That’s the premise of a new local thriller, Nommer 37, starring Irshaad Ally.
The film, which opens on Friday, borrows from Alfred Hitchcock’s Rear Window, which similarly features a paralysed man in a wheelchair observing events - including crimes - in the building across from his window.
Set in a recognisable street of facing blocks on the Cape Flats, the audience meets Randal and his girlfriend, Pam Ismael, who live on the third floor.
Randal has had his legs broken, probably by loan shark Emmie (Danny Ross), and shows signs of frustration and depression at being in a wheelchair.
He receives a pair of binoculars to help pass the long, lonely hours in his flat. The lenses of the binoculars provide him with insight into a world revolving around the lives of his neighbours: his slightly greasy childhood minister, Pastor White (Elton Landrew); his friend, Warren (Ephraim Gordon), and the main thug on the block, Lawyer (David Manuel), who has thousands of rand in cash stashed in a bag in his flat.
Motivated by violent threats and hounding from the fear-inducing Emmie, Randal hatches a plan to pay his debt to Emmie using Lawyer’s cash.
The film is 100 minutes of captivating suspense, as the audience pieces together the story through the eyes of Randal, who is watching the movements across the street.
Speaking to Weekend Argus this week, Ally said Randal was somewhat of a survivalist.
“I auditioned for the villain. They asked me to play the lead, I was to play a guy in a wheelchair. My brother-in-law is in a wheelchair, (so) it was not hard for me to research. The depression can last for years.”
The history of the production of this feature began around 2014 when Gambit Films made the original Nommer 37 short film. Ally played Randal in the original, which was screened to positive reviews at the shnit Worldwide Shortfilmfestival and the kykNET Silwerskermfees.
He also stars in the hit kykNET soap Suidooster as Rhafiek Samsodien, an upstanding, ethical character who’s in stark contrast to the Randal of Nommer 37 or the villainous gang leader Gasant in the 2014 local blockbuster, Four Corners.
Gambit Films was also involved in launching Suidooster. The production company cast Ally in a pilot which was then picked up for a series on kykNET in 2015. The series has been in production at Atlantic Film Studios in Montague Gardens since then, growing from a three-episodes-per-week run to five. It was the first Afrikaans daily soap to be filmed in Cape Town.
Since then, Ally has played Rhafiek, a squeaky clean estate agent from a traditional Muslim home. Nommer 37 was re-shot as a feature film last year, and Ally had to re-audition.
“I was doing the soap and working here (at the Suidooster set). I had five days to prepare for Randal before the shoot began. I needed to lose weight. For a spinal injury, he needed to look limp.”
The film was directed by Nosipho Dumisa, who co-directed the original short with Travis Taute. Ally said days on the shoot were long.
“I would ask Nosipho to whisper into my ear. She was a wonderful director, so sensitive. To get into (the character of) Randal, I looked for quiet places on the set. Randal had to be claustrophobic, and create that sense of frustration my arms became lame from holding up the binoculars and I didn’t like getting out of the chair.”
Meanwhile, the set lights continue to shine at Suidooster as the character Rhafiek dips in and out of relationship storylines with Carmen (Desiré Gardner).
“Rhafiek is maturing and grounding. He wants to settle down. I love playing him; he is the moral compass of the soap. He is a nice Muslim guy, not blowing up things. There is an advocacy in that, I represent where I come from,” says Ally.
* Nommer 37 is in cinemas from this Friday.
* Suidooster airs weekdays at 6.30pm on kykNET and kykNET & Kie.