/ 27 July 2023

Big Nunu’s Little Heist: A crime comedy that ticks all boxes 

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When South African film houses say they are going to put out a comedy, we often cringe because we suspect the content will be nothing fresh, nothing new, just the same old over-the-top characters and recycled jokes. 

When asked whether a new crime comedy called Big Nunu’s Little Heist was actually funny, writer and producer Andy Kasrils paused a little and then said, “Well I hope so.”

And, yes, the movie is funny, cleverly and casually so. 

It is about a delivery man who finds himself in a kingpin’s grand scheme to pull off a heist in an infamous township. 

One way I can explain this movie is to imagine the genius of the Italian Job, minus the Mini Coopers, and the Lion King with just Rafiki, all in the hood. 

Coming from a music background, Kasrils is not too distant from the world of film. In 2011 he and director, writer and actor Akin Omotoso presented a show called The Movie Show: The Admiral And Akin Go To The Movies

“I’ve written quite a few things,” he says. “I wrote the script some years ago and got into developing it with one of the executive producers, Robbie Thorpe.”

Kasrils made it a point to know where to draw the line and let the comedy gods take over and do what they need to do, organically. 

“It is tricky with comedy because comedy is about having a tone, it’s about also being light and breezy. If you overdo the development you can lose some of that, so it is something we had to be careful with,” he says. 

“I wrote in English and the film [Big Nunu’s Little Heist] is in various vernac languages and it needed to be authentic in that way. So there was this process of while we were shooting we would make sure to get it right, together with the cast, leading us back to making sure we do not overwork the script,” Kasrils notes. 

Language is a powerful theme in the movie. In South Africa, every situation, every era and every place has its language and when the movie broke into a scene of a different time, they would sharpen their tongues and sound like that era. 

The movie is set in a township called Sgodiphola and the main character, Puntsununu (Tony Miyambo) is authentic, and he speaks the slang of the time.

There are some films that force culture and nostalgia down our throats, which makes the movie a snooze. Kasrils and the cast made sure that we feel, through language, the entire time. 

There was a subtle but epic moment when Tsonga-speaking Zigi Ndlovu, who plays Christmas Tree, was holding an umbrella made in a traditional Tsonga pattern called nceka. It’s these little details that make this movie so great. 

Prepare to be treated to some of the best colour grading you have seen in a while. The most beautiful hues of orange, red, blue and a bit of green are used.

The close-ups and the long shots were also well thought through and executed. 

“The camera angles were very important to me. I was very lucky to work with a great cinematographer, Trevor Calverley. Once we started talking through the scenes shot by shot, we were able to achieve the vision,” Kasrils says. 

The soundtrack was also well scored, adding more depth to the film, which is Kasrils’ territory. 

“I had all these ideas of which songs I am going to put in this movie, by the time we reached that point our budget was at a minimum, and licensing tracks cost a lot of money. So I had to throw out just about everything I wanted musically and made some tracks with Jah Seed and, in terms of the music score, we got very lucky.” 

Kasrils is pleased with how the movie turned out, admitting that the experience stretched him. 

“In the world of music, things happen quickly, music productions happen quickly, and it took a while to adjust to the world of film. The first phase, which was writing and the planning for the direction, were all relatively slow. Suddenly after that everything moves at light speed.” 

“The film is an entertainment piece, so I want people to … get carried away by the ride. There are underlying messages and themes, and those who have the eyes will see them,” Kasrils says. 

The film will be screened on 28 July on Netflix.