Keeping Up with the Kandasamys is a local film that proved to be incredibly popular at our local box office. Despite the film only being released in a handful of cinemas across KZN and Gauteng, it somehow went on to top the per theatre intake of Hollywood blockbusters and maintained its position in the top 10 for several weeks. So, while it might not have caused much if a splash outside of its designated target market, is the film any good?
And the answer to that question essentially depends on whether you are part of the film’s niche audience or not. The situational humour and characterizations all depend on whether you understand and connect with its social relevance or not. To an outsider not familiar with the culture of the South African Indian population, this is a film that comes across as incredibly silly, unimaginative and frustrating, however if you can connect with the culture, you will likely find it funny and insightful, even if the film tries to make an exaggeration of its realities.
Keeping up with the Kandasamys focuses on the lives of two Indian families, neighbours living in Chatsworth, Durban. Despite the families being traditionally close with each other and the parents being high school friends, they have had different successes financially which has ended up setting them apart. While the rest of the family members get along with their neighbours, the deeply traditional mothers, Jennifer Kandasamy (Jailoshini Naidoo) and Shanti Naidoo (Maeshni Naicker) cannot tolerate each other and form the centre of the feuding families.
Taking its inspiration from Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, the eldest kids of both families, Prishen Naidoo (Madhushan Singh) and Jodi Kandasamy (Mishqah Parthiephal) fall in love and when the two mothers find out about this, they set up a plan to sabotage their kids romance, while inevitably bringing them closer together and resurrecting the wounds from the past. The story is far from original and unapologetically copies from other movies in telling its story. What sets it apart is purely the fact that this time, it is told in a way that resonates strongly with a minority population group. The characters, while at times becoming gross exaggerations, behave in ways that certainly make light of certain aspects of the culture.
In terms of production, don’t expect too much from the film as the small budget certainly shows in the relatively poor cinematography and use of small-scale locations. Whereas the story draws strongly on Shakespeare and Indian culture, the direction from Jayan Moodley takes inspiration from Bollywood, with its reliance on exaggerated comedy, melodrama and deep pockets of emotion. The effect doesn’t always pay off or feel as accomplished as its northern hemisphere counterparts, but capably accomplishes telling the story without isolating non-Bollywood fans too much. A lot of what makes it more accessible is due to the fact that, final scene aside, the film doesn’t have any needless breakout and lengthy dance scenes. Also with the story coming in at little over 90 minutes, it tells its tale without the typical lengthy setups that form part of that genre.
As for the acting, again you’re not going to find anything exceptional in this film. Naidoo and Naicker both play a little too strongly to stereotype and rely a lot on that aforementioned exaggerated melodrama rather than nuance and subtlety. It adds to the film’s humour, though also comes across sloppy at times. While the two female leads at least exhibit a broad range of emotions with their performances, the rest of the cast lacks any form of emotional diversity and there is a general lack of chemistry among the cast, especially Singh and Parthiephal as the two lovebirds who fall victim to the maternal meddling.
Keeping up with the Kandasamys is definitely not a film for all viewers. Few movies cater to such a niche audience as much as this film does. Whether you will enjoy this film is largely dependent on whether you fit its narrow demographic or not. Either way, it’s refreshing to see a movie that does cater to this often forgotten part of the South African viewing audience that is not a foreign Bollywood movie. Hopefully, it is a sign of things to come and we will get to not just see more of these film’s being made, but see an improvement in production and acting quality too. If you are familiar with its demographic Keeping up with the Kandasamys is a must-see. For everyone else, there are several other DVDs out this month to watch instead.
Last Updated: June 19, 2017