99 problems and 3 wives is just one
November 20 2014 at 09:41am
By Debashine Thangevelo
Like Hollywood, the TV industry in South Africa is churning out shows on a scale as far-reaching as the EFF’s tentacles in parliament. Now e.tv has homed in on polygamy as the thrust of its upcoming drama, Umlilo, with Hamilton Dlamini channelling his inner Jacob Zuma, writes Debashine Thangevelo.
POLYGAMY remains an inconvenient truth for modern society. Yet is has been a core cultural and traditional practice for many people for centuries. While it is illegal in some countries, it remains legal in South Africa.
Even our Prez JZ, a practising polygamist, has been at the epicentre of many a media circus because of it.
While we have had TV shows that have covered the gamut of subjects from kasi stories, South African folklore to gritty dramas – polygamy flew under the creative radar… until now.
e.tv has commissioned Umlilo, a drama starring Hamilton Dlamini as Mnqobi Simelane, the affluent patriarch with two wives: Cebisile (Gcina Mkhize) as wife number one and Dumile (Nokuthula Ledwaba) as number two. Things become tense in the household when Mnqobi, with no male heir on the horizon, announces his plans to take a third wife – the gorgeous and sassy Khwezi (Nomzamo Mbatha).
Interestingly, when Dlamini – also a director – was asked to audition, he wasn’t sold on the prospect; more so, as he was doing an acting workshop in KZN.
He laughs: “I got a voice message from actress Nolwazi Shange telling me that I was needed for auditions for the role of Mnqobi Simelane. I got bored by the message, especially the part that said I should come for an audition. I hate auditions with a passion. They do not project talent, but make you feel stupid, especially as an experienced actor. So I decided to continue with my acting classes. The next day, I responded to the message, telling her I was busy and would only be back in Jozi in a week. Still not promising to audition.”
But there was no escaping his fate – Quizzical Pictures were unrelenting in securing a sit-down with Dlamini.
When Dlamini received the storyline breakdown, his hesitation mushroomed into keenness when he realised he would be in the expert hands of Denny Miller.
Offering his take on the premise, he says: “Most people in the world do not understand what polygamy is, how it is practiced. Media sources have not done justice in their reports. They look at polygamy as a ‘window shopper’. But it is created and accepted by women who know and understand its importance in building families, communities and society.”
Expanding on his character, by means of further explanation, the actor reveals: ‘Mnqobi is a human being. He is a strong Zulu man who has a strong ancestral pedigree that dates back to colonial times.
“When the story begins, his wardrobe isn’t very fancy. To him, clothes are just clothes. He just wants to be presentable and respected by his peers. But as time goes by, his fashion sense evolves because he is used by his wives, who compete with other women and each other, in projecting how a Zulu can be taken care of by his wives. All his wives have different tastes and that makes him a chameleon, which is admired by those around him in the business world.”
On working with the three actresses playing his wives, he shares: “I have worked with Gcina in the past. I directed her in Sangoma, a film she wrote for eKasi Stories on e.tv. She is a wonderful and creative person. She is also a theatre actress who is very much of scene-moods and moments. She is a thinking actress who is not afraid of silence in a performance.
“It is my first time working with Nokuthula. I have been her biggest fan since seeing her in Rhythm City. She is a talented actress with deep and rare African looks. She is a concoction of fire and magic.
“Nomzamo I have worked with in Have We Been Heard? – a theatre show celebrating 20 years of democracy. I first saw her in Isibaya and knew she was an actress in the making. She is a visionary and beautiful. I enjoy working with these three women.”
With South Africa celebrating two decades of democracy, Dlamini says this show offers insight into a subject that, perhaps through fear of being ostracised or simply a lack of knowledge, has, over time, wallowed in controversy.
Like any practice, polygamy is a lifestyle choice and one that our president hasn’t shied away from despite fielding much criticism about the cost to the country.
Perhaps Umlilo will offer some answers on the subject. For everything else, viewers can always tune into the entertaining unscripted drama in parliament.
WIFE #1 – CEBISILE
This is Mnqobi’s childhood sweetheart from his rural village in KZN. They have been married for 18 years and have two daughters: Andile and Phindile.
A stickler for tradition, she is the glue that keeps the family together.
Shedding light on her character, Mkhize says: “She is a very understanding person and very accommodating. It irritates me, personally (laughs). She always puts her husband’s feelings first. As the first wife, she is willing to make the situation work because she can’t give her husband a son. So she opens the door for another wife… and then another one.”
Although the veteran actress has her own feelings about polygamy, she was excited about telling this particular story.
“She doesn’t get along with Dumile; she finds her too materialistic. With Khwezi, she isn’t happy about how her husband has handled that situation and introduced her into the family. She feels disrespected and, at some point, I think she will express it.”
WIFE #2 – DUMILE
She has been married to Mnqobi for seven years. And, in all the time, she hasn’t given him the son he has been yearning for.
A city girl, she invests her time in running her business and maintaining that immaculate image as the “prized younger wife”.
Ledwaba says: “It was a shocker getting this part – I actually auditioned for the part of Khwezi. And the next thing, I find out I’m playing Dumile. So it’s been much hard work (given her youthful roles to date). She is a bit all over the place.”
On Dumile’s feelings for Mnqobi, she reveals: “At first, she loved him for his power. She was brought into the family to bear him an heir. It hasn’t happened because she has been deliberately keeping from falling pregnant.”
The actress, who is now a new mother to a 14-month baby girl, says she observed women in similar real-life situations and mirrored their cultured mannerisms “to add texture to the character”.
“Right now, she is feeling threatened. She has always been Mnqobi’s dream girl and here comes someone beautiful and younger, and she fears that she might not be the popular flavour anymore.”
WIFE #3 – KHWEZI
Now she is an exciting addition to the matriarchal mix.
Khwezi has been a well-kept secret, but Mnqobi decided to make their relationship official – upsetting the hornet’s nest in the Simelane fortress.
Mbatha says this character was too appetising to pass up – and she gave it her all to clinch the role.
“I have only been in the industry for a year-and-a-half and have always been seen as the damsel (and daughter) in distress. That’s why I had to fight for this role. It is a complete rotation on what I’ve done. Khwezi is complex. She is on a mission (that’s not immediately revealed). So all the horrible things she does are validated by her redemption story.
“There’s much more to her. The audience will understand why she is so dead-set on marrying this man and getting into his family,” Mbatha continues.
And Khwezi is far from ruffled by her hostile reception from the other wives.
She notes: “Well, she won’t be chopping onions or becoming BFFs with Dumile. It’s going to be interesting to watch the madness unfold. Every single episode has the deepest, most amazing and most frustrating cliffhanger. This is what great television is about.”
With such a titillating description, I’m sure a fired-up Mr Umshini Wami himself will be tuning in with the rest of South Africa, perhaps, even talent-scouting for wife number seven from the fictional world. LOL!
• Umlilo is a new home-grown drama airing on e.tv in February 2015.