Judy Naidoo with her two young cast members.
Judy Naidoo with her two young cast members.
Partners with a purpose Ticky (Aaqil Hoosen) and Baboo (Shaan Naidoo)
Partners with a purpose Ticky (Aaqil Hoosen) and Baboo (Shaan Naidoo)
Mulberry Street where it all happens.
Mulberry Street where it all happens.
JOHANNESBURG - Her business is making movies. But bringing great stories to the screen is part of a bigger vision, writes Liz Clarke

There is a very good reason why award-winning international film director, Judy Naidoo, chose the colourful backstreets of Verulam in KZN’s sugar cane country for her latest film, Kings of Mulberry Street.

She was born there and knows the area and its mainly Indian community like the back of her hand.

“For me making this film has been like reliving my own childhood ” says Naidoo, who is back in South Africa to put the final tweaks in place. “The movies were my passion even though my family could only afford to go a few times a year.”

In June next year, the film is due for general release in South Africa.”

“On that day I will be pinching myself,” she says. “When you have held a dream in your heart for so long, it’s difficult to imagine that one day it will become a reality.” 
Set in the early 80’s, the film tells the story of two young Indian boys who have to find a way to overcome their differences and unite to defeat the bullying local crime lord who’s threatening their families. 

“I suppose you could describe it as the universal story of good over bad” she explains. The things that inspired me to write this story in the first place haven’t changed one bit. There are still chickens running around the potholed streets, washing is still hanging in the sun, old broken down cars are still there. The air is filled with the tangy aromas of spice and curry and everywhere are the sounds of Bollywood. There’s good folk and gangsters living side by side. There’s gossip and intrigue. As a filmmaker what more could you ask for?”

However there is quite a lot more to her mission than simply capturing a unique slice of South African life.

“Film directing takes me all over the world, so I am never in one place for very long, but KZN has many wonderful and rich stories to tell, and a great climate, which makes film makers lives a lot easier. This is definitely a country for a new breed of filmmakers. The potential is huge.”

Taking that debate a step further, Naidoo believes that it could be a time to explore the idea of tourism based on the emerging local film industry.

“With more and more films being set in the province, the awareness of what KZN has to offer visitors will also grow. I will certainly be doing my bit to promote the film tourism idea.”

With the admin side nearly complete, Naidoo offered a short sneak preview of Kings of Mulberry Street, billed as ‘a little film with big heart’ set in the fictional sugar cane growing area of Sugarhill. 

The footage showed a battered yellow jalopy bumping its way down the street, filled with suspicious looking characters staring out the window. Two small children watch the car’s progress from a nearby rooftop. Thereafter things happen quick and fast….

The child actors starring in the main roles are 12 year old Aaqil Hoosen, a grade six learner from Dianthus Primary and eight year old Shaan Naidoo from Crawford College, who happily fitted the required nine-year old look.

“We were looking for children who were confident, but not pushy, had a natural acting ability and were able to dance. They also needed to be able to read fluently, learn their lines and keep up with schoolwork. I agree not an easy ask , but I think we found the perfect pair."

In the film, Aaqil plays Ticky, a wiry rascal, who gets up to mischief at the drop of a hat. His buddy across the road in Mulberry Street is the more serious bookworm Baboo, played by Shaan.

Naidoo explains the origins of the film.

“It’s based on something I wrote while a Masters Degree student at the National Film and Television School in the UK. The subject of a close knit community with all its ups and downs was very close to my heart but getting companies to support my idea was a different story. Female film directors historically have a tough time in this field. It is something we would like to see change.”

Naidoo’s debut feature, Hatchet Hour (2016), won several awards, including Best Director and Best Picture at the New Hope Film Festival in Pennsylvania, as well as the Best Foreign Film Award at the LA Femme International Film Festival. The film was also nominated for a Golden Horn Award for Best Achievement in Cinematography.

But the cameras don’t stop rolling there.

“I have many ideas up my sleeve ” she says with a quick smile. “But more of that later….”