Sangeet Natak Akademi Award-winning theatre personality, Neelam Man Singh Chowdhry (N.M. Chowdhry), celebrates the journey of growing into her skin – wrinkles and all. At sixty plus, her skin glows but naturally so. She doesn’t believe in cosmetic procedures and obsessing about fine lines but she does believe in self-care and taking me-time out.
At an age when many would be happy to lead a retired life, this Chandigarh-based theatre director is vigorously involved in taking local theatre to a global platform. We feature her as Just Herbs Muse for October as her attitude towards beauty is modern and refreshing. Chowdhry defies the belief that ageing is a condition we need to battle. To her it’s a process that we need to embrace. In a freewheeling conversation with Just Herbs, she shares her life’s lessons and beauty secrets.
Being a performing artist, what does beauty mean to you?
N.M. Chowdhry: Beauty as we conventionally understand it has no place in the theatre. Beauty is not just a particular set of features or a skin tone, but the overall personality. Having said that, to look vibrant is inbuilt in your personality when you are in a public space. You need control over your body and transform your looks to hold the audience’s attention and to get into the skin of different characters. So self-care, that is sleeping and eating right, taking care of the body and skin, is a part of life when you are on stage. It’s heartwarming to see the same enthusiasm these days in most women to look and feel good in their skins.
What has been your biggest lesson from theatre?
N.M. Chowdhry: Theatre taught me how to manage my world. Dealing with characters and relating to them brings in inclusivity. Through the many lives I lived when actors go on the stage, I learnt to be connected to communities and world that’s separate from mine.
Is there any life hack you wish every young woman should know?
N.M. Chowdhry: The key to success lies in not solving things but managing them. No life is perfect. There are so many ups and downs. You have to translate what’s going in your life into something positive and that comes with prioritizing. We ponder so much over trivia, which is unnecessary. The idea is to live each day with a feeling of gratitude.
You have extensively collaborated with traditional groups of naqqals (men who play women’s characters on stage). Did this experience impact your perception of feminine beauty?
N.M. Chowdhry: The tradition of ‘Naqqals’ is not about sophisticated beauty or transformations. The concept of beauty changed for me as I observed a man transforming himself into a woman to enact a role. When I see a man expressing feminine emotions eloquently on stage, I am left with a sense of diffused gender roles. They definitely leave you with a feeling that beauty is all about being inclusive and not slotting gender into tight compartments.
What is your approach when it comes to skincare?
N.M. Chowdhry: My beauty routine is very simple but I am regular with it. I use a cleanser and scrub at night, no matter how late I get back home. I use a moisturiser for the day. I have never been self-engaged and too bothered with what I use. In fact, I am always game to try something new that looks promising. Recently, I started using Just Herbs Kimsukadi Glow Boosting Facial Oil and I find it very effective. The oil is light on the skin and is very nourishing. Another product from Just Herbs that I regularly use is their Skin Tint which works like a light foundation to give a nice flush to your face.
At one time, besan and malai was my go-to DIY but now with so many easy-to-use natural products available, DIY just seem a lot messier. I do gravitate towards naturally-derived and organic beauty products rather than those with synthetic chemicals. Certain herbs such as neem and aloe vera have been known for their healing and cleansing properties, so it’s wonderful to find them in modern, convenient packaging these days.
What’s the secret to your glowing complexion?
N.M. Chowdhry: I have no secret to glowing skin. Beauty is an inside-out process. I am a vegetarian and growing up we used to have fresh vegetables grown in our gardens such as pumpkins, karelas and bottle gourd. So that bit has stayed with me. I still like farm-fresh products. I don’t go for facials or any cosmetic procedures. My beauty routine is simple – cleanse and nourish. I do use facial oils for hydration. The key to a glowing complexion also lies in a healthy mind.
You are such an inspiration. Is there any myth on youth and ageing that you would like to bust?
N.M. Chowdhry: That ageing is a battle which you need to conquer is a modern myth. I feel ageing is such a reality. Nobody can escape from the process. Whether through over-the-counter creams or cosmetic procedures, it is impossible to exponentially fudge your age. When I was 20, I felt 40 is old, and when at 40, 60 seemed old. It’s relative. The deal breaker is to not let age negotiate with emotions. You need to accept and embrace the ageing process but not let age slow you down. You shouldn’t let age stop you from taking care of yourself, your skin. It’s so easy to slide into a comfort zone and take a non-challenging role when you have more years behind you than in front of you.