City Press visits the set of sexy local TV series
City Press (Photo: Leon Sadiki)
Johannesburg - I find the bad boy of South African film in church, listening to a choir.
We’re in Dube, Soweto, on the set of Hustle, his new TV drama for Fireworx Media.
I first met Jahmil X.T. Qubeka on a TV set more than a decade ago and am surprised he’s returned to this world.
The bizarre and very brief banning of his excellent black-and-white feature, Of Good Report, propelled him to the next level, picking up awards and touring the world.
But his next feature project – The White Devil, an American horror set in Ireland – has been delayed and he was interested in the idea of changing things up.
“TV in South Africa is kind of stuck in a particular place ... Every day on Hustle, we strive not to make what’s normal. We’re shooting a long feature on a TV schedule and TV budget,” he says, hair shaved along the sides and a sparkle in his eye.
“It is very racy; it is quite explicit. Sex, drugs and rock’n’roll.”
In fact, Hustle was pulled from e.tv’s Openview HD halfway through its run, before getting some cuts and tweaks, and returning on regular e.tv.
“It’s a character-driven plot and we have an amazing cast,” says the man in the church. It’s a cast led by three very different, very focused women: Brenda Ngxoli, Masello Motana and Dineo Ranaka.
Brenda Ngxoli is Kitt
“Where do you want me? On top of him?” jokes Ngxoli spicily when the photographer is setting up to take pictures of Qubeka with his leading lady.
She plays Kitt, loosely based on the life story of Brenda Fassie. In the 80s, Kitt, Neo and Kedibone were the famous members of The Sparrows.
Kitt went solo before she crashed and burned, and now she’s making a comeback.
“Fame is a complicated thing,” says Ngxoli when we settle in for a chat.
She believes Kitt is every woman in entertainment, behind the scenes and in the spotlight.
The show explores the highs, but also the lows.
“We do see the sharks, the exploitation. Who’s really chowing her money? How did she get here? But here’s the thing with me ... I believe someone can only exploit you if you’ve allowed them into a sacred place.”
It soon becomes clear that Ngxoli is very different to the diva that she is often made out to be and that Qubeka is no bad boy.
They are driven perfectionists on a mission and they make their own rules.
Ngxoli lives and farms in the rural Eastern Cape, avoiding the big city, except when she’s cast in a project.
“For me, poverty is all in the mind. Because you can have the money and not be happy. Especially in the villages, I’ve seen people who are happy but poor...
“When people were trying to buy cars, I was buying bricks and renovating the rondavel, buying new fences,” she says.
“When the show starts, Kitt is at her low point, having to go home. We all understand when someone says, ‘Oh, so and so is down and out, and has to go home.’ I’m a person who decided to make home my home all along,” she says, laughing.
Dineo Ranaka is Kedi
Ranaka arrives on set in what seem to be her pyjamas, padding across the lawn of the church as the choir lines up for lunch in their Sunday hats and best shoes.
And then, things get meta.
She’s shooting her reality TV show within the TV drama shoot and my interview with her is promptly filmed for Dineo’s Diary.
Ranaka is a famous somebody, her life exposed in exacting detail in her show.
But she’s taking things to the next level through hard work and a learning curve.
“This is my first big role in a drama. I have done others, but they were just cameos. I started as an extra on some Afrikaans drama series way back and then I did a cameo on Generations.
“I auditioned for Kedi and I was pretty nervous because I auditioned against very credible actresses, and obviously I am the presenter in our family and my sister Manaka is the actress, and she’s very good.”
When she emerges, later, decked out in her wardrobe for her scene, she is complimented by the crew.
“Thank you,” she says, “I thank my character. Dineo has no taste or style whatsoever.”
As she works, she says, she is relying on her more experienced sisters to give her tips and up her performance.
But when you ask them, they all say she’s a natural.
Masello Motana is Neo
When I find Motana she is sitting alone, engrossed in a book.
I am a fan of this jazz singer, poet, actress and satirist, and I gush about the fictional characters she has created to deliver acerbic political commentary – like Cyrilina Ramaposer, whose first single was titled Macarena on Marikana.
When she’s not consuming literature on set, she’s studying Qubeka and the producers because she intends producing her own shows in future.
Fame to her is a very different game.
When she was young, she dreamt of being a big star, but that’s no longer her goal.
“My father was a playwright. He’s writing novels now. So, I grew up in a drama troupe. I used to perform poetry at political rallies when I was small.”
Best known for her role in Home Affairs, today she is selective about taking TV roles.
“There is a lot of abuse in the industry, and it drives me up the wall. Abuse in terms of cultural representation, which is a very big deal to me.”
And she doesn’t normally play singers.
“I don’t like playing characters that are close to me. But I’m promoting my own musical production at the moment. It’s called Ntyilo Ntyilo. It is a live show about South African music. It is wherever I put it on. That’s why I thought this would be an interesting crisscross now, to do this show and to get to promote Ntyilo Ntyilo ... And it is the first time I perform in Spitori [a Pretoria dialect].”
Like Ngxoli, Motana is not willing to fall into the money trap that afflicts characters in Hustle.
“I’ve never worked for money, so I don’t give a shit. I do art for art’s sake. Art is different – there’s spiritual currency involved outside the financial trade-off. That’s what I’m in it for – the spiritual exchange.”
Masello needs to get ready for her scene. As she puts on her wig and fluffs it out, her face changes, becoming Neo, the most modest of The Sparrows.
“She’s someone I can relate to. Not relate, but I know people like her. Growing up in a township, and in the church. She became an old person who runs the church choir, married to a mechanic. Every artist goes through that thing and it’s like, you know what, I’m just going to quit this shit! And she did, a long time ago.”
Hustle airs on Mondays on e.tv (DStv channel 194) at 21:30, premiering Monday, September 26