ESCAPE FROM UGANDA: It is straight out of Bollywood, but entirely shot in Uganda. Chameleone makes his debut acting role and the movie Luzira: Escape from Uganda premieres this weekend in local cinemas. Edgar R Batte caught up with some of the cast.
What does it feel like being a first time actor?
I am excited! I want to express my excitement. I must say I was very glad to take that opportunity.
What role do you play in the movie?
I play Dada, a wealthy club owner who is also doing back door diamond business, so I have partnered with a certain Indian man and I have entrusted him to sell my $9m worth diamond stones and bring me the money. Unfortunately he disappears and I want my stones.
From the movie trailer you are actually serious on finding out everything about this diamond thief…
Yeah, when you are tracking somebody you need to find out where they live, who they are dating, who they are rolling with and such stuff.
How did you land this role?
Initially Mr Girisch Nair called me for a meeting at Kampala Serena Hotel but the meeting was not to offer me an acting role. He was asking me to do soundtracks for the movie, but upon meeting he realised something that I had never seen in me. He asked if I could act, and I told him I had never acted and I asked him why he thought I could. He said, first my voice is good enough for a movie and that my look and character could be useful in a movie, so he promised to get back to me as soon as he got a role I could fit in. A few weeks later he got back to me and to be frank, I was excited and I am still excited because I cannot wait to see myself on screen.
What was Girisch’s reaction after the shoot?
He was astonished. He said he never knew I was such a good actor. He is actually planning to put me in another movie, but for now it is Luzira: Escape from Uganda
How easy or hard was it for you to fit into that role?
It was not that easy because in the movie I had to act as an angry rich man. It is not easy to fit into something that you are not, especially if we are talking about $9m. That for me was the most challenging part and at some point I had to complain to the director.
How then did you manage to pull it off?
After playing it more times, I pulled it off, plus there were many friends around, like my wife and Radio & Weasel, who kept pushing and encouraging me. Eventually, I was being applauded.
Had you acted before?
No, I have never acted at all. I have only acted angry to my wife when I am not.
Tell me… how many songs are you contributing to the movie?
I have done three soundtracks and they have not been released yet. They are the soundtracks of that movie together with Iryn Namubiru’s songs.
In how many locations did you shoot and for how long?
I didn’t shoot for many days because the film crew was not staying so long. They wanted to fly back to India and do the editing. It was just a day of recording. It was one location, but two different sets. We had the sets in Guvnor.
What lessons do you take from venturing into something you had never tried before?
Yeah, we always encourage people to discover their talents and I am proud that I have discovered something else that I can do. It is a big challenge and I love it. I want to do something the right way and what I learnt is that art is art but art can be grown.
I started as a singer but slowly I am discovering the actor in me. Acting can be another big art I can exploit. What I have realised about acting is that you have to be you. I have always wanted to have another art and it is not that I am going to abandon music. Let’s see where acting goes or takes me. Lupita Nyong’o didn’t know she would go far, so I will invest the best of me.
I call upon all my fans to come and join us at the premiere of the movie. It’s going to be a red carpet treatment. This is not a ki-Nigeria, this is Bollywood! so I invite my friends, fans and family to come and see Dr Chameleone a.k.a Don Dada, the movie man live at Serena.
He is producer of the movie Luzira: Escape from Uganda. He produced the movie under his company River Nile Motion Pictures.
What does River Nile Motion Pictures bring to Uganda?
We are bringing India’s huge technical skills and experience to blend with Ugawood. We think by having an on-ground fully professional production house in Kampala, we can spark off the growth of the Ugandan film industry.
Where did you get the idea of Luzira: Escape from Uganda?
The script was brought to me about a year ago by a very young and dynamic director called Rajish Nair, who is also my partner in the company. Rajish is a budding film maker. His company in India has produced a few films and when he brought this script to me to help finance the production, I liked it because it had a wonderful modern day Uganda. It had a blend of a life of an expatriate family and the troubles that they go through. I proposed to fund the film provided we set up a production house. I also insisted he produced the entire film in Uganda.
How were you able to do this?
We flew in 60 Indian cast, crew and about five-and- a-half tonnes of equipment.
In how many locations did you shoot the movie?
We shot in 60 locations around the country in about two months.
What is the synopsis of the film, in brief?
The story is about an Indian family making their way and building their home in Uganda. The wife is caught up in a murder and is arrested. The movie rotates around the troubles of getting her out of prison. It is a gripping and a mystery. There is a wonderful blend of Ugandan stars; Sam Bagenda, Michael Wawuyo and of course, Jose Chameleone, who played a fantastic role, plus top Indian actors and actresses.
What was the reaction of the Indian and Ugandan actors and actresses?
They found the Ugandan experience so incredible. They loved the beauty of the country and they enjoyed the 62 days here and for the Ugandan crew there was much learning; the assistant technicians, the camera guys, the light guys, the guys who made the sets…they found a good learning experience from the experienced Indian crew. So we think that we have not only made a terrific film but we have sort of set a foundation with the local team.
The Ugandan film industry is very small compared to Bollywood, what headway do you expect to make from it?
We think people want to pay for high quality entertainment, which they do by watching pirated DVDs and we want them to relate to a local production and we hope that Luzira will be the one spark or catalyst that will exploit this industry because good movies require high production costs and high production cost needs to be justified with a return on investment, which is more people going out to cinemas. We think it is a chicken and egg situation. We hope we have broken all that vicious circle.
In which cinemas will the movie be showing?
Century Cinema, Makerere, Cinema Magic and Cineplex Oasis Mall.
How much will the tickets go for?
The tickets are priced at the same fare as the regular movies.
About how much have you spent in the production of Luzira: Escape from Uganda?
I don’t like talking about production costs but it is multiple billion shillings. What allowed us to subsidise the Uganda release was that we released the Indian version of this film in India and we recovered about 90 per cent of what we put in. This allows us to do a grand premiere.
Are you releasing the movie on dvd?
No. dvd is unfortunately a loss-making proposition. We cannot produce a high quality dvd and retail it at Shs1,500, which most Ugandans are used to. If you want to enjoy high quality film, go to the cinemas.
How long will the movie be screened?
For as long as there is an audience. The cinema owners think they will run the movie for a couple of weeks.
What needs to be done better about Uganda’s film industry for one to fetch worthy gains?
We need good quality production to attract a theatre-going crowd because they have got choices and they are spoilt for choice. For Shs1,500 they can watch a Hollywood movie so if we have enough revenue coming out of cinemas then that can go into the next production and will allow us pay our stars better and invest in their skills and that will hopefully draw more employment.
He starred in movies like The Last King of Scotland, Mississippi Masala, Sometimes in April, White Lit and now stars in Luzira: Escape from Uganda as an inspector and respected detective.
What was it like on the set of Luzira: Escape from Uganda?
It was a fine experience, and different from the usual local sets that I am used to. Everything was better.
How different was it?
There was a lot of professionalism on the set. The equipment was a lot better and the lighting, sound and technical crew was all professional which I must should be the way we ought to do things.
You have played out varied roles in different movies and now you act as an inspector. Was it any hard fitting in this role?
Not at all. The directors were good and as a person I am always elastic. I can stretch as much as I can to fit in any character and that is how I managed to pull this role off too.
How long were you on set during the shooting of the film?
I was on set for 10 straight days and an extra two days when we had to shoot in studio while the artistes recorded the soundtracks
Any lessons from this shoot?
I liked the cinematography because they had superior cameras compared to the ones we normally use in our local production, which should be a good lesson for us to invest in good machines. Then we need to up our production.