Mehboob Bawa ‘The Love Doctor’ chats about “Bhai’s Cafe”

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Mehboob Bawa

Mehboob Bawa is an actor, writer, producer, MC, radio, and TV presenter as well as a voice artist and inspirational speaker. He was named by his late grandfather after a well known Indian Film Director, Mehboob Khan.

After matriculating from Livingstone High School he actively pursued a career in the entertainment industry. His professional career started at the South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC) in Johannesburg as a TV presenter for Topsport. Thereafter he appeared in many TV commercials and started his professional acting career as well. Upon returning to Cape Town he worked as an anchor on the television shows Good Morning South Africa and Video C.

His radio career includes working at The Voice of the Cape, P4 now Heart FM, KFM, Smile 90.4FM and currently at Magic 828AM. He is also a Bollywood and film fundi, having written for The Star, The Cape Times and other media publications. He and his colleagues at Film Ad line produce many of the Bollywood films that are shot in Cape Town and other parts of South Africa.

He has played Ahmed Kathrada in Goodbye Bafana.

Recently he and his wife Razia have produced their first feature film, Bhai’s Cafe, under the banner of Razia Bawa Productions, in which he plays the title role of Bhai or Mr. Patel. The film was released Valentine’s Day and was honored to be the closing screening at the Durban International Film Festival.

He believes it is important to inspire others, follow one’s passion and in that way live your best life.

Welcome to TV Series Hub. Since a lot of our readers are based in the US, how would you introduce yourself?

I’m a South African Actor, Radio and TV Presenter, Producer, Director, Writer, Voice Artiste. In fact I wear many caps in the entertainment industry.

Already being named after a well-known director, when did you realize this was going to be where you spend your entire life at?

Yes, my late Grandfather, Ebrahim Ahmed Bawa named me after Mehboob Khan, the director of Mother India, the first Indian film to be nominated in the Best Foreign Film category at the Oscars and I ended up in the entertainment industry. From a young age, probably 3 or 4, I was already drawn to films and watched both Bollywood and Hollywood films. My grandparents and parents took me and my siblings every week. I used to listen to music with my grandfather as well. I knew at that young age that I wanted to be an actor.

There is a notion of a career in the entertainment industry not being a ‘real career’. Your life is a testament to that being false. How did you get your break?

Indian families tend to be conservative and often children are “guided” to study medicine or law. The Arts is not seen as a “real” career, as you say. I also felt at times, as I struggled with career choice, that I should have studied something to “fall back on” if my career wasn’t successful. But I was happy that my parents accepted my choice to be an actor and develop my skills in the entertainment industry and supported my decision. I got my “break” in 1989 when I moved from Cape Town to Johannesburg and auditioned for the South African Broadcasting Corporation who were looking for sports presenters. I got the job and then started working as an actor in TV commercials. The journey was fraught with challenges and still is. But I used the opportunity to learn about television and film and all the facets of the industry. I started working as a cameraman on TV series, producing and directing corporate videos, voicing commercials, conceptualizing, scripting and producing radio commercials. I joined the radio industry as a presenter in 1995 and have worked for many radio stations. The moniker of The Love Doctor was born at one of the stations where I presented a Love Songs show for 9 years and has stuck. 

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Mehboob Bawa on the set of Bhai’s Cafe

The work that goes behind the scenes is often forgotten, what has been your ritual or routine for continuous growth in your craft? Who has been your inspiration?

I’m a film buff and use any opportunity to watch as many films as possible. So I learn in this way, from acting to writing and direction. Also listening to other experienced radio presenters and learning from them. There is no one person who is my inspiration in the industry, but I’ve learnt from the best. 

You have had stints as a television presenter, an anchor, a radio presenter among others. How has the flexibility and experience in several different yet similar roles helped you in your career?

I’ve always been drawn to different aspects of the industry. I believe it’s important to always try to reinvent yourself and strive to tackle different roles in the industry. It has shaped me and given me more opportunities.

Being a Bollywood buff, what is your favorite aspect of a Bollywood movie? How do you think South Africa can attract more Bollywood movies being shot here?

I’ve always been drawn to different types of cinema but in my early years I grew up with watching Indian films, later referred to as Bollywood films. I loved the romantic aspect and the fact that most were family affairs. These films had it all; romance, drama, action, comedy, songs. In later years I discovered more serious “arthouse” Indian films and enjoyed them too. Currently Bollywood content has matured greatly with some very intelligent films, aside from the regular ones that still showcase the larger than life characters filled with glitz and glamour. 

The South African government agencies like the Department of Trade and Industry which create the rebates and incentives for foreign filmmakers need to consider that most Bollywood films do not have the budgets of their Hollywood or European counterparts. Incentives need to be created that will entice them to film more in South Africa. Despite the lack of incentives, Bollywood films still shoot in South Africa and specifically Cape Town. They love the look and feel that locations in the Cape offer them, The city has doubled for many a foreign city and we have the sea, mountains and other locations in close proximity to one another. Many a Bollywood filmmaker has described Cape Town as “heaven on earth”. But we are losing out to other countries with incentives that work for Bollywood.

Your latest project – Bhai’s Cafe – has recently hit theatres (on Valentine’s Day). What has the reaction from fans and critics been like?

We are truly blessed with some amazing reviews from senior and respected members of the Arts communities and critics alike. All who have watched the film, now on circuit, or at the festival screenings we did last year, are unanimous in their response. They all love the film and identify with the key themes in the film. The most common response has been that when they leave the cinema, they do so with a smile on their face.

For those who aren’t aware of the movie, how would you pitch it to our readers?

Bhai’s Cafe focuses on “family, urban gentrification and romance with a Bollywood touch” and was filmed entirely on location in Cape Town. Bollywood comes to Wynberg, in Bhai’s Cafe, as this cornerstone of the community comes under threat from a ruthless property developer. At the same time Bhai’s daughter is swept off her feet by the property magnate’s son in true Bollywood fashion, setting up a battle of epic comic proportions as Bhai rallies the community to save the Cafe, the neighbourhood and a blossoming love affair.

Gentrification is one key topic tackled in the movie. With the recent developments in South Africa, how important is this movie in portraying it? What message is it giving to the audience?

Gentrification was in the news in 2019, specifically, as a result of the demonstrations by the community of the Bo Kaap, an area steeped in the heritage and cultural aspects of  Cape Town, who took umbrage at the fact that property developers were removing buildings that had great significance in the greater context of the city’s history, for financial gain by building high rise modern apartments. But gentrification has been rife for many years worldwide. When we met with the American actor Danny Glover last year he commended us for tackling this issue which he says exists in various cities globally. 

We tackle an important issue and do not skirt around it as it is the core focus of the film, but we do so in an entertaining manner surrounding this issue with other aspects of life, presented in a palatable manner endearing audiences to the subject matter. Audiences will rally for the shopkeeper who is a metaphor for communities under siege by property developers and will understand that it is important to preserve our heritage. While development is important, it shouldn’t be at the expense of our heritage.

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From Left: Maynard Kraak (Director), Razia Rawoot (Producer) & Mehboob Bawa (Actor)

The film has also been inspired based on your personal story. Would you share that story?

The film was inspired by my childhood memories of growing up in a corner cafe owned by my family, but also having interacted with so many other families who had their own corner shops. I wanted to celebrate the life of the cafe owner or shopkeeper. The corner cafe that I remember was a safe haven, a place where children could gather and play under the watchful eye of the shopkeeper and his family who would take them as their own. The shopkeeper knew his customers by name. As our pay off line says, it’s a place where everyone is part of the family.

The film also touches on interracial relationships. How important is it to discuss such topics in a South African context?

It is very important. The film is indicative of the time we live in and is a realistic portrayal of relationships that exist currently. While it may be true that some families and the older generation may still be conservative, most people are quite open to embracing people from all walks of life into their family via relationships their children may have with others. The beauty of Bhai’s Cafe, which has been noticed by many, is that our Indian family have no issue with the fact that property developer’s son who is romancing their daughter is black. The issue is that he’s trying to buy their business. Magan Bhai himself married a coloured woman, who is shown great respect in the community and by her father in law.

Circling back to yourself, with everything under your name, what do you hope to accomplish in the coming years? 

I love the entertainment industry, especially acting and creating content. I’d love to produce more films, helping others along the way, moving into direction and definitely continuing acting. 

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Mehboob Bawa in Bhai’s Cafe

Where do you see the film industry in South Africa in the next years?

I’m really hoping that all South Africans will support local content more. There is a growth in the industry that is positive, especially with the Government departments like the DTI and the National Film and Video Foundation providing investment and rebates. But it shouldn’t stop there. They need to get involved with the distribution side as well. If films do not get the correct distribution support, a well made film may fail to reach its intended audience. Filmmakers need an opportunity to create partnerships without fearing the loss of their Intellectual Property. Audiences also have a responsibility in supporting local content. Based on current industry developments and how the support for local content has grown in recent times, I’m confident that our industry will flourish.

Thank you for joining us, with so much experience under your belt, what advice would you leave for our readers?

Reach for your dreams may seem like clichéd advice, but I truly believe that if you work at it, surround yourself with likeminded people and equip yourself with the requisite knowledge to further your goals, you can succeed and live your passion.