Mahadeo Shivraj

Mahadeo Shivraj

Filmmakers in the Caribbean can forge a cinematographic identity that is unique to this part of the world.

Legendary Guyanese actor/director Mahadeo Shivraj lives that vision with every project he touches.

The Georgetown, Guyana-born-filmmaker’s Forgotten Promise is currently showing on screens at MovieTowne Port of Spain and C3 Centre San Fernando, as well as South Park Cinemas 10 also located in San Fernando.

Mahadeo Shivraj

Mahadeo Shivraj

Shivraj, who has acted in more than 90 plays and directed 30 more in both Guyana and his home base in New York City in the US, says he hopes to show, by doing, that opting for a West Indian story-telling style over Hollywood and Bollywood cliches, can be equally successful on the big screen.

“We try to pattern ourselves after Bollywood movies and we tell ourselves this is what the market wants: song and dance. It is true to an extent. I’ve heard people leave my movies and say they love it, ‘but he eh got no song and dance’, but we have move in such a way where we can establish our own stories,” Shivraj said during a WhatsApp call with the Kitcharee on Friday morning.

Too many regional film creatives hide behind the excuse “that’s what people want”, Shivraj added. He asserts that by fearlessly pursuing a different approach filmmakers can win over Caribbean audiences.

A scene from the film

A scene from the film.

“Maybe when our people see themselves being reflected in the work they will begin to realise we can do our own thing here and we doh have to be Bollywood or Hollywood. Let’s be Caribbeanwood!” he exclaimed.

The proof is in pudding. Having Forgotten Promise screened at major theatres in Trinidad is “ah big ting for me”, Shivraj said.

Set in the United States the comedic drama stars Shivraj as the Americanised Guyanese protagonist Tony Dass who finds himself in the doldrums after being put out of the marital home by his wife and as a result has become estranged from his son. Dass returns to Guyana hoping that from his past, he would find answers to his current reality, and makes a startling self-discovery about the power of the human spirit.

“When I made this film in 2014 all the movie theatres in Guyana had closed down because of piracy. I had to build a screen in an old theatre to show the movie. Now to have it screened in Trinidad is a real big thing for me. I have always gotten a lot of love from the people of Trinidad, so much so that whenever I say I’m coming so many people open their homes to me and insist I come stay with them,” an emotional Shivraj revealed.

A bittersweet moment

The spotlight is fixed firmly on Shivraj this month for good reason. Apart from his T&T cinema debut he wrapped production on his latest film Brown Sugar too bitter for me 2 – The oil dream, which takes a critical look at all the implications of the recent discovery of vast oil reserves in Guyana.

Ironically, the recent loss of his ailing brother Thanarayan “Dave” Shivraj has given a whole new personal meaning to his movie title.

“I’m the eldest, he’s the third. After a diagnosis the doctors gave him six months. He battled for two years,” Shivraj shared with an undertone of pride.

“All I can do is cherish the memories,” he continued.

“I think of those times we played together as kids and smile. I was fortunate that we all met up in Florida with our sisters and dad and I will cherish that. He wanted to come home to Guyana one last time, but the doctors said he was too weak to travel. He was a real nice fella, very simple and helpful,” he added.

Losing his brother has strengthened his resolve to continue to push back against political figures in Guyana, he says, who either don’t understand culture or don’t care enough to take action.

“I asked the (Guyanese) Culture Ministry to screen my movie for Indian Arrival Day (May 5 in Guyana) and they refused. When I think of the journey of East Indian people in this part of the world from arrival to now, I think yes we have come to a certain point, but a lot more could have been done,” he said.

Shivraj said political corruption and an inferiority complex has been the greatest hinderance to all peoples in the region.

“If you consider yourself third world, you will stay third world. I feel bad to say this, but politicians are too corrupt and that’s why we can’t move further as a people. Politicians have these big fat egos; ask anyone in India, America or anywhere else who they are and no one knows them.

“But look at Brian Lara, everybody knows him. Our sports people and artistes are the real ambassadors and until those that lead us recognise that, we will continue to move at a snail pace,” he lamented.

Shivraj isn’t waiting on any external validation, however. He has already begun preproduction on his next film project Appointment with Karma. The main characters are Guyanese with Americans in supporting roles, he revealed.

“I want to send my work up for consideration in all major film festivals this year. I know I will be competing with (American film legend) Martin Scorsese and the likes, but if you don’t take a chance, you never know what is possible. Is like playing the lotto eh, if yuh doh have a ticket yuh doh have a chance,” Shivraj concluded with a robust laugh.


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