1 December, 2022


‘Lucky’: A Moving South African Film About The Transforming Society

By Laksiri Fernando

Dr. Laksiri Fernando

I first thought of watching the movie on NITV (National Indigenous Television – Australia) last night (18 May 2017), because ‘Lucky’ was also my pet name, as a child. But when I was watching, it turned out to be quite a learning experience as it was about post-apartheid South Africa. One exceptional observation was that there was no ‘white’ to be seen. The reason is not any ‘apartheid’ on the part of the author/director, Avie Luthra, but the context is a remote Zulu village and a provincial town.

The Story

Lucky is a ten-year old Zulu boy (performed by Sihle Dlamini) who wants to pursue schooling in the town after his mother dies of a terrible sickness. He was very keen in learning English. Perhaps this was his mother’s wish inculcated in Lucky’s mind. He is left with little money and an address in the town of his uncle (mother’s brother). Money was sufficient to get a ride to town. The address was helpful to locate the uncle’s ramshackle apartment.

What pictures throughout the movie is still prevailing poverty or hardship and underdevelopment with human relations which have become almost inhuman. The last ailment is however not the trait of the young boy, Lucky, with immense enthusiasm and kindness to others. That is the hope that any transforming society has for the future.

Uncle does not have even a cassette player in his apartment. Lucky’s urge is to listen to a message that his mother has left in a cassette tape before she died in a hospital in town. In the dilapidated apartment building, there is an old Indian lady, Padma, quite a character in the whole film. In seeing the struggle of this old grandma, Lucky’s heart also melts. He fetches the lady drinking water. That is how the relationship starts. At the same time, he has the pragmatic urge to use her cassette player to listen to his mother’s message. This is fulfilled although Padma was naturally suspicious of the ‘black boy’ and doesn’t want him to come closer. Her antipathy is also governed by the age-old notions of ‘untouchability’ of the Hindu caste system.

The episodes in this regard are quite humorous nicely acted by Jayashree Basvaraj as Padma.

Mother’s Message

In the cassette message, mother says, Lucky’s father is dead. She has apparently given enough money to the uncle, sufficient for Lucky to attend school which uncle vehemently denies. That is how the quarrel begins between the uncle and the nephew. They themselves facing hardships, uncle’s new partner is more vicious than the uncle. Lucky goes after the old lady for solace, which becomes a nuisance to her. At the same time, her heart starts to melt. He follows her to a restaurant which the old lady frequents to have meals. The young Indian woman who owns the restaurant throws a new vision to the story.

‘Is he a nuisance?’ she asks. ‘This is new South Africa, we should be more tolerant,’ she advises Padma.

The restaurant-lady also reveals that carers of orphans can get a handsome grant from the government now to look after them. This is a new welfare policy after Apartheid. This strikes Padma’s imagination, not because of money, but because there is now a viable avenue to help Lucky. Padma also has a story of her own which is revealed to Lucky later in explaining the pictures of a family photo album. She has had a handsome, but a stubborn son like Lucky, whose story is not completely revealed in the film. It is not important. What is important is this lonely lady receives motherly affection from Lucky although belonged to a different race. This was not possible in the strictly segregated apartheid South Africa.

After receiving a government grant, Padma sends Lucky to a good school, but not for so long. The uncle intervenes, greedy of the government grant. He with his partner lady, even physically attacks Padma to get hold of the custody of Lucky or rather the government grant. Her hand is cut. Lucky flees the situation and becomes a vagabond for a while. This part of the film perhaps is aiming at showing the still prevailing deprived conditions in South Africa however with emerging hopes and progress. The role of the police and the government officers are depicted in favourable image. The rule of law is emerging. Yet, some unruly behaviour of gangsters continues. South Africa still is a society in transition.

Looking for Farther

After finding Lucky again, Padma takes Lucky to his home village in search of roots and solutions, on her own expense. Now she is closely enmeshed with this boy’s fate. What is revealed during the visit is the visit of Lucky’s father to the village recently who is apparently a special pastor now performing burial rituals in a distant suburb. Did Lucky’s mother lie to him in the cassette message that he was dead? It is an enigma in the story. Padma now realising her last days, wanted to handover the boy to his father. They find him, but he denies the fatherhood. His story is different. He claims that Lucky’s mother was pregnant when they met and became wedded. But is that a reason to deny responsibility for this young boy?

‘Denial of responsibility’ is a common ailment of a conflict-ridden society. Lucky questions it. All are enmeshed in terrible conflicts, internally and externally. ‘Why do you earn money by singing hymns to the dead?’ He questions his apparent father. Pastor is also confused. He says, ‘dead is our only console.’ ‘Do we meet them after our death?’ Lucky asks. Pastor assures that it is the case, if they are good, and repeats that ‘your mother was a good woman.’ This is apparently an indigenous belief in South Africa and in many countries.

Still there is no resolution to the boy’s fate. Padma goes to the extent of selling her much-treasured gold jewellery and offering the whole wealth to Lucky. ‘My days are numbered,’ she says. Lucky doesn’t want to take her money, however. They were staying at a small hotel during the journey. Lucky finally decides to leave the kind grandma and knocks at the step-father’s door. Who knows, he must be lying! He must be my father! It was a taxi driver who told Lucky once that ‘elders often lie, mostly for their survival.’ Lucky understands.

The film ends with an optimistic scene: the pastor opening the door and taking care of Lucky. He gives a glass of milk on Lucky’s request. Lucky wants more sugar. Daddy warns, ‘too much sugar is not good.’ Now they are united.

An Assessment

I have seen many good films on NITV, but this is one of the best. The story of losing/missing mother or father must be (or must have been) common to many indigenous youngsters in Australia and elsewhere. That must be why the National Indigenous Television (NITV) has selected it. It is also a universal theme among the poor. Lucky however never gives up. It might be an excellent inspiration for any youngster to follow Lucky, whatever the circumstances.

I understand that this was first released in July 2012 in South Africa and have several international awards to its credit now. The dialogues of the film are in Zulu, Hindi and English with necessary English subtitles and there is a possibility that I got some dialogues or episodes inaccurate, for better or worse. The film runs for 100 minutes with soothing music, I understand by Philip Miller. Avie Luthra should be immensely congratulated for this excellent story and production.

See a Trailer here

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