Last month I was offered the amazing opportunity to watch a screener of Free State, and published my review at the beginning of this one. Set in mid-70s South Africa the film revolves around an interracial relationship that would have been illegal due to anti-miscegenation laws of that time.
In addition to that I was also able to interview members of the cast and crew via email, with consequent installments of “Free State of Mind” being released in the following days. Up first is a Q&A with Terwadkar Rajiv, who produced the film alongside Piet De Jager and Sallas De Jager.
When many people think of South Africa and racism their minds immediately go to Nelson Mandela and apartheid. What do you think their reaction will be to Free State, which focuses on relations between White people and South Asians, instead of Black people?
Apartheid was one of the dark patches of South Africa, no doubt about that! When South Africa got independence and Nelson Mandela became the President most of the people were thinking – what will be the future of South Africa? Will whites be kicked out of the country? The way things happened clearly shows that all ethnic groups started living towards one nation, South Africa!
Although there are stories during Apartheid where Indians and blacks were tortured, beaten up or even killed by the Police or Army; some whites used to treat Indians & Blacks respectfully! There are so many stories from Apartheid which prove that inter-racial relationships and friendships existed before 1994.
Free State is a film which focuses on the relationship between Jeanette (Afrikaans White Girl) and Ravi (Handsome Indian man). This also beautifully shows the motherly relationship between Zulu maid Maria and Jeanette, who she raised as her own daughter, making it truly cross cultural and crossing ethnic boundaries.
When we screened Free State in Los Angeles during the Pan African Film Festival where 95% of the audience was black, they all enjoyed & loved the film! They all liked Jeanette’s family and especially Maria played by Leleti Khumalo. They all liked the inter-racial relationship and acceptability from the parents from both sides, even though it was considered as crime during those days.
Considering all these positive responses, I am sure the film will give a new and positive perspective towards South Africa, a Rainbow Nation!
The breathtaking South African landscape is heavily featured throughout the film. Besides being just a beautiful place to live, how else were you intending the country to be seen outside of its borders?
The intention is to change the stereotyping of ethnic groups from Apartheid and show open and vibrant South Africa which accepted inter-racial relationships during those days.
As a love story the couple is obviously the core of Free State. What drew you to Govender and Breytenbach as the leads?
Since this is a Romeo & Juliet story, we were obviously looking for two beautiful looking leads! Andrew Govender being Mr. South Africa in 2012, Sallas (the director) and I coincidentally agreed on him to be the lead after going through a screen test. Nicola Breytenbach coming from Afrikaans background and being a successful super model in USA was a straight and easy choice for Sallas.
Besides calibre, I sometimes give preference to friends! Andrew was in touch with me during the Indian International Film Festival of South Africa, which was arranged by my company. I liked his attitude! Similarly, Nicola was in touch with Sallas. They knew each other and had been thinking of working together for some time. This was the best opportunity to fulfill that!
In many ways Free State can be summed up as being a tragic love story. Was there every any other ending in mind for the film?
There was a quick discussion over a different ending, but we never really seriously considered it.
In more recent events Free State won the Best Director Award at the Luxor African Film Festival in Egypt which, as you can see by the poster far up above, is only one of many with possibly more to come.
Tune in tomorrow to find out more about the preparation that Nicole Breytenbach, one of Free State‘s two leads, went through for her role.