They are the kings of curry in Parramatta

By Neena Badhwar

Dinsha Palkiwala, Firdaws Adelpour and Abida Malik in a tense scene

The play ”˜Curry Kings of Parramatta’ written by Sudha Bhuchar and Shaheen Khan directed by Kristine Landon-Smith at Riverside Theatre in Parramatta on April 18, 19 and 20, is a humorous take on restaurant workers cooped in an Indian commercial kitchen from early hours to late at night, even the chef living upstairs.   

Abida Malik and Nitin Vengurlekar
Atharv Kolhatkar and Yolanda Torres

Most of the Indian restaurants in Sydney were first run by the husbands with wives cooking or her friends who could cook popular street snacks. Next step was to hire staff from the people around you and obviously from our own subcontinent. Things moved on and professionals or the second generation taking over soon with little India sprouting in Sydney with dozens of restaurants coming up. ”˜Curry Kings of Parramatta’ is appropriately thus titled because of the popular Indian food hot spot which is situated in the heart of Parramatta or Harris Park on Wigram Street. The place is teaming with Indian food lovers who bring with them their Aussie friends asking for a curry. In ”˜CKOP’ with kitchen as a setting, thus we have the ready made script which transforms into a full length play, an adaptation by the writers into a Sydney scene from ”˜Balti Kings of UK’ that was staged in London 20 years ago.

Kitchen scene in ‘Curry Kings of Parramatta’

It’s a play with the local feel laced with local issues and all the cliché’s to do with the South Asian Muslim community down under. The director with the help of Neel Banerjee of Nautanki Theatre turned the script into a drama that happens in a Parramatta kitchen.

The setting is of a restaurant kitchen with pots, pans, benches, kitchen tables, stoves, shelves, kitchen sinks, knives, trays and crockery and take away containers. You sit and wonder how it is going to be for the actors to be moving around and deliver scenes. Soon the workers start arriving one by one. Each a character, an individual who is walking through the maze of work benches, the dialogues that tell the stories of their lives. If the head chef Billa played by Aviral Mohan, is busy co-ordinating the staff so that he can deliver food for the planned ”˜Curry-Ok’ night to 500 patrons, organised by Shahab as Firdaws Adelpour and his brother Gregory Dias as Shakeel, the pacifier when any spats occur between the father and his elder brother and even between the staff. Father by Dinsha Palkiwala is a self bragger who criticises his son at every opportunity he gets. His cynical remarks send the son into the back room yet when the event ”˜Curry-OK’ does unexpectedly well, him and the rest take credit for their labour intensive input. The lady Farida played by Abida Malik bragging about her samosas, people piled up plates ”˜like ”˜Mount Everest’, she claims.  Her simple dialogues are punchlines that bring laughs after laughs. In all this is wound the story of poor Mariam, an Afghani girl who unfortunately suspects that she has fallen pregnant by the wayward Pakistani brother of the chef Billa. Mariam’s own brother Issac, played by Zabi Malik, of course is angry, very angry as he goes wielding a knife, which are in plenty in the kitchen, his frustration boiling over with Mariam begging him to drop the cooking instrument that can turn into a killer and not face more trouble than they are in already having entered Australia as refugees on a boat. Mariam played by Yolanda Torres does win one’s empathy.

The play has its tense moments, at times workers relax on a cuppa or a smoke but then get into a frenzy at the commands of Billa, them doing their best to deliver 35-dish buffet planned for the night. Shahab advertised the event as ”˜Meet the Shahrukh and Kareena ”˜Curry-Ok’ Night’ who turn out be fakes, look alikes of real SRK and Kareena, which makes the dad even more angry with his son and his new ideas to run a restaurant. There is another frustrating moment when the Biryani is burnt and cannot be saved with Billa threatening to walk out. Shakeel again calms him down the boiled over situation which can be a daily drama in any restaurant. In ”˜Curry Kings of Parramatta’ is a kitchen where one can listen into every day stuff, politics, issues, family stories and frustrations while cooking and delivering food to its demanding customers.

”˜CKOP’ actors needed surely lapel mikes as some of the dialogues could not be heard while others could project pretty good punchlines. The background music also interrupted from listening the dialogues at places. Yet each character with his or her own individual personality made a workable team as they share together their lives, their hardships while working long hours with tensions rising and falling like the waves of an ocean. It is a glimpse into the lives of migrants who work in shabby conditions, hard and long that we restaurant goers outside in the beautiful restaurant settings demand good food, wine and entertainment, un oblivious of the obvious goings on, on the inside, and without a care about the lives of people who cook for you. All in all ”˜CKOP’ has been able to deliver an authentic look in into the lives of such people and issues that affect them, even politics.

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