Anjana Vaswani (MUMBAI MIRROR; June 23, 2013)

 

“From an actor, I’ve gone to being a full-time murgiwali,” we heard Perizaad Zorabian-Irani chirp at a recycling event held at a co-operative store. When we drop in at the Bandra home of the actor, who shot to fame in 2003 as Jenny Suratwala in Subhash Ghai’s Joggers’ Park, she unabashedly admits to losing no opportunity to promote the family poultry brand. “My father launched Zorabian Chicken because it was a challenge to find a supplier who could provide quality chicken to our restaurant, Gondola,” Perizaad says, making it easy to picture her in the kitchen of the Pali Naka eatery, cooking up sizzlers with her manicured hands back in 1975. She probably would have too, if she hadn’t been two at the time.

The reserved patriarch sitting beside her in a pinstriped Lacoste tee, hair neatly greased, goes pink in the face as his daughter slaps him between the shoulders, and says, “Cockyseth is the original Iranian entrepreneur,” calling him by a name his wife Firoza fondly thought up. “He saw an opportunity and jumped at it.” Since then, the brand has marketed preservative-free packaged chicken and ready-to-cook eats.

“The first 12 years of the business were pure gold…it was vulgar income,” says Khoram, who in a complete break from tradition had invested heavily in technology, introducing environment-controlled sheds imported from Holland and Germany. This was when their Khopoli farm’s capacity was a modest 54,000 birds a month. Today, it stands at 4,50,000 broilers, “but competition is fierce.”

Khoram however, maintains faith in the management skills of Perizaad and her younger brother Shazaad, 32, who she describes as “a genius who has perked up the protocol with science, technology and a whole new spin.” Together, the team has bagged clients like J W Marriott, China Gate and Copper Chimney and has managed to break into supermarket chains run by rival poultry brands.
Her glamorous past goes against her, says the marketing head of the brand, “but once the discussion gets going, they realise I’m fully immersed in the business.” As Khoram talks about the titans they take on, Perizaad jumps in to say, “But that’s our strength — the fact that we’re small. Our cycles can get to lanes where big trucks can’t, and allow modest quantities to reach small vendors.”

Distribution has now extended to the rest of India, and the new generation has introduced a range of ready-to-cook seekh kababs, sausages, burger patties, chicken and cheese balls and salami. Meanwhile, Khoram’s elder son, Sohrab, 38, is busy running the popular-with-Bawas Cheron Caterers, an 18-year-old Parsi and continental cuisine enterprise in Khar west.

“The family has always encouraged our endeavours,” Perizaad smiles. Which is why although she had signed up for an MBA at New York’s Baruch College, she faced little resistance when, encouraged by her friend Ismail, who was at The Lee Strasberg Theatre and Film Institute, she took up acting. Life in NYC suited the young Perizaad. She had a job at the Taj Hotel on Lexington Avenue, bagged six promotions and had a full camp of friends. “She only came back because I insisted,” says Khoram, while Perizaad admits she caved in when she read his soppy letters.

“And after just one year, I lost her to acting,” says the father. Perizaad explains, “At one point, I remember I was trying to do it all, but he sat me down and said, ‘Whatever you do, give it your full.’

“It’s been 12 years,” says Khoram about her break from performing, although Perizaad assures us she hasn’t quit. “It’s my therapy,” she grins, thrilled that Feroz Khan’s ongoing theatre production Dinner With Friends allows her to connect with her creative side.

Seven years ago, Perizaad married realty developer Boman Rustom Irani, and the couple has two kids. After all these years of owning a sprawling lakeside farm in Khopoli, the doting grandfather couldn’t resist building a family cottage on site. Perizaad pulls out her Blackberry to take us through pictures, including one of her five-year-old daughter Zaha in a white frock. Several pictures zoom in on the bespectacled, grey-haired “Nadeem uncle” (Nadeem Khan), who has been with the business for 40 years.
“I get involved with every little detail,” says Perizaad, animatedly explaining how their emphasis on hatchery hygiene, brand development, packaging and rising cost of grain are factored into costs. “I’m there at every photo-shoot. When I bring dad a package sample, he’ll say (she flails her arms around to mimic Khoram), ‘Show it to Nadeem uncle’.”

Just then her three-year-old son Zayaan walks out of his room for a peek. His T-shirt says: I love my veggies. We ask him if that’s even a possibility in this household. He scrunches his nose and shakes his head from side-to-side.