KENYAN SOAP OPERAS-MALI VS LIES THAT BIND.VERDICT?
This is not a beef note, neither is it aimed at creating controversy nor opening cans of worms that had been sealed. It is just a note. An opinion, a thought, an observation on the two hottest television drama series currently running on Kenyan TV.
Some few months back, Gerald Langiri posted a link to an article on Actors.co.ke titled " Mali vs Lies that bind-who is cheating who?". The article was both a review and a preview of the two programs as "Mali" was already on air, hence writing about it was a review, while "Lies that Bind", was still in production, hence writing about it was a preview. I made a mistake by pointing out that the writer of the article should have waited for Lies that Bind to hit our screen so that we could have an informed contribution as it was unfair to compare the two. Just like it is very unfair to compare my preferred presidential candidate, Kingwa Kamencu to Kalonzo Musyoka… at least the former is honest enough to cry at a press conference. My request was up to some point blown out of proportion and I was labeled so many names… I'm used to that. One of the people who took up the issue was Betty Kathungu-Furet who did not hide her feelings towards my "disrespect" to people who are trying their best to create something for the Kenyan Film Industry in this case, actors.co.keand Gerald Langiri. She later told me this personally as she gave me a chance of working with her in a project she was undertaking last December.
With both programs now on air, I guessed it was time that someone did a comparison and a concrete review of them both and being that no one has had the guts, I've decide to. This is what I think:
It started with strips. Nicely designed flowery like suspense with alphabetical letters describing "something" that had a resemblance to "someone". It soon went to an eighth of a page, and then it grew to a quarter page, and then evolved into a half page and voila, we had a full page advert of "Kenya's First Soap Opera" with G-Mali being something like similar to a Great that has a resemble to Gregory and there we had it,MALI drama was to hit the screens. Having had our fair share of disappointment with "The Nairobi Star" and "Kiss and Classic TVs" skeptics like us steered away from the excitement of the advertising and whenever the discussion came up, we literally ignored it and waited. Sooner than expected, Gregory Mali and his consortium,Family, Friends, Businesses, etc. came to define drama on our TV and it was going to be screening thrice a week. WOW!
The cast was great, still is except for George Ohawa aka Gregory Mali who has since died. Seeing Mkamzee Chao Mwatela all voluptuous made some of us admire her more, she was no longer "that girl who directed Malaika" the musical play for Sterling Quality years back, just fresh from some university. Conrad Makeni was back on TV, boss if you never liked this when "Wingu la Moto" was the in thing you probably need to go Nation and ask for the footages. Caroline Midimo was also here, she changed roles though and for the first time on TV we was going to see Caro out of the Village Woman, some pretty faces were also imported from other TV shows and Celebs were incorporated. Kalekye "Big Mama" Mumo, Nic Big Brother Wangondu were cast as well. Abel Amunga was as fresh as usual and so were the others. Sorry if I didn't mention you; probably I've forgotten what role you play or your names. Si makosa yangu!
As this was going on, stories were flying up and down about someone stealing the other's idea and running away with it… No worries, it was not the first time and probably won't be the last because in this industry, the "poor creative guys" develop the concepts and share them with the "better off known faces" only for the "well off producers" to execute them without the "poor creative guys" on board.
Soon KTN was on a roll too. They were also advertising "Kenya's First Soap Opera" "Lies that Bind" and this time, everyone was fighting over some glittery necklace that probably symbolized wealth. It was also coming soon. Three months of coming soon did arrive soon enough and here we were inching closer to "The Second First Kenyan Soap Opera". Those in the know, knew the scripts of both "Kenya's First Soap Operas" and there were more than one million similarities. A fact that somehow confirmed the rumor of someone stealing another person's idea and another person being shortchanged by the other. The truth is, both had a somewhat similar storyline. Whereby a guy is rich, he has more than one wife and houseful of children, somewhere along the line nature catches up with him and he dies or has to die and the drama follows. To bring it closer home, something of The Kirima's, if you have been following.
So we had it. Same storyline, same setting, same this, same that. The difference was that while "Mali" promised to leave you and me the viewers cursing why we have been trying to understand why someone has to cry in every scene of those Mexican, Philippino, Spanish and now Brazilian Soaps, "Lies that Bind" promised to give us drama befitting a soap opera with a completely "new' cast. My observation is… My wife still loves those Mexican, Philippino, Spanish and now Brazilian Soaps and gives me a cool lecture when I try to watch anything else when she is home, that is after convincing her to at least allow me to watch "Mali" for two weeks. "Lies that Bind" somehow lived up to its promise of "new faces" and believe me not, some of them are real new. Forget Lucy Nyagah, Maqbul Mohamed, Irene Ayimba , Ruth Maingi . There were new faces, I'm still trying to get their names right so I will only mention Justine Mirichii because I knew him as a singer before he hit the silver screen. In fact, when my wife is home, I have the pleasure of interrupted viewership of "Lies that Bind" because she has a tendency of calling me out of whatever it is I'm doing whenever the Mexican, Philippino, Spanish and now Brazilian Soaps take a break and say "ndio hiyo program yenu…lakini leo inakaa interesting". Depending on the mood of the day, I end up watching an entire episode.
So few months later, my humble observations on "Kenya's First Soap Opera" and "Kenya's Second First Soap Opera" are these:
1. Great Effort: Both production teams have put in great efforts to have us entertained. Thrice and Twice a week respectively. Having been in the industry long enough and having been on enough sets… I must say that both teams are so far the busiest in this country. I cannot even try to imagine the pressure on those sets. If they can manage to overcome the rampant unavoidable production mishaps to have the productions on air, on time. The entire teams of the two productions deserve a pat on the back. Kudos.
2. Production Quality: Tumetoka mbali. Those of us who had the pleasure of watching Allan C.O Odhiambo Konya and Jessica Brown when they were the best of Kenyan TV will testify. Both productions have invested in quality… Picture and Sound to be specific. There however is lots of room for improvements. We need to have scenes well defined. As much as it is a studio kind of shoot where all locations are built in one space, there is need for enough establishment and cut away shots to help in transitions and scene definition. Both productions have these three or four cut away shots that leave you wondering what their real essence was!
3. Realisms and Reality: I'm not sure that realisms is/or has been considered in both productions. Maybe it is my background and upbringing… as much as one disagrees with his/her parents, it is really a hard nut to crack to stand up to your parents and sneer at them straight to their face, even in this modern African society. Again, it might be a case of where and how one is brought up. Another example is whereby a group of women are seen "kwa base" reading a newspaper and talking politics… from their setting, they look very ‘shao' but when they open their mouths… WEWE, the ‘tweng' is unprecedented. It is very unlikely to find such in real life Kenya… newspaper and "gumzo mitaani' is a preserve of the endangered species that men are soon becoming.
4. Improved Acting: It takes a master to notice a master… the acting on both productions is commendable… With a mixture of experience and new talent, I must say that we are heading to greater heights because we are seeing a form of mentorship for the upcoming artists. I'm who I'm because I learnt in the hands of masters. I had a chance, as a child, of hanging around the likes of Wahome Mutahi, Opiyo Mumma, Catherine Kariuki, Mueni Lundi, Joni Nderitu, Ochieng' Anyona, Aghan Odero and later on to share a stage with Tony Njuguna, Juma Williams, Yvonne Shilenje, Angie Musira, Gilbert Lukhalia, Ainea Ojiambo, Omfwoko Mwalimu and finally sharing a set with John Sibi-Okumu, George Ohawa, Carol Odongo, Lucy Nyagah, Carolyne Midimo, Nick Njache, Connie Nielsen and believe me, you never want to let a veteran down when you are with them in the same space. To that effect, the Young Turks in both the productions are doing quite well in coping with the pressure. Not all of it is worth noting though…
5. Drama/ Lack of It: At times lack of drama can be the drama in itself. The truth is that "Kenya's First Soap Opera" has been lacking in drama. Since the death of Gregory Mali, the expected drama that was to unfold has refused to evolve. The script seems to be stuck and all manner of things introduced to jumpstart it seem to be hitting the Great Wall of China. "Kenya's Second First Soap Opera" is looking up to the drama. With the new twists coming up in each and every episode, one is left wanting to know what next. Both productions need to put more effort on developing the drama and giving our women, specifically, a reason to stop flipping through channels looking for drama from those cheap, third rate soaps that flood our TVs.
As earlier noted, these are my opinions… they are not bound to illicit debate and stir controversy. If by any chance I've stepped on your toes wrongly, please do understand… It's Kohadha Roy Ogolla writing. If I've given you undue praise, please do let me know. All in all, we are headed to the right direction. My prayer and hope is that with the emergence of these programs, all involved parties will at the end of the day go home smiling… proud of their work. The producers, the cast and the crew all seated together sharing a light moment. I mean, I hope kuna pesa na watu wanalipwa. No stories of bouncing cheques, over quoted pays with below the table deals… mostly for the talent.
Whether we are "United by Blood but Divided by Greed" or whether we are a “Family That Schemes and hopes To Live Together" we must never lose our focus on what and where we want to see the Kenya's television and film industry head.
Catch Mali on NTV every Wednesday, Thursday and Friday at 8:20pm and Lies that Bind on KTN every Thursday and Friday at 8:30pm. Watch both programs and give your opinions. For those who have had a chance to do so already, add your comments below.