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| October 20, 2019

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South African hit comedy MATERIAL released. PPSF Interviews Star Riaad Moosa

South African hit comedy MATERIAL released. PPSF Interviews Star Riaad Moosa
Howard Gorman

MATERIAL received it’s European premiere last week at The London Film Festival. Written and directed by Craig Freimond, the film is set in Johannesburg, and stars stand-up comic Riaad Moosa as Cassim, a dutiful Muslim son who works with his traditionalist father (Vincent Ebrahim, star of The Kumars at No. 42) in the declining family-run textile store. Cassim has a secret desire to hone his skills as a stand-up comedian, material he knows he is not supposed to be working with as he is expected to take over the family business. No sooner does his father find out, suddenly life is no laughing matter any longer.

Last Thursday the film was screened with both the main cast and crew in attendance and as Riaad was only in the country for a short stay we had to get hold of him for a quick chat.

I have read that you were approached by producer Ronnie Apteker as he loves stand-up and thought your story of being both a doctor and a comedian would make for a great story. What did you think of the idea when he first approached you?

I didn’t focus too deeply on this. I was still doing my internship in Johannesburg at that particular time. I was more concerned with how I was going to wake up for the following morning’s ward rounds.

The whole process took seven years. Why on earth did it take so long to come up with the final product?

We type really slowly. Also, numerous other projects were completed over that period of time. Craig did many movies, I worked as a doctor, performed at the Edinburgh Fringe festival, appeared on a number of television sketch comedy shows, did two very large SA stand-up comedy tours, produced 2 stand-up comedy DVDs, got married, had two kids…blah blah. Material was something that we nurtured over time. I think that shows in the final product. Remember, when Ronnie had the idea, I was still doing medicine…with comedy purely as a hobby.

You have said that the film “moves away from the general narrative about Muslims – terrorism, war, misogyny”. Obviously this is a breath of fresh air and you’ve even had intelligent people say things like “I just realised Muslims are people like everyone else”. What are your views on the movies being put out at the moment with this “general narrative” you mention?

It does support a skewed perception of Muslims in general. I think the onus is on us to provide different and more balanced points of view.

If you look at movies, Muslims have taken over from the Russians. During the Cold war, the Russians were shown to be the “evil” ones.

As the story is based somewhat on you, would you say the character Cassim is pretty much a similar kind of guy?

The only real similarity is that we both respect the religion and community. Our aim is therefore not to break the shackles of cultural suppression and cross the line in a dramatic fashion, but more to move “the line” by attempting new things within a framework of sensitivity and respect for tradition. I find that if you cross the line dramatically, you’re less likely to change perceptions. If you introduce certain things insidiously and with respect, you are more likely to change people’s views more often.

As far as my personal story goes – very different. My parents were generally supportive of everything I did; as long as I was honest and respectful.

How easy/hard did you find it to play the character? Did you find yourself slipping back into “yourself”, particularly when doing the stand-up sections?

Yes. I’ve done many of these jokes in a Capetonian accent for many years. Suddenly, I had to do the same material in a Joburg Indian accent. It was a challenge and I did slip up from time to time.

How much of the stand-up material in the film is actually your own? Had you tried and tested it on audiences before putting it in the script?

Most of the stand-up in the movie is reworked from my personal stand-up  Some of the stand-up was written specifically for the movie – Zoo Lake, Pakistani head massage, legacy of apartheid etc. I did try some of the new gags out, but most of the jokes only work within the context of the story.

How much of the actual film is improvisation? Did you think improvisation helped to give the film a more natural/realistic feel to the whole film?

Craig was very open to improvisation, especially with the comedic scenes. The drama was more structure, but the comedy was always modified. We were constantly coming up with new lines throughout the shoot. Craig allowed us the freedom to play, as long as the story points weren’t affected. Some scenes were improvised in its entirety.

You have a number of conflicts with Vincent Ebrahim who plays your father in the film. How did you approach these scenes? Did you practice them a lot beforehand with him to create that feeling of conflict or did you go at it a bit like boxers waiting in their training rooms before a fight, keeping your distance?

Vincent made those scenes. I just tried very hard to be in the moment and react to his powerful performances with truth and sincerity. I was in my own head for most of those scenes, trying very hard to hold onto the emotions.

The movie has been very successful both nationally and internationally, being shown at many festivals. Have you been approached for any new roles since the movie was released?

I was approached to play Ahmed Kathrada in the LONG WALK TO FREEDOM movie based on the autobiography of Nelson Mandela. The movie will be released some time next year.

Surely the success of Material must have made you want to get back writing again. Do you have any scripts up your sleeves?

I’m keen to get back to stand-up for the moment. I’d like to perform in the UK more often. Their comedy circuit is the best in the world.

You’ve left the doctor part of your life behind. Would you like to go back to that at any stage or is it just not possible to work both into your timetable?

Medicine is very important to me. It’s my intention to do both medicine and comedy. I have NO cohesive plan on how I’m going to make that work, but that’s the plan…

Material is currently doing the rounds at numerous Film Festivals, making the official selection at the World Film Festival in Montreal, the Busan International Film Festival and BFI London Film Festival this year. Take a look at the trailer below and be sure to find out where you can catch the film at the official website. Write this down in your diary for the time being: Material will be screened at Film Africa on Friday the 2nd of November at 6.15pm at the Hackney Picturehouse.


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