"I was really surprised when he gave me Belle."
UK’s Muslim Panto is set to make a return with Beauty and the Balaah, a South Asian twist on the classic story Beauty and the Beast.
Beauty and the Balaah is written by Abdullah Afzal, who is best known for his role as Amjad in Citizen Khan.
Glasgow-based actor Iman Akhtar will be playing the lead role and she spoke of her excitement when she was cast.
Iman said: “He [Abdullah] posted a sneak peek of the first page of the script and I replied to his Instagram story saying how excited I was and that I would love to audition.
“I totally changed my luck and got to auditions, and got the part. I was really surprised when he gave me Belle.
“It really is the same role as it would be in any other Beauty and the Beast pantomime, but it just has that South Asian/Muslim twist to it.”
Shehzad Hussain, of Luton, was headhunted by Abdullah.
He revealed that his passion for performing started at a young age when he began watching Bollywood films.
Shehzad explained: “Little did I know that I was absorbing a lot of the acting. I’m able to mimic a lot of Bollywood actors because of that.
“I always wanted to become an actor, but unfortunately in Asian households, acting is kind of frowned upon. They think it’s not a real job.”
Beauty and the Balaah follows the story of a prince who is turned into an odious creature by Fairy Noor, who is under the influence of an evil wizard.
Balaah needs to break the curse by learning the art of receiving and giving love, which will be put to the test when Aisha (based on Belle) enters his castle.
Also joining the cast are Sabrina Nabi, Noor Waheed, Usman Farooqi and comedian Prince Abdi.
Beauty and the Balaah will go on tour in early December 2023 and is expected to perform a total of 60 shows.
The money earned from the performances will be to help aid charities such as Penny Appeal in providing winter essentials to people in need.
The UK Muslim Panto has previously taken on the children’s classic Cinderella, by producing a theatre play by the name of Cinder’aliyah.
Abdullah Afzal stated: “We are grateful and delighted to be the first Muslim-themed pantomime within this historic collection. Modern Britain is a beacon of inclusivity and diversity, so it only feels right that we should reflect this within our theatre history.”