Saturday, July 13, 2024

Hyderabad-based chef Rafia Sultana feeds passion for theatre

Actors of Raffu Chakkar Entertainments rehearse for a play

Actors of Raffu Chakkar Entertainments rehearse for a play
| Photo Credit: RAMAKRISHNA G

A small 1160 square foot eatery on the fourth floor of Suryalok Complex at Abids in Hyderabad that serves around 40 diners stays shut in the late afternoons, between lunch and dinner. You might think there is nothing unique about that until you see it come alive with a group of people busy pushing the tables and chairs to a corner. What is happening, you wonder? The eatery has just transformed into a rehearsal space for theatre artists.

Actors rehearse for a play in a canteen

Actors rehearse for a play in a canteen
| Photo Credit:
RAMAKRISHNA G

As five stray cats including pet Brownie Fudge play around, young actors Shreya, Mirza Ateeque Baig, Alina Rasheed, Md. Rizwaan and Kashimalla Antony rehearse the play Qeemat (recently staged at Lamakaan). Director-writer-music composer Rafia Sultana (aka Raffu) is the founder of both the theatre group, Raffu Chakkar Entertainers, and the eatery. As the lone chef at the eatery, she makes 200 rotis with as much ease as she writes dialogues and directs her plays.

During rehearsals

During rehearsals
| Photo Credit:
RAMAKRISHNA G

Enamoured by Broadway theatre while working in the US, Rafia, armed with some acting experience in skits, on returning to Hyderabad, founded Raffu Chakkar Entertainers in 2012. “India has diverse cultures and with such a rich tradition of stories, we can bring vibrancy on stage,” says Rafia. The group staged a comedy Pyar Ke Gurd Gobar Ghotale in 2013 at Lamakaan.

The Broadway influence has shown up in Raffu Chakkar’s 50 plays in the last 10 years; every play has a dance sequence at the beginning and end. With a team of 21 actors — who also dabble in lighting and stage management — the production house’s forte is comedies like Mad House and the Hyderabadi comedy Ola Matta. It has also done plays on love and social issues. “I don’t like to deal with history or politics in plays. I want theatre lovers to have a good time,” says Rafia.

Her goal is to make Hyderabadis watch plays in auditoriums. “I want to wean youth away from social media and get them involved in theatre. Theatre is a good activity; it grooms their personalities as playing different roles opens their minds and hearts and helps them become creative and empathetic.”

Journey of challenges

Rafia in the kitchen. She is the chef at the canteen and also the director and writer of plays

Rafia in the kitchen. She is the chef at the canteen and also the director and writer of plays
| Photo Credit:
RAMAKRISHNA G

With two helpers in the kitchen, Rafia’s day starts at 6am by preparing breakfast, and goes on with lunch and dinner. The eatery serves college students and employees at the complex. She supervises theatre rehearsals during breaks and writes stories or composes music between 11 pm and 3 am. “I am able to manage because I enjoy what I do.”

It has been an incredible 10-year-journey, says Rafia who has weathered turbulent times. The plays are not ticketed and actors, primarily students selected through auditions notified at Lamakaan and Instagram, work for free. Now the eatery in Abids, started in August 2022, helps the team sustain monetarily and fulfil Rafia’s dream of staging a musical, Parallel Pyar. “Minus any sponsors, we have been able to sustain our theatre activity only because of our passion,” she says.

She hopes to shore up revenues with income from Pasha and the Magnificent Seven — the name comes from Rafia’s family of nieces and nephews — a cloud kitchen that specialises in Hyderabadi food, recently launched with food delivery options.

While Raffu Chakkar staged Qeemat recently, its June calendar is busy with rehearsals for psycho-thriller Khabza.

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