Award-winning director Sara Blecher and writer Neil McCarthy’s South African gangster movie Mayfair opens with a thought-provoking scene in which aid worker Zaid (British actor Ronak Patani, sporting a solid Johannesburg Indian accent) raids an aid camp warehouse to “liberate” supplies that the charity concerned is just leaving to rot so that he can distribute them to those in need himself. The act of mercy gets him fired and sent back to his equally chaotic home in Mayfair, Johannesburg.
Mayfair is a former majority-Indian neighbourhood that has become a haven for migrants from across the African continent, particularly Somalia. A place where right and wrong take a back seat to expediency. If there’s something you want, you take it or you will die waiting as if you’re “on the list” for an RDP house.
And Zaid’s dad, Aziz, (Rajesh Gopie, Swartwater’s Jeffrey Nasser) has elbowed his way to the top of the system with ruthless efficiency. He’s an import-export business owner whose veneer of respectability hides his ruthlessness as a money launderer, loanshark and crimelord.
His truly respectable and moral son Zaid might have wanted to escape the long shadow of his dad’s corruption, but his actions at the camp make it clear that he’s already edging into darkness himself. And his moral choices will become even more complicated as violence threatens his family when his dad’s latest deal with Somali gangsters goes sideways.
The featured cast includes SA greats like Warren Masemola, Wayne van Rooyen and Jack Devnarain who’ve all become household faces thanks to their beloved soapie characters. The mix of acting talent and a fascinating look into a little-seen part of South African society had Mayfair playing to sold-out audiences when it debuted in London.
Sara has said that Mayfair echoes many of the themes in the gangster classic The Godfather (1972) but being a female director “had a huge impact on how violence is portrayed”. So expect shoot-outs to have a far more realistic personal impact than generally seen in this “tough guy” genre.