Telling child ac­tivist Val­liamma’s story to the world


IT is en­vis­aged that 2019 will be a great year for a film that is set to put the story of child mar­tyr Val­liamma Munuswami Mudliar (1898-1914) on the global map.

Val­liamma, as she is more pop­u­larly known, was 16-years-old when she took bold steps to make a state­ment against an op­pres­sive state of ex­is­tence.

The child of In­dian em­i­grants from Tamil Nadu, Val­liamma and her mother were part of a women’s protest from the Transvaal to Na­tal in 1913.

Deemed il­le­gal, they were ar­rested and sent to prison for three months. Ac­cord­ing to sahis­, Val­liamma was ill and re­fused early re­lease. She died soon af­ter her re­lease in Fe­bru­ary 1914.

Yana Pillay, a re­searcher/pro­ducer for the film – work­ing ti­tle Soul Force (a loose trans­la­tion of Satya­graha) – said his jour­ney with the story of Val­liamma started years ago, while hear­ing sto­ries of the un­sung heroes of the past be­ing shared among friends at his fa­ther’s restau­rant.

“In the late 1960s, l would lis­ten to 70 and 80-year-old pa­trons at my fa­ther’s restau­rant in Laudium speak­ing about Gandhi, Thambi PK, Val­liamma and the women of the past and their con­tri­bu­tions. It was then that I be­came an ama­teur, lay­man, type of re­searcher.”

Over the years this in­cluded re­search trips to lndia, lo­cat­ing Val­liamma’s fam­i­lies in Johannesburg and then lndia.

Pillay later re­leased his re­search through a book, Val­liamma – Child Mar­tyr. This would be­come the start of the jour­ney to­wards Val­liamma’s story reach­ing greater heights as the book in­spired two other books on Val­liamma: The Agony of Val­liamma (Aziz Has­sim, 2011) and later Soul Force (Suzanne Franco, 2018).

“The first idea for a movie came up when the Ahmed Kathrada Foun­da­tion launched the The Agony of Val­liamma in 2012… It has been a chal­leng­ing process, but Ra­jen Pillay, the chief ex­ec­u­tive of Garuda Cap­i­tal, has backed the vi­sion all the way. In­ter­est in its de­vel­op­ment is build­ing from as far afield as Lon­don, Bol­ly­wood and Hol­ly­wood, from ex­perts who be­lieve the film should be de­vel­oped to­wards an in­ter­na­tional mar­ket.”

He said movies like Black Pan­ther proved there was a grow­ing in­ter­est in the film mar­ket for orig­i­nal African and Asian sto­ries. “We be­lieve this is an op­por­tune time to tell such an im­por­tant story to the world.”

Ra­jen Pillay, who holds the seat of ex­ec­u­tive pro­ducer, said Val­liamma’s story was a for­got­ten one. “We want to get it to the fore­front be­cause it is rel­e­vant to South Africa, and glob­ally for women.

“Val­liamma was a child ac­tivist from the age of 13 to 16 and she was very much in­volved in shap­ing ideas around the im­mi­gra­tion strug­gle. These are un­told sto­ries that need to be told.

“We are tar­get­ing a global au­di­ence and have planned this as a big bud­get film, in the re­gion of a $12 mil­lion (R173m). We have pro­cured an in­ter­na­tional di­rec­tor, who is based in Los An­ge­les, and he will be com­ing to South Africa early this year.

“We plan for the film to be able to hit the Cannes Film Fes­ti­val in 2020. We al­ready have the cast se­cured with a mix of South African, Cana­dian, and In­dian ac­tors.”

He said their names would be re­leased when their con­tracts were fi­nalised. Award­win­ning French di­rec­tor Fa­bien Mar­torell, who is based in Los An­ge­les, Cal­i­for­nia, had been se­cured as lead di­rec­tor.

“To cre­ate mo­men­tum, a world­class creative and pro­duc­tion team from South Africa and Los An­ge­les was ap­pointed to fi­nalise the screen­play and pro­duc­tion con­tent to en­sure pro­duc­tion of this his­tor­i­cally sig­nif­i­cant movie starts around Au­gust 2019,” added Yana Pillay.


Val­liamma Munuswami Mudliar.

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