Filmmaker Sara Blecher. Picture: MARIANNE SCHWANKHART
Filmmaker Sara Blecher. Picture: MARIANNE SCHWANKHART

Prolific filmmaker Sara Blecher first came to national attention in 2011 with her film Otelo Burning, which could have easily been just an ordinary story of a black guy aspiring to become a surfer, but was a fantastic offering that got everyone talking for much of the year.

The award-winning director has since released other successful movies, including Ayanda (2015), Dis Ek Anna (2015) and now Mayfair, a gangster tale set in Johannesburg.

Blecher insists that making a blockbuster is not her goal, though she would welcome such a development as long as creativity was not trampled on.

“My purpose in making movies is to tell a truly South African story in an aesthetically authentic way, without compromising creativity. If someone makes a movie in order to make a blockbuster and make money in the process, creativity suffers. In Mayfair, there is a good balance,” she says.

Now, the only thing that is common among South African Indians who once lived in Mayfair and the new immigrants is religion, otherwise anything else is different, including culture.

“Without going too much into the details, in Mayfair there is gunfire, blood and a dark side to human existence. The issue is Mayfair itself, as a suburb, has a rich and interesting heritage. The Indians who lived there during apartheid had big houses, some even mansions. But when the new South Africa came and allowed people to live anywhere they wanted, the South African Indians left for other suburbs, leaving behind these big houses that are now rented to immigrants such as Somalis, Pakistani people and those from Bangladesh,” says Blecher.

“Now, the only thing that is common among South African Indians who once lived in Mayfair and the new immigrants is religion, otherwise anything else is different, including culture,” she says.

Blecher says she was approached by two die-hard movie lovers, Imraan Jeeva and Omar Khan, who said they were tired of how Indian stories had been represented in SA films over the years.  “They want to see an authentic representation of Indian daily life on the big screen, and therefore even suggested the theme and the storyline for Mayfair,” says Blecher.

With its chilling exploration of urban gang lands and organised crime syndicates, the movie is making waves at film festivals around the world, including in the UK and Australia.

Mayfair tells the story of prodigal son Zaid Randera (Ronak Patani) who returns home to Mayfair in Johannesburg, where his overbearing father Aziz (Rajesh Gopie) — a thriving import-export businessman and occasional money launderer and loan shark — is facing death threats.

Zaid has been unfairly dismissed from his job as an aid worker, and on his return he finds himself living in the shadow of his father and his dodgy dealings. When a murderous rival gang threatens the family’s business, Zaid is forced back into the life he had hoped to leave behind.

Mayfair follows on from the recent success of Indian stories set in SA, including Material, Keeping up with the Kandasamys and Broken Promises.

“It’s great to be adding this film to the list of stories for the big screen about Indian South African experiences. It was also really gratifying to work with an authentic and impressive cast who have brought so much depth to the story,” says Blecher.

Gopie, who plays Aziz, is a well-known SA Indian actor, comedian, writer and voice artist who has appeared in television series such as Generations and Zero Tolerance, and is best known for his role in SA’s highest-grossing film of 2017, Keeping up with the Kandasamys, a comedy about a long-standing rivalry between two families, the Kandasamys and the Naidoos.

Jalaal, a shady businessman and long-standing rival of the Randera family, is played by Jack Devnarain, who has performed in numerous TV and film productions, including the heist thriller 31 Million Reasons. Devnarain describes his character as “a puppet-master dealing in money, power and blood”.

“The film explores similar themes to the current Saif Ali Khan-headed thriller Sacred Games, the first Indian Netflix Original web series, which has proved to be a game-changer in the Indian entertainment scene,” says Helen Kuun, MD of Indigenous Film Distribution.

Blecher likens Mayfair to The Godfather. “In The Godfather mafia families and the Irish who settled in New York earlier than the new arrivals, the Italians, are at each other’s throats. Mayfair deals with similar issues in different circumstances and different places, but the contexts are the same,” she says.