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 sahistory.org.za, 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.