Inside the mock Parliament. Parliamentarians are always in the media for one reason or another albeit negative. Dramatist John Ssegawa brings the different traits and happenings in the political environs to life in his television series Honourablez, writes EDGAR R. BATTE
The dust is settling on the euphoria that characterised the election of the Kyadondo East constituency Member of Parliament. And the debate about the new trend of the electorate trusting its votes with individuals out of the traditional political set-up, has taken shape.
Artiste Robert Kyagulanyi aka Bobi Wine is the latest entrant into August House after a landslide victory in an election in which, as an independent candidate, he beat two contenders from two of the country’s most popular political parties – NRM and FDC.
Parliament is certainly becoming more accommodative to non-traditional politicians never mind that Bobi Wine has always given us hints about his political ambitions in punchy lyrics that tackle social and economic injustices.
But in times where some MPs have been branded sycophants, Ugandans wait to see one who is taking political office to represent his constituents.
And on the flipside, actor and filmmaker John Segawa takes on a strand that showcases tricksters in form of MPs who survive by fleecing unsuspecting locals.
Den of masquerades
The drama offerings are in a television series titled The Honourablez, set in a bar where legit (actors) and fake MPs meet for various reasons. Through the tricksters, we appreciate the void that exists between the MPs and the electorate, some unsure who their MP is and those who do, find it hard to meet their representatives.
Segawa, who has his background in theatre, reprises its role of mirroring the ills of the state of the nation on big screen, political observations. So much is said and exposed in packaging that offers both comic relief and some food-for-thought.
Through The Honourablez, we are allowed to mirror the politicians that run our country, and Phillip Luswata, a lecturer at the School of Performing Arts observes, the series clearly addresses how the void in commitment of those that are elected into office leaves plenty of room for masquerades.
Segawa’s inspiration was the popularity of our MPs, more so issues to do with them. “You cannot go anywhere and not find people saying a thing or two about the MPs. Take a look at the recent campaigns and election in Kyadondo East. The slot will not add much to NRM, FDC or any other political party but look at how much interest it has drawn, in newspapers, radio and on television,” he observes.
Mirror to our society
Through three protagonists, you are able to see an aggregate of a typical Ugandan. Felisia is a waitress in a bar where she is hooked by a minister, one MP Kasozi, whose has a high appetite for women. He ends up impregnating her but is not willing to deal with the aftereffects.
Kasozi is uncomfortable whenever she brings up the subject because Felisia is of a lower class and unbefitting. It becomes a sticky situation for him when his wife innocently starts hanging out at the same bar. Felisia is provocative and often confronts her.
In the same bar is Cyrus who represents the respectful but unfocussed corporate guy who is easily manipulated and influenced. Through him, Ssegawa sees 90 per cent of Uganda’s population composition.
Then Amos is a gateman (askari) through whom you see people from all walks of life who come to Kampala in search of a better life. Much of his rhetoric is cause for debate as he compares the current regime with that of former president Idi Amin. The similarity is love for money.
Felisia is played by singer and actress Helen Lukoma, Cyrus by artiste and comedian Symon Base Kalema and Amos by actor and radio presenter Patriko Mujuuka.
The cast is also composed of actors Luswata and Sam Okello, comedian Madrat & Chiko, actress Aisha Kyomuhangi and singer Stecia Mayanja.
“I wanted seasoned actors and actresses because they are familiar with television. They were convinced to work with me because they knew there was a good story to tell. Before I wrote the script, I contacted NTV and management promised a platform for local productions. They sponsored some of the initial episodes which was encouraging,” Segawa explains.
The yoke of finances
The Honourablez premieres its second season this week and will be showing on NTV Uganda. But even with the strides in continuity, the director says that finances still need to be fixed because filmmaking is not yet lucrative. He says NTV Uganda sponsors each episode with Shs2 million which is hardly enough.
“It is expensive to do dramas in Uganda. Ideally, costs shoot up to at least Shs3.5 million and we cannot push them because they find it cheaper buying foreign shows since they show in more countries and therefore the producer can afford to subsidise them for interested television stations. That cannot happen here. You cannot give a series to another television station because you are restricted by an agreement,” he explains.
Segawa pays a professional fee of between Shs50, 000 and Shs100, 000 to actors and actress and Shs35, 000 for extras. NTV provides the venue, Guvnor, where the series is shot, under a swap arrangement with the nightclub.
Sylvia Nabasumba takes on the role of the wife to Hon Kasozi. She is a newbie on the local film scene, and is grateful for sharing a set with seasoned actors and actresses.
“The director gives time to actors and actresses, helping them acclimatise to their role,” she adds. Mutesi has featured in a number of commercials. She has worked with Trends Studios under Mariam Ndagire.
This is in addition to number of short films under the Maisha Lab mentorship. One of the other movies she has featured is Half London. She is also a television presenter with BBS television.
Symon Base Kalema
When Segawa was creating The Honourablez, he called Kalema and suggested a role for him.
“This was in the earliest stage of creation and he walked me through the whole plot. I liked it because it was interesting, fresh and had a new approach to a comic political and social satire. I could not say no and Cyrus the bartender was born,” Kalema recounts
Kalema started acting in 1998 with theatre outfit ‘The Ebonies’. However, he had gone in to pursue graphics for television after studying graphic arts in Nairobi. As fate would have it, the patron of The Ebonies John Katende spotted the dramatist in Kalema.
He has since featured in a number of theatre productions with the group. To him, the art of acting is a representation of what we do and not do consciously and subconsciously on a daily basis.
Luswata keenly respects John Segawa’s work and he is always honoured to be a part of his brave and ground breaking projects. He acts as minister and honourable Kasozi.
“I am living the frequently drunken life of serving the nation. We have been devoid of serious social commentary drama in Uganda, The Honourablez is a breath of fresh air,” the seasoned actor observes.
Luswata is an assistant lecturer at Makerere University, Performing Arts Department, where he teaches and supervises film students through electronic media practices.
He has a rich history in acting, among them being part of the cast of Makutano Junction, currently in its 14th season and airing in five African countries including Uganda and Kenya.
He was part of the television production of ‘Kigenya-Agenya’ which he directed, and featured alongside Bakayimbira Dramactors. Luswata filmography includes movies such as ‘Center 4’ in 2001’, ‘Child of a Delegate’ in 2002, ‘Tebakyalya Bibala’ in 2004, ‘They Stopped Eating Fruits’ and a radio play titled ‘Quiet and We Hear’ in 2006.
He was commissioned by the BBC for the ‘Small Talk-Big Picture’, then television series title ‘Changes’ in 2007, ‘Waiting for my Tractor’ in 2008 and more.
Lukoma is the smart but vile waitress who will turn to every trick in the book for survival after the minister who impregnated her is unwilling to support her.
Lukoma has her other side as an artiste, having cut her teeth in the music and entertainment world with The Obsessions.
She has featured in movies such as The Lies, Situka, an extra with Last King of Scotland, The Hostel and Beneath the Lies series.
Lukoma won Best African actress at the AWARDS Black Entertainment Film Fashion Television and Arts (BEFFTA) awards Awards beating off competition from Wema Sepetu (Tanzania), We Rachel Opia (Nigeria), Joselyn Dumas (Ghana), and Eniola Badmus (Nigeria).
The awards were held in London.
Dickson Lubega aka Madrat & Frank Mubiru aka Chiko
Lubega acts as Kadeyideyi, a protégée to a fake MP. The comedian duo was approached by the series director because of their fame and they are living up to the challenge.
Prior to featuring in The Honourablez, the two had not had any serious film acting roles.