THE GO-GETTER - Sara Chapra

“With me, the moment someone says 'it’s crazy' that’s when I go, ‘Bingo! I will do it now!'”

  • 29 Sep - 05 Oct, 2018
  • Attiya Abbass
  • Interview

Sara sits across me dressed in black, metallic earrings glinting through a mane of loosely blow-dried hair. Her smile is warm and breaks the ice, before her speech can. She is an affable conversationalist, an idiosyncrasy I perceive, she has garnered from over a decade of interaction with clients and planning glitzy events for them. Sara Chapra is the steering force behind the biggest events across the country’s metropolitans and beyond. Previously, a part of CKO (Chapra, Khan, Omari Events) which she spearheaded along with her brother and a friend, she’s the force behind the FPWs, international conferences, winter balls and organising the public’s favourite, Karachi Eat food festival. Since last year, Chapra has shifted her gears and reinvented her event planning firm as Carbon, that is gearing up for another major showdown, The Wedding Atelier. She speaks with buoyance and animation about her work yet her words hold brevity, weighing an impression on the listener.

“I force people to listen and I get them listening,” she keeps saying it, like a litany. Sipping her coffee, Sara divulges in the highs, the lows and the nuances of event planning.

“An event planner is almost like a conductor, who is making magic happen. You are given a striped, barren space and you create magnificence in it out of literally nothing. And you know it’s temporary, that after a couple of hours you will tear it down again, but there is excitement in that, too. When you stand back and cast a gander at the grand show you have created, you feel like a maestro.”

Excerpts from our tête-à-tête;

How did it all start for you?

I initially started out as a communication designer. I wanted to put my fingers in everything. One of my really close friends Kiran Aman from Kiran Fine Jewellery came to me with a request. It was her first ever book launch and she asked me to do it. I responded with an incredulous, “Are you mad?” I didn’t know anything about event designing, but she was adamant that I plan this for her. It was because of her unflagging faith in me, through which one thing led to another, and the event turned out to be exceptional! The aftermath of that first fabulously-put-together event, and the joy I experienced doing it gave me direction. Suddenly we were doing fashion weeks, events and conferences abroad, grand weddings and winter balls. I was just swept away with that tide and it has been a decade since, I have been swimming through.

Like most professions in our society, event management still continues to be a territory traversed by male counterparts. How did you manage to find a place for yourself here?

I can be very pig-headed and stubborn, and that’s how I get things done. Making a distinct space for myself as a woman and spreading my wings has been very difficult. I had to work harder than everybody else, at one point I felt like a door mat. I also had to face humiliation from many quarters over my past appearance. I always stress that you shouldn’t judge people on their appearances. You never know what great measure of talent is thriving inside him or her waiting for an opportunity to be expressed.

In the recent years, the event management industry has experienced a significant boom. It has sprouted and branched. How do you look back at it?

A glance at event management 10 years back, no one gave a hoot about what a bride or a client wanted. And then names like Aayesha and Meinu revolutionised event planning, marking the advent of the detail oriented, custom-created features and themes. And now it’s just exploding everywhere.

Karachi Eat has always been the talk of the town. How was the experience of creating such an event?

Mind blowing. I remember when we first came up with the idea of KEat, people thought we were crazy and no one was really interested in the concept. But you know with me, the moment someone says 'it’s crazy' that’s when I go, ‘Bingo! I will do it now.’ The concept of KEat took root for me from the fact that as Pakistanis we don’t really get to hang out together and enjoy ourselves in public because we are not comfortable. What do we do for leisure, just flit from one café to another or go watch movies or if you are a Karachiite, head to the beach? We live in these isolated bubbles all over the place. The idea behind KEat is to bring people together and actually have a good time.

What’s next in line for you?

At the moment, we are eating sleeping and breathing The Wedding Atelier! In the past, we have had thousands of brides coming through these doors in various forms of distress. They are stressed out, bombarded with details or clueless, micromanaging the biggest event in their lives. The Wedding Atelier attempts to get inside a bride’s head, to make her wedding dreams come true, deliver the vision of the wedding she has always wanted. We decided to create this event where we will have everything for her.

How would you define your signature event design?

It’s storytelling, through and through. I prefer understated elegance because it elevates you to a league above everyone else. It is a given that everybody would want a beautiful wedding, but you can’t just go nuts every time. It’s not always about the decor and design, it’s also about the story it tells.

In terms of the broader horizon of event planning, how different is Karachi from other metropolitans?

Karachi is where the madness began; it was here that event management took birth. And I can even name the key people who brought this on, Aayesha and Meinu being the first, followed by Dream Weddings who started doing things that no one had thought of before. Event designing possibilities are limitless now! But Karachi has an edge over Lahore and other cities, being the hub of creativity, class and sophistication. In Lahore it’s like “Bas, bhardo sab!” which is also fine, as it caters to their taste. Karachi’s events are where you get to add more drama and work with storytelling details, whilst making some space to breath, without overwhelming the audience.

What is the story behind naming your event planning firm, ‘Carbon’?

The inspiration is from carbon, the element. Carbon combines with almost every other element, creating millions of others. Similarly, event design is not just about one person. Yes, there is a maestro, who is conducting the entire show, but it’s all other things that make it stand out, from the décor to the design and something even as minute as the cleaning crew! It all has to fuse and gel together, only that way you get a successful event. Also under pressure, carbon is a diamond! •