Director Judy Naidoo digs deep into her childhood in new film, Kings of Mulberry Street

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Judy Naidoo on set with young actors Shaan Nathoo and Aaqil Hoosen

The historical towns of Verulam and Tongaat, just north of Durban, were developed largely by Indian indentured labourers. Together, under the fictionalised name of Sugarhill District, they provide the colourful setting for Kings of Mulberry Street, the new feature film written and directed by acclaimed director and producer Judy Naidoo.

Set in the early 80s, the film tells the 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 charming and hilarious adventure, with universal themes that will appeal to the whole family, the film also pays tribute to classic 80s Bollywood movies and their heroes.

For Naidoo, who grew up in Verulam, the story is close to her heart. “While I was doing a short film course in New York, a lecturer who saw some potential in my work encouraged me to tell my own stories,” she says.

“He emphasised the importance of creating narratives that were personal to me. At that stage I had no ideas brewing in my mind but on the long flight back home, the story Kings of Mulberry Street began to take shape. I dreamt up the characters of Ticky and Baboo, who were largely inspired by the weird and whacky kids I once knew growing up near a low-cost housing area. And being a strange kid myself I identified with both those characters.”

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.

“My childhood and the playful fantasies of my 9-year old self provided fertile soil for story inspiration. I was always a tomboy and I related best to boys at that age,” Naidoo says. “I also knew kids who were really off the wall, funny, crazy boys, so I could vividly imagine these characters.”

The film brings together the rich and colourful world 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.

Naidoo is a multi-award-winning filmmaker who had great success on the local and international film festival circuit when her debut feature Hatchet Hour (2016) scooped several prestigious 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 selected in competition at many other international film festivals.

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.

Kings of Mulberry Street will be distributed in South Africa by Indigenous film Distribution.

Catch Kings of Mulberry Street in cinemas on 28 June 2019

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