Portrait of Fietas, with heart

ON the road again: Yusuf (Joey Rasdien), Hendrik (Schalk Bezuidenhout) and Cassim (Riaad Moosa), in a scene from New Material. Photograph courtesy Times Live.

SOMETIMES WHEN YOU think your dream opportunity has finally presented itself, you’re rudely given to understand that the universe has a whole different narrative plotted for you. The sequel to Craig Freimond’s 2012 film Material, called New Material, released nationally on 26 November. It will have you reaching for the tissues, even if you did not know Fietas or Fordsburg in the 1950s. Even if you are not Muslim.

Cassim Kaif (Riaad Moosa) comes of an ordinary South African Muslim upbringing in the so-called ‘rag trade’ in Fordsburg, just on the edge of the Johannesburg CBD. Only, his dreams are nurtured by his ability to make people laugh. A lot. And the thought of maintaining a fabric shop in the Oriental Plaza has been filed away. Now Cassim is married. He has a daughter. And his priorities have shifted as has his vision expanded to national horizons. Even if he is still living with his parents, played with astuteness by Ebrahim Vincent and Denise Newman respectively.

A tale of loss and old snaps, of cheese samoosas and the shallowness of social media where sponsors think they can muscle their way into material beyond their ken, New Material is more than a mix of freshly funny and tired cliched self-deprecating jokes about a community. Replete with Trevor Noah- and Gupta jibes, it is about all the layers of stuff that makes a community, a community. The disparity between rich and poor is ramped to the fore, in ways that are threaded through with a yellow Volkswagen beetle, fried chicken nuggets, old cars with battery issues and fart jokes.

But there is a hand of great skill in all of this: Like Alon Zingman’s Netflix series Shtisel, New Material is crafted with internal wisdom about a community and external savvy about the construction of a tale that holds an audience. It offers a frisson of The Kiss of the Spiderwoman and a slice of “forced removal” narrative like that underpinning Sophiatown or Fiddler on the Roof.

It is, however, the triad of Moosa, Rasdien and Schalk Bezuidenhout as Hendrik Potgieter from Boksburg, who has some hilarious Martial Arts moves, that give this film its inimitable deadpan edge and irresistible charm. It allows juvenile jokes made famous by Rowan Atkinson to tingle with newness. And in this way, it fits the trope of stories that examine who a clown really is, behind his make-up and funny antics.

This feisty film offers deep and clever insight into what it means to be a stand-up comic in the harsh and messy world, in spite of, or in tandem with, strong religious values. It celebrates South African idiosyncrasy with great fondness and sensitivity, but has the internal knowledge that allows it to laugh at itself. Your tears will be ones of laughter as well as empathy.

New Material is directed by Craig Freimond and features a cast headed by Carishma Basday, Schalk Bezuidenhout, Vincent Ebrahim, Rajesh Gopie, Riaad Moosa, Denise Newman, Zakeeya Patel and Joey Rasdien. It is written by Craig Freimond and Riaad Moosa. Produced by Ronnie Apteker and Robbie Thorpe, it features creative input by Chris Letcher (music), Kabelo Thathe (cinematography), Megan Gill (editing) and Sue Steele (production design). Release date in cinemas nationally: 26 November 2021.

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