Bhai’s Cafe – A South African film about family, urban gentrification and romance with a Bollywood touch

Bhai’s Cafe is a labour of love for debutante film producer Razia Rawoot and her producer/actor husband Mehboob Bawa and focuses on “family, urban gentrification and romance with a Bollywood touch”.

The much-anticipated South Africa-meets-Bollywood film started life as an idea for a sitcom which the producers still intend to pursue post the release of the film.

Bhai’s Indian Corner Cafe has been an institution in the Cape Town suburb of Wynberg for more than forty years, and together with his wife, Mary, Magan Bhai Patel runs the little shop with a twinkle in his eye and an ever-present practical joke up his sleeve. But when the all-too-suave Patrick Amanzi arrives with an offer to purchase the property, with intentions of redeveloping the neighbourhood, Bhai and Mary are faced with a difficult decision which threatens to pull the family apart.

To make matters even worse, Bhai’s beautiful daughter, Rashmi, has unknowingly started dating the handsome young Patrick, and when the truth comes out and intentions are misinterpreted, the chaos that ensues starts to threaten the community too.

In the end, Bhai and his eclectic family will have to pull together and rally the community behind them if they wish to save the day and give a new-found love the chance to blossom and bloom.

Director Maynard Kraak, with a wealth of experience on the popular television series Generations, as well as films including Knysna, Sonskyn Beperk and the recently completed political thriller, Last Victims, motivated Rawoot and Bawa to pursue the idea of turning their sitcom concept into a feature film.

Maynard Kraak with Razia Rawoot and her producer/actor husband Mehboob Bawa

“That was four years ago”, says Rawoot, “then it’s been a challenging but amazing experience putting the production together. Maynard introduced us to fantastic writers, Aaron Naidoo and Darron Meyer, who worked on the screenplay separately and delivered, based on our original story, what we feel is a really wonderful script”.

Kraak was honoured to accept Razia Rawoot’s and Mehboob Bawa’s invitation to direct this poignant little gem of a film.

“It was also a personal challenge to do a film with dance and singing, something I’d never done in my twenty-year career,” says Kraak.

The film is a life-long ambition of Mehboob’s and is also a very personal story that drew inspiration from his own life, having grown up in a family that had a similar corner shop in Claremont, a cornerstone of that community.

“With the advent of retail giants appearing in local neighbourhoods replacing the convenience of the family owned and run general dealers, these bastions of the community are increasingly heading for extinction. I grew up with these very same family businesses where we would buy our bread and milk as well as the morning and afternoon newspapers, and periodical magazines. So, it’s a great shame to see them disappear from our lives, with the owners who knew everyone in the area by name, replaced by anonymous shop clerks who have no cultural investment in these communities,” says Kraak.

“In addition, Cape Town on the whole is subject to a worldwide gentrification trend that is robbing areas of their nuance and character. We see this, especially in areas close to the city centre like the Bo Kaap or Woodstock, but this is spreading throughout the city as property prices continue to spiral out of control. Thus, I believe this universal theme can be enjoyed by audiences throughout South Africa and abroad. “

The film is a commercial project with heart, a romantic dramedy with a feel-good sensibility, and a cross-cultural base with a relationship between a young Indian woman and a young Xhosa man.

“This is an onscreen romance that we have not explored before in South Africa, and rather than probe the cultural differences between the two lovers, it focuses rather on the similarities and shared values born out of a shared socio-economic background, albeit that our male lead comes from a much wealthier family. “

Siv Ngesi’s Patrick is a fan of Bollywood movies and music, participates in multiple dance sequences and even sings in Hindi.

The young heroine Rashmi, played by rising talent Suraya Rose Santos, clearly embraces the millennial mindset, without seeing any racial difference. Refreshingly, neither does Rashmi’s parents (Mehboob Bawa) and (Rehane Abrahams), nor Patrick’s father (Thabo Bopape), owner of the property development company, dwell on the racial dynamics that could have led this film down a well-trodden path.

Instead, the focus is on the struggle between the small local entrepreneur versus the successful larger property mogul; as well as the love story unfolding between their offspring.

“Part of the beauty of South Africa is our diversity. This is true within race groups too, as we also enjoy geographical diversity, including the Indian community, that may share a common heritage and Indian languages such as Hindi, yet have differences from province to province in terms of accent,
colloquialisms and slight variations in cuisine. The Patels, our hero family, are residents and native to Cape Town, and even though they are practising Hindus, Bhai and Mary are also an interracial couple, with Bhai being Indian and Mary being Coloured. This is a very common phenomenon in Cape Town, where the small Indian and much larger Coloured communities have historically been very integrated,” Kraak continues.

“If I trace my own lineage, I find that one of my great-great-grandfathers was in fact Indian. In KZN and Gauteng, the Indian communities are more homogenous, so in its own small way, Bhai’s Cafe pushes the envelope in embracing intercultural relationships.

“The further we drill down and explore our different cultures, be it racially or geographically, the more obvious the realization that we are much more similar than we are different. This was my predominant theme within the film. And this sentiment can be shared by all South Africans and the rest of the globe, as this story transcends the specificity of our story world and shines as a beacon for togetherness and unity, rather than the unfortunate worldwide trend of populism (just a euphemistic term replacing right-wing racism and fascism). We as the human race share a moral code and value system. This film shows what tolerance for, and embracing of, our cultural nuances can represent for our country. For the world. In the words of our title character BHAI, “my friends, I love you all”.