The 1980s was a decade of cinematic delights for Bollywood, the world’s largest film producer. Sholay (1975), Chandni (1989), Disco Dancer (1982), Coolie (1983), Mr India (1987) and Qayamat Se Qayamat Tak (1988), are among the most loved movies from the late 70s and the 80s. ‘Sholay’ played for five consecutive years in Mumbai, becoming the biggest Bollywood film of all time and one which still holds sway over popular culture.
Bollywood plots have tended to be melodramatic, employing standard ingredients such as star-crossed lovers and angry parents, love triangles, family ties, sacrifice, corrupt politicians, kidnappers, conniving villains, courtesans with hearts of gold, long-lost relatives and siblings separated by fate, dramatic reversals of fortune, and convenient coincidences.
These were some of the types of films that Judy Naidoo, writer and directors of the new feature film ‘Kings of Mulberry Street’ was watching as she grew up in the town of Verulam in Kwa-Zulu Natal in the 80s.
“I didn’t realise what an impact Indian cinema had on my formative years until I started developing this film,” says Naidoo. “It unleashed all my childhood memories and Bollywood often featured as the soundtrack to those early years.”
Set in the 80s, in the fictionalised town of Sugarhill District, the film is a charmingly nostalgic story of two young Indian boys who have to find a way to overcome their differences and unite in order to defeat the bullying local crime lord who’s threatening their families. A delightful and hilarious adventure, with universal themes that will appeal to the whole family, the film pays tribute to classic 80s Indian cinema and their heroes. Visually colourful and vibrant, it’s also touching and heart-warming.
“There’s a sense of belonging, which is one of the qualities that helped make Bollywood such a success with audiences,” says Naidoo. “In those classic films, viewers were looking for themselves. It’s a feeling that I have brought in to ‘King of Mulberry Street’, which is as much a story about a community as it is about two young boys and their fight for justice. Innocence, playfulness, a little vulnerability, and a feel-good vibe all contribute to the mood of the film.”
Naidoo says her personal experience with Indian cinema, not just Bollywood, goes back as far as she can remember.
“I did not have a particular fondness for Indian films; often my siblings and I watched them simply because they were what my parents hired to watch. We didn’t speak the languages, there were no subtitles, yet still we understood the films perfectly. As a treat during school holidays, my parents would always hire three films for us, one in English, one in Hindi and one in Tamil. Every now and again an Indian film would emerge that would have an impact, either because of the songs or the story. I remember lots of crying too, because the films were so moving. I was particularly drawn to action and comedy films and the ones in which the women literally kicked ass.”
The film brings together the vibrancy of the Indian community in the 80s as well as Bollywood cinema and songs from that era, in a tale that peers into the past through the prism of the present.
Ticky Chetty is a skinny kid who enjoys the outdoors, is creative and energetic, and has tons of street smarts. He is looking for a partner in crime and sees a trainee in Baboo. Chubbier and more bookish than Ticky, Baboo is equally imaginative and spirited. These two nine-year-old misfits decide to rid their community of the evil bully and crime boss Raja, and they discover that they have lots to learn from each other.
Kings of Mulberry Street introduces Aaqil Hoosen (12) as Ticky Chetty, and Shaan Nathoo (9) as Baboo Harold Singh in the lead roles. Rounding out the cast are Thiru Naidoo, Rizelle Januk, Amith Sing, Neville Pillay, Keshan Chetty, Hamish Kyd, Kimberly Arthur and Chris Forrest. In the role of Granny Chetty is audience favourite Kogie Naidoo, known for her role as Amsugi in the ‘Broken Promises’ franchise and as Aunt Riya in ‘Florida Road.’