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Stranded Pearl ready to shine on the big screen

Saturday 18 November 2023 | Written by Rashneel Kumar | Published in Entertainment, Features


After months of perfecting, the makers of feature film Stranded Pearl are ready to release the Cook Islands shot and produced movie, set to premiere at the Empire Cinema on Thursday next week.

The movie, starring Anand Naidu, a Rarotonga resident and the film’s producer, held an exclusive world premiere for sponsors and invited guests at the Empire Cinema in February.

The movie was well received, but Naidu knew it wasn’t the product he wanted wider audiences to see.

The production team went to work and, after nine months of meticulous effort, which included Naidu making eight to ten trips to New Zealand, they finally have a product they want to share with the world.

“The private screening was primarily to get all of the sponsors to see the movie and get a sense of what we would be releasing. We anticipated some feedback and comments, and they came, and we used the suggestions to create this product.

“It (premiere in February) wasn’t the final product, but it should have been close to the final movie. It was 75 per cent complete, which meant we had to go back and re-edit the music and sound, including the 5.1 surround sound. We had to ensure that the music director provided music for each character, that each character had transition scenes, and that the sound, effects, and everything else made sense, so that the audience would be engaged in the transitions from shot to shot.”

It took them about three months to get the music and sound effects right before they started working on the colour grading.

“The colour was all over the place, flashed out as too bright, so what we had to do was grade it to the right level. There were shots in the film which were at lower grade, we replaced it with higher grade shots, especially the establishment shots.”

Certain scenes, such as the fictional portrayal of the Cook Islands as a habitat for crocodiles and snakes, had to be removed and/or replaced.

Naidu says those scenes were not approved by him, but were instead put in by the director as a creative element.

“We had to go back and debate that and bring the right footage. It was more like placeholders; you want something more that could create interest like owls being replaced by lorikeets in the forest scene so that it links back to the island … the snakes and crocodiles have been taken out to give the movie a more localised presentation.

“I really wanted to make sure Cook Islands is represented well and we really brought that element of Cook Islands in the final product.”

Set against the breathtaking backdrop of Rarotonga, Stranded Pearl is a tale of drama, action, and comedy that follows a woman, played by Australian actress Kristy Wright of Home and Away fame, who discovers that her life is not all she thought it to be. When she finds herself stranded on a deserted island with a reclusive deckhand (Naidu), she is forced to confront the reality of her life and the love she thought she knew. Naidu, of Vindaloo Empire (2011) and Feeling Lucky (2016) fame, plays a character who has closed himself off from the world to hide from the pain of his past.

The 91-minute film boasts an impressive cast, including Cook Islander Stan Wolfgramm as a journalist and activist, veteran Kiwi actor Rawiri Paratene, Ray Woolf, one of New Zealand’s most celebrated entertainers, Aleisha Rose, Robert Reitano and Jagdish Punja.

Naidu says around 40 Cook Islanders worked on the production sets during the filming, which commenced in 2017 under director Ken Khan.

“We had Papatua Papatua handle all the artwork and production designs,” Naidu explains. “He’s been working behind the scenes and has done an incredible job of showcasing the real Cook Islands on screen.”

“We also had Vaine (Koteka), who did all the costume designs, makeup, props, and all the little creative touches, in addition to playing a role in the film. Then there’s (journalist) Tiana Haxton, who portrays a reporter in the movie. We had a sizable Cook Islands crew, with around 40 people involved in the production.”

Naidu initially attempted to collaborate with Tereora College to secure some trained actors from their drama class when filming began.

“In the end I brought some New Zealand and Australia actors to help market the film to the world.”

Naidu, the chief financial officer at Air Rarotonga and co-founder of Mahayana Films, the production company behind Stranded Pearl, previously stated that the film’s production value was around $1 million.

He personally invested around $250,000 of his family’s savings in the film “because I believed in the concept”.

“Coming from a finance background, I understand that there will be returns, but I’ve been incredibly fortunate to have the support of some amazing sponsors, such as Edgewater Resort and Air Rarotonga, who have both made significant contributions. CITC looked after all of our crew and cast, and Cook Islands News provided us with coverage. We also had CITV and 88FM provide coverage, and we had brand value sponsors from New Zealand. We’ve had so many sponsors who have supported us along the way.

“I can’t thank Prime Minister Mark Brown and Ben Ponia enough for their unwavering support in helping us bring this project to fruition. I also want to express my gratitude to Cook Islands Pearl, BTIB, and everyone else who has stood behind this project. I know they’ve been waiting patiently, but I assure them that they will get an amazing product when they see this.”

Naidu says that Stranded Pearl tackles issues that resonate deeply with Cook Islanders, particularly the subject of conservation, which serves as a central theme of the film.

“Cook Islands is a character, it’s the most important part of the film. In the film we talk about a couple of things, like how important climate change and conservation of this place is for Cook Islanders.

“Love is the essence of the film. To truly experience love, one must immerse themselves in nature, escape the daily grind, and develop a connection with the natural world. Only then can one fully embrace love and appreciate the richness of life.”

Naidu is confident that Stranded Pearl will capture the essence of the Cook Islands, asserting that “when it reaches the global audience, everyone will be talking about the Cook Islands”.

“It complements our efforts to showcase the region to the world.”

Naidu, who received permanent residency last year after relocating to Rarotonga in 2011, considers the film a tribute to the country he now calls home.

“I was born in Fiji and resided there until I was around 13 years old. My life in Fiji was idyllic; I was immersed in the island lifestyle and nature until the 1987 coup forced my family’s migration to New Zealand,” he recounts.

“I’ve always had a strong connection to the islands, and I’ve always felt at home there. Approximately 12 years ago, I was given the opportunity to come here and work.

“My children have spent their entire lives here; my eldest is 13, and they are Cook Islanders through and through. My boys never considered themselves anything other than Cook Islanders until they realised they were Fiji Indians and Bhutanese, as my wife is Bhutanese.

“I share that sentiment. This film is my homage to the nation I feel so strongly about being a part of. This is my way of expressing my gratitude to the Cook Islands and its people for all that they have given me.”

The film will be screened for two weeks at the Empire Cinema, and Naidu intends to distribute it to New Zealand and Fiji before promoting it globally.

“For me, success would be Cook Islanders anywhere in the world saying, ‘Have you seen Stranded Pearl? That’s our film’. I hope this movie becomes a part of the local library and culture, and that when people mention Stranded Pearl, they can feel a connection to it and call it their own. That would be a proud moment for me and my biggest achievement.”