TV DRAMA: There were no new episodes of the The Hostel series the whole of last year, but the show returns to NTV with a completely new cast of characters this Monday. Joseph Ssemutooke found out why it had taken a lull.
Yes, we are talking about that famous mini-series that arguably became Uganda’s most popular and most successful TV drama of the last decade. The one that won fans and plaudits across East Africa, even across the continent as broadcasting giants Dstv and Canal France carried it to audiences far from these climes.
It is the same show that returns to TV screens next week, showing on NTV, starting Monday. It will be broadcast thrice a week, between 7.30pm and 8pm every Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday.
“Viewers should get themselves ready for another 90 episodes of pure entertainment and drama at a level that has been raised even much higher than where we previously were,” says Richard Geria, the Executive producer of the show.
“Our target has always been to produce a show of a quality that not only provides class viewing, but which also lifts our name and flag as a country out there.“
A surfeit of changes in tow
As nothing remains entirely unchanged with the passage of time, The Hostel returns with several changes. First, the show will no longer portray the lives of students staying at New Age Hostel, the hostel where we encountered the likes of Odoch (Daniel Omara) , Gilbert (Mathew Nabwiso) Annet (Diana Kahunde) as residents, and the unforgettable Askari Sobba (Isaac Kudzu). Instead, this time the show takes us to Serenity Hostel. With the change in location also comes a change in characters –which is perhaps the most significant twist. It is a whole new cast that will be showing on the screen, which cast the producers of the show describe as “fresh, novel and exciting.”
The producers also reckon that it was inevitable, necessary and advantageous to change cast.
“The truth of the matter is that no students’ hostel remains with the same residents for more than five years,” Geria says in explanation. “It’s something the viewers themselves revealed to us when we made a survey about the show.”
Geria further explains that there is also the fact of the old casts having outgrown the hostel age and its attendant characteristics, meaning that they had to get a younger cast that truly reflects and resonates with the situation in hostels, thereby easily hooking in the show’s primary target audience of people who are at campus or have just left it a couple of years back.
The producers of the show also reveal that the storylines have changed, a change they say is natural for any new season of any production, only adding that effort has been taken to ensure the new storylines are more exciting, more entertaining, more educative and generally better on all fronts.
And Geria says viewers should be excited that the show has been shot in HD this time round, availing better images.
What hasn’t changed?
Geria, quickly adds that they recognise the need for some things to remain constant in order to build and improve on the strengths that previously endeared the show to viewers. And here, he says it is important to note that the show yet again comes from the same production house that produced the previous three seasons, FastTrack Productions. “We have retained the old writers, editors, camera crew and generally the old production team, only improving it by adding new and young members whom we’ve found exceptional enough to add value to the previous standard,” Geria says.
Why the show went off air
You could call it the dark background to the mini-series’ resurrection, but the executive producer readily delves into it, explaining that in truth the show had gone off air because of a few challenges that needed to be addressed before it could arise again.
“After the third season in 2013,” Geria says, “We realised that we had to get back to the drawing board and iron out a few things. The major issue was that we were using a wrong business model to produce the show. Instead of us selling the show to the broadcaster, we had this anomaly where we sold it straight to the advertiser, then got money and bought airtime on NTV. It was a good model for starting at a time when we could hardly convince broadcasters to sponsor us to produce the show, but in the long run it wasn’t sustainable and we found problems with it.”
Geria says, to summarise it all, now NTV was able to commission and pay for the show straight from the producers, “which is the right and sustainable model.”
On the issue of whether problems with actors didn’t contribute to the show’s going off air, as the rumours that went around claimed, Geria says it’s not true at all, because in any case only one actor –Daniel Omara aka Odoch– ever left owing to money reasons, after he asked for a 300 per cent pay rise. He says FastTrack always tries to renumerate its actors and actresses fairly, such that there are always few complaints.
Some of the new faces
Real Name: Jean Jovitah Kobusingye
The character she plays: A loud, noisy, chaotic and bitchy girl who sticks her nose into the business of everyone at the hostel.
Previous Employment: None.
Educational Background: Sat S.6 last year and is looking forward to joining university this year to study drama and film.
Favourite Actress: Kerry Washington
Real Name: Sharon Atuhaire.
The character she plays: Ivan Ibanda’s love-drunk girlfriend, who can’t let go of her boyfriend no matter what he does; plans on marrying and settling down with him to start a family. Defends him all the time.
Previous employment: Has been a social worker in Kabale.
Educational Background: Completed a Diploma in Social Development and is upgrading to a Social Sciences degree at Makerere University.
Former Schools: Boston High School Entebbbe and Standard High School Zzana.
Favourite Actress: Angelina Jolie, because she has managed to marry her career with social work. Also looks up to Angela Katatumba because she has done the same.
Romeo the girl’s heartthrob
Real Name: Jenkins Joel Mutumba
The character he plays: A swaggerific, intelligent, suave lad who scores a place in the heart of every girl that lays eyes on him, and in return indulges as many girls as he can for his pleasure.
Educational Background: Sat S.4 and dropped out because he couldn’t find school fees to continue.
Previous Employment: Freelance model and actor with some rather obscure film companies.
Favourite actors: Will Smith, Terence Gibson and Brad Pitt.
Real Name: Kerim Mark
The character he plays: A drug-addicted, bullish and wayward chap who is in a relationship with a love-drunk girl, whom he mistreats and exploits.
Previous employment: None.
Educational Background: Completed a Diploma in Social Development at Nsamizi Training Institute.
Favourite Actors: The Wawuyos (Junior and senior)
Real Name: Gloria Catherine Nambozo.
The Character she plays: The focused, religious, moral girl who is serious with her books and tries to get everyone focused, always stating that she didn’t go to university just to play around with boys.
Previous Employment: None.
Educational Background: Pursuing a B.A. International Business degree at Makerere University Business School.
Former Schools: O and A level at Uganda Martyrs SS Namugongo.
Favourite Actress: Megan Fox, for her bravery and independent-mindedness. And her mom, whom she describes as an endlessly dramatic woman in her everyday life.
Phionah, The Stressed Law Student
Real Name: Sarah Namirembe.
The character she plays: A focused, moral Law student with dreams of becoming a leading feminist activist. Also favoured by the boss lady of the hostel, but loathed by others and stressed by the weight of all that put together.
Previous Employment: None.
Educational Background: Recently completed a B.A. Entrepreneurship and Small Business Management degree at MUBS.
Former Schools: Nabisunsa Girls’ School for O and A Level.
Favourite Actress: Angelina Jolie for how much she has transcended the acting world to succeed at business, charity and family.