SA Indian cinema soars

Shaan Nathoo (9) as Baboo Harold Singh and Aaqil Hoosen (12) as Ticky Chetty in Kings of Mulberry Street.Pictures: Supplied
Shaan Nathoo (9) as Baboo Harold Singh and Aaqil Hoosen (12) as Ticky Chetty in Kings of Mulberry Street.Pictures: Supplied

Seven weeks into its run, the film Kandasamys: The Wedding is still selling like hot cakes – so much so that Nu Metro’s website warns filmgoers to rather book for offpeak screenings, citing a high demand for tickets and “record-breaking attendances”.

According to the website Box Office Mojo, Kandasamys: The Wedding has grossed more than R18 million at the South African box office.

It sets a new record for a locally produced Indian film, surpassing the original Keeping Up with the Kandasamys, which grossed R16 million, according to its Wikipedia page.

The world of Indian cinema in South Africa is taking off in leaps and bounds, with authentic South African stories being told that are crossing over to audiences of all cultures.

Many in the industry tip their hat to the late Junaid Ahmed, producer of the first Kandasamys film.

He also had a huge hit with the 2016 romcom Happiness Is a Four-Letter Word, which he co-produced with Bongiwe Selane and which grossed R14 million at the local box office.

“He taught us all; he was a master of the audience-driven film,” says Selane today.

Now the market is preparing for the latest South African Indian film: Kings of Mulberry Street, by director Judy Naidoo.

It is due out on June 28.

Kogie Naidoo

The story follows the adventures of two boys, Ticky Chetty (played by 12-year-old Aaqil Hoosen) and Baboo Harold Singh (played by nine-year-old Shaan Nathoo), in the streets of Verulam outside Durban in the 1980s. They team up to protect their families from the neighbourhood crime lord.

The story line was developed on a flight back from New York, after Naidoo had completed a film-making course there.

“My lecturer said that I shouldn’t stop telling my own stories. I didn’t think I had anything worth exposing to the world. On the long flight back, the characters of Ticky and Baboo emerged ... I literally landed, got home, left my bags at the front door and wrote down six pages of the story,” Naidoo told City Press this week.

Finding the right fit for the characters of Ticky and Baboo proved to be a six-month challenge.

“When it comes to the Indian community, there are virtually no child actors. Even the adult group is a very small pool,” she said.

“We had children from very privileged backgrounds coming in and I was looking for a character who was a little rough around the edges. So we went to the public schools and to my home town of Verulam, and we found Aaqil.”

Naidoo, who grew up in the 1980s, said: “I thought it would be interesting for the adults to experience a trip down memory lane, and for a child audience to experience what their parents went through and the innocence of just being children before cellphones came about.

“Another layer is that the story is set before democracy, at a time when we were still segregated and prejudices still existed.

“All of these things make sense to me. I could relate to them, and I had to write from a personal point of view.”

With the success of the Kandasamy franchise in South Africa, Naidoo believes that good storytelling will always have a place in South African cinema.

“The industry has woken up to the fact that there is an Indian market that is hungry for content. They are also aware that they can make money. I do think, however, that even though a lot of films might get made, it still depends on the quality of the film.

The industry has grown considerably since Naidoo began making films, which she did alongside her longtime friend Ahmed, who passed away in 2016.

“He was the only person in the industry whose opinion mattered to me. When I was looking for a co-producer to come on board Kings of Mulberry Street, he was the first person I approached, and it was just before he passed away. It’s so unfortunate but I guess it wasn’t meant to be.”

The movie also stars Broken Promises and Keeping Up with the Kandasamys actress Kogie Naidoo, who plays a witty grandmother.

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August 2020

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