Circle of Hyderabad. Here my interest lay in front of the stage and I saw that they used to use sound effects and music methodology that was out-dated. So, I introduced a real time method way back in 1991 wherein I would sit with the script and follow each line with the sound effects. Everyone does that today, but back then nobody had access to any instrument, which since I was part of a band I had access to.

I went on to finish my schooling, left Hyderabad and got involved in other things, but I was in a band all through, so the love for music was always there. Somewhere down the line, when I came back to Hyderabad it was like I was back to where I had left things. One fine day The Dramatic Circle of Hyderabad decided to host a 15 day-long festival titled ‘Sanskaar’ which involved music, dance, art, and theatre. We had the best artistes of the country participating in it. My job in the festival was to be involved in the technical aspect. Hyderabad had no technical expertise at that time, so we hired Roger Drego—the best in the field—from Mumbai for the same, and I assisted him in everything he did. I worked with him for the 15 days he was here, and during this time he saw my interest in the sound and music business so he asked me to come to Mumbai to work and learn from him. So I did just that, and then came back and started my company.

What would you credit to you getting into this field?
Certainly being part of a band and the Dramatic Circle of Hyderabad. It created an interest in art in me, and therefore it became a passion. I didn’t get into the field looking at the money involved, rather, for the love of the art. It was while working with these professionals that I realised that I didn’t want to be someone who just ran the rat race. I wanted to do things differently, so I decided to do it for a price, but at the same time, do things because I feel like doing it. It was a challenge back then—nobody had the right equipment, expertise, or funds. But we still managed to get work done and make a difference. That in my opinion is great!

What was the breakthrough event in your career?
Sanskaar was fun; I loved it. But the high point in my career was an event I did for the Indian Air Force, Bidar Station. They came up to me one day and said ‘We want to launch and we want you to help us launch.’ Normally you launch cars, a laptop, a store, but here the Chief of the Bidar Station called me to meet him and took me to the hangar and showed me a fighter jet and said ‘This is what we want to launch.’ The Defence Minister at that time, Mr Anthony was going to come to launch the fighter jet, the first indigenous fighter plane made by HAL in the country that was being inducted into the Air force. And we were given the opportunity to launch it! It was a big event, and a master experience! Initially your expertise lay in audio services but it later went on to becoming a full-fledged entertainment company. Tell us how this happened.

We started off with sound and then went on to adding lights, and soon we realised that we needed to add video to our expertise, so instead of investing in AV supplies, we decided to outsource it to professionals. This way we made the entire industry grow along with us. We trained ordinary people and gave them jobs and now there are numerous people all across the world who once worked with us.

How different is the industry right now since when you started?
It has transformed completely. Today, training and equipment is available, the clientele has changed, and we have the Hi-Tech City that never existed earlier. There’s so much more business and revenue; everything has changed. Every single IT Company has a rewards and recognition program where they need us, product launches, annual days and family days, all where they need us event companies. So there’s plenty of work for everyone.

How do you collaborate with other professionals in the same field?
There aren’t too many professionals in this field. Thus, a lot of us often collaborate on projects wherein each of us does what we’re good at, and together we present fabulous shows. I have collaborated with Meher Aria, Dinaz Noria, Imran Khan, and several others through the course of my career. Times have changed; people who were once insecure of a competitor are now joining hands to work with each other. That’s the only way to grow.

Hyderabad has become a preferred destination for several big festivals recently. Do you think there is a market here?
Of course! There are lot of interesting things happening in Hyderabad as opposed to the rest of the country, and that’s happening because of the support of the government. They have realised that after people log out of office they need quality entertainment. That’s the only way to keep the city on par with the rest of the world. The government is creating cultural spaces that can be used by everyone. In fact, we help design such spaces. We did so for Lamakaan, Apollo Hospitals, and are in the process of making one of our own in Secunderabad, too.

Coming back to theatre, it is almost a dying art. What are your thoughts on this?
Actually, it was a dying art, but isn’t anymore. Over the last 10 years I’ve seen at least seven to eight theatre groups emerging in the city. They may not be famous but they’re still performing, whether in a small or big way. It has certainly grown from what it was in the ‘90s. There’s so much happening in the city today—stand up comedies, plays, etc.

What do you do when you’re not working?
I spend a lot of time listening to music. I listen to almost every genre—right from Western classical to Hindustani classical to EDM, Rock and even Jazz. I listen to music for around 15-16 hours a day. Whether I’m working or sleeping, the music always plays. Apart from that I spend time with my two kids. I try to take them away from the run of the mill methodology of upbringing. I also enjoy travelling and broadening my horizons. I believe it teaches you things that no book can.

IMRAN KHAN

You are known as the King of the Ramp. What made you decide on taking on fashion choreography as a career?
Fashion to me was always something that came naturally. Right from my childhood to teen days, I was very eager to wear the best of clothes and shoes and be up-to-date with the trends around the world. However, fashion choreography came as a co-incidental blessing. It all began in the year 1985 when there was hardly anything called ‘fashion’ or ‘fashion shows’ in Hyderabad. The age-old Nawabi trends were still prevalent back then. That’s when the idea blossomed in me to introduce the fashion scene into Hyderabad—something that was absolutely new and very vague to the audience here in this city. I can gladly say that I was the pioneer in the fashion industry and am somewhat responsible for the current scene in the city. Therefore, I am honoured and obliged to have been called “The King of the Ramp” by several media publications for the last 30 years.

It’s been a long journey spanning almost three decades. Can you tell us how it has been?
There’s a saying “Do what you love and you’ll never work a day in your life!” That’s exactly how my journey has been. Three decades of thorough dedication, sincerity, commitment, creativity, and always being ahead of time has made me what I am today. Even after three decades I still feel its day one of work, that’s the kind of energy and excitement I feel every time I take up a new project.

There have been a lot of achievements along the way starting from 1985 where my friend Fazal Khan and I launched and performed for the very first fashion and dance show in Hyderabad called ‘Romanza’, under our company banner. That’s how I moved on to take up fashion choreography as a full-fledged career after seeing the desperate need of the profession in Hyderabad. Moving on, things became even more exciting and interesting when my equally talented wife, Mahnoor and I got married and became the first power couple to embark on this journey together. I am extremely proud to say that if it weren’t for her being as creative as me, our fashion shows wouldn’t have been such super hits. Her creative visualisation, designing of high fashion western wear, accessories and jewellery, backstage management, and supervision in hair, makeup and styling for the models according to my conceptualisation and themes, are what have made all the events stand out. My creative ideas in fashion choreography techniques along with detailed and advanced modelling styles, the appropriate selection of music and creative concepts made our shows perfect to the T always.

Some of the shows we’ve done together include the Miss World pageant with Sushmita Sen, Diana Hayden, and Yukta Mookhey. We have worked with actors such as Shilpa Shetty, Dia Mirza, Taapsee Pannu, Rana Daggubati and Indian designers like Sabyasachi Mukherjee, Tarun Tahiliani etc. We’ve also done shows for the Indian and Pakistani Cricket teams that were held in Dubai. Also, we got an opportunity to perform a series of fashion shows at The Millennium Dome in the city of London with national and international models. It’s been a roller coaster ride with innumerable shows to credit.

What were the challenges you faced back when you started?
Introducing anything new and totally out-of-the-box is always a challenge, especially in a conservative and mild city like Hyderabad. The very first challenge that I faced when I started off was to make people understand what fashion shows are all about, and make them acquainted with the fashion industry. The next challenge was to find good-looking boys and girls who were interested in modelling, as it was a brand new concept and wasn’t readily accepted at that time. The next challenge I faced was to make these good looking boys and girls learn the tricks of the trade and impart knowledge about fashion shows and etiquettes of modelling and groom them accordingly. Also, there was no concept of a ramp back then. So, it was another big challenge to introduce a ramp for the models to walk.

Even though the scope of fashion choreography is limited in Hyderabad when compared to other big cities in India, you decided to stick to your roots. Why?
That’s exactly the reason I stuck to Hyderabad, because our city needed something like this. I was trained by the master fashion show choreographer Mr Anand from London, and I could have easily decided to shift my base, but I chose to stick to my roots. I could strongly sense the need of fashion to grow here and it was my dream to bring focus to Hyderabad and Hyderabad models on the national map, which by God’s grace came true when I opened my own academy, called “Imran Khan’s Runway Modelling Academy”. A lot of my students went on to win and grab national pageant title’s such as Gladrags, Grasim Mr. India, and Femina Miss India.

What does your work entail? Can you elaborate?
Being a show director and fashion choreographer, it becomes your responsibility to present the show in the best possible manner. You need to work with the needs of your clients, give them different concepts that work for their brand, work with a lot of designers to understand their themes and put them into a perfectly sketched choreography. You also have to teach the models the essence of modelling and choreographing them in sequences that haven’t been performed earlier. Also, it’s very important for a show director to have knowledge of the sound and lights. It’s the choreographer’s visualisation of how he wants the end product to be presented on stage. So, dealing with lights and sounds and fitting them in the perfect way is much needed. Last but not least, fashion choreography becomes very monotonous when presented in the same manner over and over again. So being creative with your sequences and understanding, selecting, and placing the appropriate music with your choreography always helps you have an edge over others.  

How do you stay up-to-date in such a rapidly changing industry?
For the last 30 years we’ve always been ahead of time and we continue to strive for that. Our concepts and ideas are always on par with the international standards and we do things that haven’t happened before. Also, since there is a rapid boom in the technology industry, we have ideas and concepts that we weave in to our shows. That is where my son Jibran steps in.

Your children, Zoha and Jibran, also juggle in fashion choreography, apart from being involved in other fields, making them the second generation in your line of work. Was that a conscious decision?
I guess fashion runs in their genes; it was never a conscious decision. It was their love for me, and my line of work, that fascinated them from a very early age. They are extremely talented in their fields of work and they posses great knowledge and know-how. Zoha is a professional fashion trainer/groomer. Her passion for this field led her to start her own business in the make-up industry. Jibran on the other hand has been a professional model, Latin American dancer and has now stepped into my shoes as the Youngest Professional Fashion Show Choreographer. He has been to London to learn advance methods and courses that will bring a change to the city’s fashion industry. It’s always a delight to see your children choose the same field. Hence, we all become a fashion family!