The winning exploits of legendary South African Indian golfer Papwa Sewgolum are set to be immortalised on the big screen. Cape Town-based Little L.A. Productions has announced it has begun packaging its first major feature film project, Papwa, The Making of a Legend, courtesy of a screenplay by Cape Town writer, Paul Ian Johnson.
It is the second South African feature film announced about the life of Sewgolum but the only one with a completed screenplay and the official blessing of the late golfer’s family.
Papwa Sewgolum was an illiterate Durban caddy who, having never had a golf lesson in his life, set the golf world alight in the 1960s with a spectacular series of wins against some of the world’s top players. Prevented by the apartheid government from playing against white golfers in local competition, he was assisted by a white businessman, Graham Wulff, who entered him in a series of European tour events. Using an unusual reverse-grip, Papwa racked up historic wins on the European circuit, becoming the first black South African to win an international golf tournament; the first golfer to win three Dutch Opens and the first reverse-grip golfer to win multiple titles.
Included in the 1963 Natal Open, he won, beating then South African Champion, Harold Henning. On a stormy day, because of apartheid laws, the presentation was not able to be done in the Whites Only clubhouse as it normally would have been. Pictures of Papwa receiving his trophy in driving rain caused outrage around the world, becoming one of the iconic images of the apartheid era. When Papwa beat South African grand-slam Major winner Gary Player in the 1965 Natal Open, he ignited a period of harassment and banning by the apartheid government which culminated in the withdrawal of his passport, effectively ending his golf career and livelihood.
Papwa’s story was first highlighted in the 2005 documentary, Papwa: The Lost Dream of a South African Golfing Legend, produced by Little L.A. Productions partners, Rafiq Samsodien and Joel Prince. Since then, the pair have worked closely with the late Sewgolum’s family to develop the feature film project.
“Our critical requirement was to land a screenwriter who could deliver the story as a powerful and epic sports drama,” said Samsodien. “Paul was our first choice from the start but his crowded schedule meant we had to wait a while to pin him down.”
According to Prince, it’s a wait that proved worthwhile. “Paul gave us a first draft that had us crying and a second draft that had us
cheering,” said Prince. “It speaks for itself that the script has generated immediate interest from top talent who have been invited to
Papwa Sewgolum’s son, Rajen, said the family had been emotionally overwhelmed on reading the screenplay. “Obviously, it’s a story that cuts close to the bone for our family,” he said. “But we were taken aback by the emotional, exciting way the script did justice to my
father, delivering a rousing, inspiring story that surprised and pleased us.”
Samsodien says they are in talks with a major director with interest in the script, following which they will proceed quickly to confirm
other key elements of the project.
The first African writer to make the Top 10 in Francis Ford Coppola’s American Zoetrope Screenplay Contest (and the only writer to do it twice), Johnson has quickly become one of South Africa’s most sought-after screenwriters. His first feature screenplay, The Last
Marine – an Alaska-set modern-day Western – was optioned by a Hollywood company in 2009 and is currently in development for U.S. production. A Tin of Paint, his apartheid-era feature project with Cape Town filmmaker Roy Zetisky is attached to Moonlighting Films, with Genevieve Hofmeyr producing. In addition to several local projects, he has three screenplays housed with UK production
companies, including a District Six feature film and a World War II story attached to a recent Oscar-winning producer. Johnson is currently developing a 3D animation feature with a leading Cape Town production company.
Samsodien, former Deputy Chairperson of the Cape Film Commission, is also co-producer of this year’s critically-acclaimed Asad, a coming of age fable about a boy struggling to survive in war-torn Somalia. Directed by Bryan Buckley, famed for his legendary Super Bowl commercials, Asad recently won the Best Short Narrative Award at the Tribeca Film Festival, as well as the Audience Award at the LA Film Festival.