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​The jokes keep coming in Material, the film that the producer calls “the best piece of screenwriting to come out of South Africa in a long, long time”.
RIAAD Moosa and Joey Rasdien join forces with Vincent Ebrahim and Denise Newman in the movie, Material, which is set and was filmed a stone’s throw from Joburg’s CBD.

Joey RasdienJoey Rasdien plays one of the central characters in the movie MaterialAs can be expected from a film where the central character is a comedian and the actors are comics in their own right, Material is hilarious. It is the story of a young Muslim man who tries endlessly to please his strict, religious father, yet is unable to deny his own desires in life.

The film, which is set in Fordsburg, opened on 17 February. It deals with universal issues such as identity, responsibility and duty. Moosa plays the young man, who works in his father’s fabric shop. In line with tradition, as the only son he is expected to take over the family business.

But one night, through a series of coincidences, he lands up doing an open mike session at a local comedy club. To his amazement, he discovers a hidden talent for comedy – and he is encouraged to carry on with stand up. But this is a path that brings him into conflict with his father and other family members, as well as with some elements of his community.

The producer, Ronnie Apteker, says Moosa stands out as a comedian because “his humility and compassion is inspiring and his warmth and sensitivity refreshing. He is a professional artist whose heart, and head, are in the right place. Also, like Bill Cosby and Jerry Seinfeld, Riaad’s comedy is clean and sharp. It does not offend anyone, and his jokes about Indians are akin to Jackie Mason’s jokes about Jewish culture. In short, Riaad is universal in his appeal, and a pleasure to work with.”

He wrote a story about Moosa’s life. “This became the foundation for the movie,” he says. “The story was inspired by Riaad Moosa. The central conflict was made up, but it was underpinned by real world pressures. It is not accepted for a Muslim to go into a bar – it is considered haraam [forbidden]. The story has been embellished, but its essence is true.”

The script was initiated by Apteker and Craig Freimond, the movie’s director. They played around with the idea for several years and then decided to do something with Moosa around a guy who is a doctor who wants to be a comedian.

Material the movie“Even at that stage, we decided it was going to be in Joburg and we decided he had to live in Fordsburg, just because it’s the heart of the Indian community, although it’s changed a lot,” Freimond explains.

The original idea collapsed, but Freimond then heard about two brothers, one of whom owns a shop at the Oriental Plaza: “I thought it was such a moving story about these two brothers, one of whom had stayed outside of the plaza.”

In The Joburg Book, edited by Nechama Brodie, the Oriental Plaza was first envisioned in the late 1960s as an Indian commercial centre, designed to offer an alternative retail venue to the shops and traders located along Fietas’s 14th Street.

Oriental Plaza
“Opened in 1974, it was initially boycotted by Indian shop owners who did not want to move their business from Fietas. It was not until 1977, after several clashes between Fietas traders and the police, followed by legal battles and damages claims against the Johannesburg city council, that the traders reluctantly agreed to give up their premises and move to Fordsburg,” records the book.

“Today, the plaza retains much of its original intended ‘bazaar’ quality: it’s a thriving centre populated by hundreds of stores, selling everything from traditional Indian clothing and spices to designer label fashion and footwear, homeware, luggage and fabric.”

Freimond is a Joburger whose fascination with the city is reflected in his work. In 2000, he directed a play, Gorfinkel and Son. His film debut, the black comedy, Gums and Noses, followed in 2005. In 2010, he made the madcap comedy, Jozi.

Asked the secret to making a successful movie, Apteker says: “It is a gamble, anyway you look at it. It all starts with the script. If the script is bad the film will be bad. But a good script does not guarantee a good movie.

“The secret, like with all ventures, is the people. I am confident to say that we have the best piece of screenwriting to come out of South Africa in a long, long time and the most humble and inspired team. On paper it all looks good, but still, we need some luck to get us over the finish line in pole position.”

The cast includes Krijay Govender, Zakeeya Patel, Roysten Stoffels, Carishma Basday, Nic Rabinowitz, Osmond Ali, Mel Miller, Afzal Khan, Rabin Harduth, Quanita Adams, Pranesh Maharaj and Nina Hastie.

Related stories:

Tickle the taste buds in Fordsburg
Joburg’s new gold rush
Go oriental at the Plaza
Long live Fietas
Life behind the scars of Fietas
Related links:

Joburg: art, culture and heritage
About Fietas and its mural