Bringing 'The Monk Who Sold His Ferrari' to life

Bringing 'The Monk Who Sold His Ferrari' to life

Mumbai theater producer Ashvin Gidwani takes Robin Sharma's best-seller from shelf to stage

A musical based on the self-help book that took the world by storm -- "The Monk Who Sold His Ferrari" -- is due to hit the Mumbai stage this October. Director Ashvin Gidwani battled for a year to secure the rights to leadership guru Robin Sharma's runaway best-seller, and now can't wait for the curtain to go up.

“Robin Sharma's a bit of a giant out there, but we both have reflective heads," says Gidwani. "We had a bald-man-to-bald-man conversation.”

After seeing the Mumbai producer’s adaptation of "The Alchemist" by Paulo Coelho, Sharma agreed to the deal.

"The Monk Who Sold His Ferrari" tells the story of a disenchanted lawyer who finds enlightenment in India. First published in 1999, the book sold more than three million copies and attracted a devoted following.

Now Gidwani plans to transform the decade-old classic into full-blown musical.

Here, he discusses the book's relevance outside the sphere of new-age psycho-babble and why we should eat dinner before 8 p.m..

Ashvin Gidwani and Robin SharmaProducer and director Ashvin Gidwani (R) with author Robin Sharma in front of Mumbai's Gateway of India monument.

CNNGo: "The Monk Who Sold His Ferrari" had its heyday in the late 1990s. What makes you revisit the story now?

Ashvin Gidwani: When the book was written, the West was in deep need of certain virtues. The book spelled that out. In the past eight to 10 years India has gone in a similar direction of becoming pro-West.

Right now, India is in that same zone, everything is going well in the country, people are getting ambitious, there are more heart attacks now [laughs].

Of course, there are endless solutions for everything but our lifestyle has become far more complicated and stressful. I feel that this book, revisited as a theatrical production, will be quite inspirational for the current generation.

CNNGo: From producer, why turn director?

Gidwani: Somehow I don’t want to risk this with anyone else. I’d been through many directors who were very qualified but none of them convinced me. I’m very fired up by the book, I’ve read it five times and every time I see a different angle. The night before Robin came, I spent the whole night reading it for the fifth time and an idea clicked. I shared it with him and I think he’s quite happy.

CNNGo: What is Robin Sharma like in person? We tried to track him down but couldn’t catch him (according to his Tweets, he was skiing).

Gidwani: For some reason I thought he would be taller [laughs]. Now, I’m six feet and we both have shaved heads, the only difference is that he shaves it and I clip it. But he is kind, very intelligent, clear and intellectual.

CNNGo: What will set "The Monk Who Sold His Ferrari" apart from current shows in Mumbai theaters?

Gidwani: This is not going to be driven by the motive of making money. It’s driven by sheer passion. When you keep the commercials to the side, you can give it a lot more heart. "The Alchemist" and "The Monk Who Sold His Ferrari" are not about the money. It’s what I call the corporate social responsibility of theater. With the other productions I make money, here I just want to see it take on its own momentum. But I don’t want to philosophize, patronize or any of that. I just want to tell the story.

CNNGo: How do you plan to adapt the story?

Gidwani: People have very little patience today so I will be adapting it using music, song, dance, art, interaction, video, film and photography. The way to breathe life into it is love. That’s my nerve, love. If you can use love, you can do wonders with the script. I’m trying to bring more emotional content to it. There are a lot of processes I am going through to put this together. It’s evolving as I go along.

CNNGo: I get the feeling that this is striking a chord with your own spiritual growth.

Gidwani: Yes, the more I work with the book the more it reveals how reckless we’ve been and puts things into perspective. I see that I could have done things differently and the only time we have to change is today. I have no option but to become an example to be able tell this story.

It’s exactly what Julian [the book's main character] was doing. For instance, something you should do is to eat your final meal before 8 p.m.. And give time to yourself for introspection early in the morning. And at night take time to connect the dots of the day so you learn from it, move on and sleep better.

These philosophies are starting to influence me. My pattern of working used to be very rigid but I’m changing that. All those attributes of the book make sense for better living and peace of mind.

CNNGo: What about the cynics who refuse to eat dinner before dark and think this is all spiritual psycho-babble?

Gidwani: I don’t think it’s very spiritual, as you put it. I think it’s a lot more practical and realistic. It’s a way of reminding us of things we know. It’s just telling us in a different way that everyone has an opportunity to change.

This book takes a modernist approach: It tells you certain perimeters that one can work within and the results, without getting too spiritual about it, or turning to religion.

It’s very much like saying: Look, don’t have too much cholesterol or you’ll have a heart attack.

CNNGo: Any risk of the play being cheesy, you think?

Gidwani: Not at all. It’s how you tell the story. You’ve got to keep the expectations low but at the same time deliver what you say.

I have my method of testing whatever I do before I show it to people. We do a lot of workshops and we call in audiences beforehand.

People from different walks of life come and watch the show, I give them a 20-point feedback form, get their reaction, improve on it and go back to the drawing board.

I ask relevant questions, so if the word ‘cheesy’ comes up at some point in our discussion, I would clip it right there.

You see, the vision of the author is one thing but the vision of the director is another, it’s to engage people and give them a visual experience. So you use all the ammunition that you have to see that it comes together.

A freelance writer, Payal Uttam found her way back to Hong Kong after a prolonged stint in Chicago.

Read more about Payal Uttam