There is a moment in New Material where protagonist Cassim Kaif looks on to a group of would be colleagues taking shots and waiting to board a plane. It’s a moment that’s familiar to many of us. Longing to take the next step in career or social advancement, ready to leave constraints of family and suffocating culture behind – yet knowing that what’s in front of you is not really what you want.
And it’s moments like these that make Riaad Moosa’s second film worth it. At almost two hours it is a compilation of stock characters, over-played gags (finding oneself locked outside of a hotel room naked) and feel-good movie clichés.
But there are genuinely heartfelt moments and hilarious comedy mostly thanks to the supporting cast of Joey Rasdien and Schalk Bezuidenhout. The bit on Stevie Wonder had me choking with laughter as did the inclusion of a shady character named Shabir (Rajesh Gopie), a local mafiosi of the Chicky Lamba variety.
An opportunity was clearly missed in the portrayal of the Cassim’s wife Zulfa (Carishma Basday) as she is a painfully one-dimensional, naggy, discontent wife and the movie seems dated in its depiction of South-Asian women. Moosa and co-writer and director Craig Freimond seem unaware that boxing women into traditional roles of mother (Denise Newman), wife, and career-obsessed, obnoxious sister (Zakeeya Patel) are no longer accurate and certainly not entertaining. The representation of women alone gives the film a very 90s feel and is probably the reason why younger millennials and Gen Z cannot connect to a large part of this story.
Then again, they are obviously not Moosa’s intended audience. The former doctor from Cape Town rose to fame becoming a favorite on the South African comedy circuit in the 2000s, and these days many of his stand-up clips are shared on WhatsApp by aunties and uncles.
But it is Moosa’s awareness of said aunties and uncles that make this film endearing nonetheless. Cassim’s relationship with his father (Vincent Ebrahim) was the foundation of the first film and is also the core of New Material. There are no happy endings in families (especially brown ones) and Moosa does not shy away from the on-going complex relationship we have with our parents well into adulthood. And then there is the matter of parents aging – handled here so delicately and with such sincerity, one could easily mistake the second half of this film for a moving family drama.
Similarly, the inclusion of a plot line involving Fietas was also a high point. Fietas was the Gauteng version of District Six and was a thriving multiracial community destroyed by the apartheid government via the Group Areas Act. This reference to Fietas makes way for a thread of memory, imagination and humanity to run through New Material and I can’t help but wonder if it is these themes that Moosa should concentrate on next.