Cape Town actor promotes his city to Bollywood filmmakers
Written by Yazeed Kamaldien
Cape Town actor Mehboob Bawa, a star of the latest Leon Schuster comedy opening at cinemas countrywide this weekend, has his eyes set on making his own feature film.
In ‘Schuks! Pay Back the Money!’, Bawa plays an “enterprising traffic cop” who takes home a missing rugby Currie Cup trophy to his wife who ends up making curry in it (ha ha ha).
Schuster’s film is described as a “riotous journey… to create a documentary film that shows South Africa in a positive light”. It also features a “series of candid camera gags” which sees the legendary comic actor beaten up quite a bit.
Closer to home, Bawa is working with a screenwriter on a feature film, ‘Bhai’s Café’, about gentrification in Woodstock. His wife’s company Razia Bawa Productions is making the film.
Bawa says the film is about an Indian corner shop owner who challenges major developers buying up entire blocks of property in Woodstock.
This reflects the reality of what has been happening over the last few years in lower-income parts of this suburb near the city, ensuring closures of landmark cafes and introducing shifts in the long-standing communal spirit of the area.
“This story is synonymous with Cape Town but it is also global,” says Bawa.
“Wherever my wife and I traveled we would find an Indian corner shop. We thought it would be cool to highlight that shop. So our film is about the corner café that is an institution.
“It is about the Patel family coming up against a property developer, but Bhai (the shop owner) doesn’t want to sell. It also has a love story angle, so there’s a lot of drama and tension.”
Bawa is yet to decide if he will play a lead role in the film or step behind the camera as film director.
Working behind-the-scenes would not be unfamiliar to Bawa anyway, as he has for the last few years been working as a line producer with Film Ad.
The latter is a local production company that facilitates Bollywood filmmaking in Cape Town.
It is currently working with Bollywood film director Vikram Bhatt and his stars on a feature called Love Games.
“A Bollywood producer comes in and says they want to shoot in Cape Town. We source locations, book crew, accommodation, transport, sort visa applications, from beginning to end,” says Bawa.
He says along with his Film Ad partners Nizam Allie, Noorie Hassan and Aleem Allie they have successfully lobbied for Cape Town to become a narrative element in some Bollywood films.
“Over the last few years that has happened. It means they (film crews) stay here longer,” says Bawa.
He says the production company making Love Games has already made 15 films in Cape Town over the last 12 years, using the city as a location to double up for Dubai, French towns and even Russia.
“We work on about four to five Bollywood films a year. Directors that I have spoken to say Cape Town is like heaven on earth. It’s a similar reason why Hollywood comes here to make films,” says Bawa.
“Plus we have the infrastructure and world class crew.”
Apart from acting and working on Bollywood films as a line producer, Bawa has kept romantics company for more than a decade on local radio stations.
As the well-known Love Doctor, first on KFM radio and now with ‘Smile Love Songs’ on Smile radio station, Bawa plays heart-melting songs every night to an audience interested in that sort of thing.
And it seems Bawa was destined to be the Love Doctor as his name means ‘the beloved’ in Urdu, an Indian language he understands.
It was also perhaps foresight from his paternal grandfather to name him after Indian film director Mehboob Khan who made ‘Mother India’, the first Indian film nominated for an Oscar award.
“I always say it’s thanks to my dad’s dad that I was destined to be in the film business,” says Bawa.
As if all of this is not enough for a hard working freelancer, Bawa also just this month wrapped up filming a TV series for SABC1.
“It’s a boxing drama called Jab, written by a fellow Livingstone High schoolmate Paul Johnson,” he says.
“I play a doctor and that goes on SABC in early 2016.”