Gerald Langiri
March 19 / 2013

Our local television and film industries have grown in leaps and bounds over the last 7 years. This has been made possible through the charitable appreciation of what we call local programmes. Citizen TV was the first to open doors to local producers, actors and directors with the introduction of local dramas such as “Tahidi High,” “Papa Shirandula” and “Mother In-law” inter alia. Other TV stations followed suite and today, we celebrate the creative spirit of our talented producers and performing artists.

Even with the massive mushrooming of production houses and local productions, one thing remains a constant setback; Heads of TV in all these stations have not shied away from buying content from foreign markets especially Soap Operas and Afro cinema movies that have now become our bread and butter. I must admit that as much as these soap operas bore me to death, it would be mean for me not to appreciate their highly entertaining and well thought out concepts. Their characters are annoyingly well developed and characterized, no wonder many of us will leave work and rush home to catch the next episode of the latest soap opera.

The herculean questions remain; what is the problem with our local productions that we cannot eliminate foreign content? Is it that we do not have interesting stories? Are our local productions too expensive with the possibility of the buyers not being able to make profits from them? The answer to these questions is a resounding NO. No serious investor (read head of production) will want to buy content that does not attract a “cult-like” following. When you have local productions like “Mother In-law,” “Papa Shirandula,” “Beba Beba” and “Tahidi High,” to mention but a few, as some of our crème de la crème, it is highly unlikely that we will ever do away with soap operas and afro cinema.

“Papa Shirandula” and “Mother In-law” are some of my personal favorite worst Kenyan productions ever. The former has a captivating storyline that targets our rural folks who do not care about quality in production while the latter is an abuse to creativity, to say the least. It is also an abuse to our intelligence and right to quality entertainment when week in-week out, we see clowns, in these productions, in the name of actors. Not with reference to acting (because it is obviously lacking among majority of both casts) but with regards to the script development. Both scripts lack motivation, cause and effect as well as a highly pathetic use of mise-en-scene (everything that appears in front of the camera). Sounds harsh, but it is what you expect when you take a TV camera person instead of a cinematographer to shoot a series meant for entertainment.

Papa Shirandula” screams lack of societal growth and development as well as dependability among its main cast. After the very many episodes that have aired, we look at all characters (apart from Naliaka, Juma Anderson and his office staff) as hopeless rural folks who cannot stand on their own. The scripting is so bad to an extent that the main characters do not develop at all. For instance, Wilbroda’s husband works as a watchman who earns a salary every end month. However little the salary is, how do you explain Wilbroda’s dressing which never changes? Ever since the first episode, she is always in her flowered dress and headgear. When does she ever take a bath? When does she ever wash her clothes? How comes the clothes never wear out? What then is the role of a working husband who cannot provide for his family? I feel cheated whenever Njoroge appears on screen with his trademark tattered and untidy apron that screams “problems.” He is ever complaining about something even when he receives his salary. Papa Shirandula is always in his trademark navy blue suit or apron which has never worn out. Mama Nyagothie is always in her flowered dress and head gear which is never dirty. How realistic are they?

 Its climatic plot structure makes it even worse since we never seem to relate with the concept of cause and effect. We never seem to understand the conflicts (both internal and external) that make Papa Shirandula a pathetic liar. Ever since it started to air, no one ever understands how characters like Njoroge and Awinja ended up where they are.

Mother In-law is another pathetic local production where actors appear as if they get ambushed every day before shooting, otherwise how do you explain Charlie and Selina reading scripts in front of the camera? How do you explain Shosh’s and Ninja’s mechanical acting (of course among other cast, call it classical acting). How do you explain the amateur use of shots and improper framing? Do these productions ever have rehearsals? How do you explain Selina waking up with her make-up on? What is the source of Shosh’s wealth? Do its producers and directors understand the language of film, cinematic techniques or fundamentals of screen acting?


These two productions lack creative directors and director of photography who are responsible for bringing life to the script. The editing of these programmes is purely journalistic with no use of cinematic techniques such as creative lighting and color correction. They are more or less a replica of a political rally, the only difference being the latter happen in a controlled set. I would say so much about our local production including “Mali” but because of my limited space, allow me to pen off. Kenyan producers, script writers and directors ought to up their game in terms of creating realistic or fictional stories which will appeal to both the educated and uneducated viewers. They ought to undergo proper training in content development and scripting in order for them to understand how the language of film works if we are to have quality local content that will eventually replace the soap operas. Instead of having character-based scripts, we ought to have story-based plots (stories that develop the characters over time and not vice versa). Let us not chant our usual hymn of “naomba serikali” because lack of government support is not the reason for our shoddy productions.

Steven Anderson Wekesa

The writer is a lecturer at the Department of Theatre Arts and Film Technology in Kenyatta University with a passion for Cinematography and Theatre & Film Criticism.

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