JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) - A low-budget movie about a young Muslim man’s quest to make it on the Johannesburg comedy circuit is wowing audiences across South Africa, and its powerful portrayal of the clash between youth, tradition and religion may lead to global recognition.
Set in the Muslim Indian enclave of Fordsburg in Africa’s “City of Gold”, “Material” charts the tempestuous relationship between Cassim Kaif, played by local stand-up comedian Riaad Moosa, and his ageing father, Ebrahim, whose one dream is for his son to take over the family’s struggling fabric shop.
Shot on a shoe-string $1 million budget, the movie combines moments of heart-wrenching family and personal drama with hilarious snippets of stand-up comedy and everyday life in one of the continent’s most cosmopolitan cities.
“The film celebrates the goodness of South Africa’s spirit and the legacy of a unique and historical part of this land,” said producer Ronnie Apteker, a successful Internet entrepreneur whose energies are now dedicated to film-making.
“It is not a Bollywood film, but a contemporary Indian story. It is a movie for the whole family, contains no profanity, and should be able to be enjoyed by people of all ages both in South Africa and the rest of the world.”
In the past three weeks, box office takings show it holding its own against major Hollywood releases, and it is generating considerable buzz in local media and among a South African public not renowned for its movie-going.
It is also a rare example of a film that explores the plight of the sizeable Indian community, rather than focus on the more well-known struggle of the black majority against the white-minority rule that ended in 1994.
Besides Moosa - a doctor by training - it features a stirring performance by South African-born actor Vincent Ebrahim, better known as the penny-pinching patriarch in award-winning British-Indian comedy show “The Kumars at No. 42”.
Although a rigidly faithful portrayal of the life of Muslim Indians in post-apartheid South Africa, the themes it explores - youth versus conservatism, personal versus family - resonate far and wide, making it a long shot for international box-office success.
Cast in the same mould as “Bend It Like Beckham”, about a female Sikh soccer player in London, and “Billy Elliot”, about an aspiring boy ballet dancer in a tough northern England town, it has already gone down well at test screenings in London.
“They didn’t understand all the jokes, but everybody cried,” Moosa told a news conference in Johannesburg on Friday, joking that some audiences may nevertheless struggle with the diverse array of English accents that exist in modern South Africa.
“We might have to enter it in the foreign language category, and subtitle it,” he said.
Reporting by Ed Cropley, editing by Paul Casciato