Supported by the Gauteng Film Commission, Lucky is a drama about a 10-year-old South African orphan who leaves his Zulu village to make his own life in the city, only to find no one will help him – except a formidable Indian woman called Padma.

Lucky

The title role of Lucky is played by newcomer Sihle Dlamini, whose only previous film experience was a non-speaking role in Khalo Matabane’s State of Violence.

Winner of numerous awards – including Best Film at the Bengaluru International Film Festival and Best Crossover Film at the London Asian Film Festival – Lucky had its world premiere at the 2011 Toronto Film Festival and US premiere at this year’s Palm Springs International Film Festival.

The film covers ground rarely explored: the often fraught relationship between Africans and Indians in Africa, particularly in a country like South Africa, with its legacy of enforced apartheid division. It's a new kind of crossover.

“No-one has made a film about Africans and Indians, and especially about the long-standing racial tensions between them that exists throughout the continent,” says Avie Luthra, the film’s writer and director.

The film tells the story of 10-year-old Lucky (Sihle Dlamini), who after his mother’s death from Aids travels from his rural KwaZulu-Natal village to the city of Durban to live with his uncle Jabulani (James Ngcobo). But the uncle turns out to be a crook, a drunkard and a bully, who has stolen the money Lucky’s mother sent him for the boy’s education and neglects and abuses the boy. In the run-down tenement building where they live, an old Indian woman called Padma (Jayashree Basavra) begins to notice Lucky’s predicament.

Watch the Lucky trailer:

“The origin of the idea was always to look at the impact of racial segregation,” says Luthra. “When I lived in Durban, 10 years post-apartheid, the legacy of that regime was still very apparent. The Group Areas Act had done a thorough job of separating Africans and Indians.

“However, after apartheid, things began to change and previously ‘Indian’ apartment blocks were becoming mixed. This produced clear tensions, as Africans and Indians were finally mixing after decades of legal and economic segregation. It made me wonder what would happen to an elderly, time-worn Indian if he or she had to confront this new African presence head-on.”

Padma initially makes no bones of her distrust of African people. But she takes the boy in and, as they face up to the uncle’s attempts to terrorise them and go in search of Lucky’s father, they develop an unlikely bond.

Lucky gets thrown out:

Lucky is a labour of love,” says Luthra. “The film originates from the short of the same name completed in 2005. On its release, I was struck by the overwhelming audience reaction and felt there was a longer, more complete story to be told. Indeed, I never felt the short film was finished properly and sometimes stories do this – they keep hounding you till they eventually get out.” That short film went on to win 42 awards, as well as being nominated for a Bafta and shortlisted for an Oscar in 2007.

Luthra, who has been listed as a Star of Tomorrow by Screen International, has a background in psychiatry and medicine. He only made the transition to filmmaking in his early thirties, when he enrolled in London’s National Film and TV School.

“In 2003, I was living in rural Natal where the HIV prevalence was close to 40%,” he says. “If you drove around on weekends you would see coffins being loaded onto bakkies as funerals took place around the province. It was at one of these funerals that I saw a small 10-year-old boy weeping into the grave of his recently buried mother. It was nothing but a brief glimpse into his pain, and then it was gone. But the future of that boy struck me deeply, and made me wonder how he links into all the street children you see at traffic lights in South African cities.”

Lucky leaves his village:

“That was how the short film was born. It made a lot of ‘noise’ and became a bigger story. I wrote the feature script on spec and once it was completed, I set out to raise the budget. Fortune played a big part in putting How Town Films and Out of Africa Productions together and, needless to say, I was pretty lucky. The rest was hard work, the sheer business of reworking the story, and directing the movie to meet the demands of production.”

The title role is played by newcomer Sihle Dlamini, whose only previous film experience was a non-speaking role in Khalo Matabane’s State of Violence. Padma is played by Jayashree Basavra, who is famous in her home country of India and the granddaughter of Indian theatre icon Veeranna. James Ngcobo, who began his career in theatre before appearing in films such as A Drink in the Passage and Red dust, plays the evil uncle Jabulani.

To keep costs low, the film was shot over 26 days in Johannesburg instead of Durban, which allowed the Gauteng Film Commission to step in with support.

“My producers convinced me that Johannesburg could offer as much as Durban, and more,” says Luthra. “And in the end, I believe they were right.”

The film was also supported by the Department of Trade and Industry.

“Once wrapped, we edited for close to six months, mostly because we had no assistants or other support,” says Luthra. “It was just the editor and me doing a Final‐Cut Pro edit job in my home office while the kids played in the next room. It was slow and painstaking, but we both got to know the rushes very well. The last creative stages were done in South Africa with a meticulous sound team who were Foley artists one day, and mixers the next. And of course the music - a beautiful score ‐ was written for exclusively African instruments.”

Lucky has had a warm, if low-key, response from the critics. The Hollywood Reporter describes it as “an awards contender” that “achieves poignancy without manipulation”. Variety describes it as an “emotionally resonant portrait of contemporary South Africa …delicate and real…extraordinarily touching”. And the BBC says it is “a wonderful little gem”, a “simple but profoundly moving portrait of humanity”.

The film is produced by How Town Film Productions and Out of Africa Entertainment, with local distribution by Indigenous Film Distribution.

Lucky posterCast and crew

  • Cast: Sihle Dlamini, Jayashree Basavra, James Ngcobo, Mary Twala, Jabu Tshabalala, Magdaline le Roux and Vusi Kunene
  • Executive producer: Chris Wilmot
  • Producers: Lance Samuels and Chris Wilmot
  • Co-producers: Kathy Goll, Avie Luthra and Steve Brown
  • Associate producers: Kweku Amauah Mandela, Elliott Borkum, Thabo Motloung and Sally Thomas
  • Music by: Phillip Miller
  • Director of photography: Willie Nel
  • Editor: Josh Levinsky
  • Casting director: Moonyeenn Lee
  • Written and directed by: Avie Luthra

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