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Imbewu’s Kaylin Soobramanian on how knowing IsiZulu changed his life forever

2018-09-29 12:36
Kaylin Soobramanian (Photo: DRUM)
Kaylin Soobramanian (Photo: DRUM)

Cape Town - It took a single word for his life to change forever. “Sanibonani,” he said to a roomful of TV industry bigwigs – and that was it.

“I heard Bab Duma say, ‘This is the guy! This is the guy’.” Kaylin Soobramanian recalls.

“I was nervous. I didn’t know if I was going to get a callback.” But he did. And these days Kaylin is going from strength to strength on e.tv drama series Imbewu: The Seed – working with industry stalwarts Leleti Khumalo and Anant Singh.

Bab Duma is none other than Duma kaNdlovu, the Muvhango creator who is now part of the Imbewu cast and production. He was so impressed with Kaylin he knew then and there they’d found the right Indian kid for the isiZulu production.

Two months later Kaylin still elicits surprise from viewers when he opens his mouth and speaks perfect isiZulu. He’s better at the language than he is at his mother tongue, English, the 17-year-old Durban-based actor tells us, and it’s opened doors he never thought possible.

A poor teen with dreams of one day playing soccer to get his family out of poverty, he learnt isiZulu while living in the crime infested informal settlement of Bhambayi in Inanda near Durban.

“My family lived in [predominantly Indian] Phoenix in KZN but because we were poor my grandmother couldn’t afford to pay rates, so we moved to Inanda because rent was cheaper there.”

Kaylin was barely a year old when he settled in an RDP house in the township with his unemployed mother, Vevina (now 33), and brother, Junior (10).

 “I used to go to a crèche with only black people,” Kaylin says. “So the other kids said if I wanted to be friends with them I should learn to speak isiZulu or else they would stop hanging out with me.”

So he did. By the time he reached primary school he was fluent.

Acting has changed his life, the Grade 10 student says. The opportunity came quite by chance.

Director Madoda Ncayiyana went to Inanda in search of an Indian boy who could speak isiZulu for the TV drama and bumped into Kaylin’s “brothers and sisters”– lifelong friends who’ve become like his family, the teen says.

“They drove to my house and checked my height as they wanted someone tall and I met the profile.” He then went to live with Madoda in KwaMashu, Durban, for a month to learn about acting. Then it was time for the audition and after blowing everyone away he received a call the next day to say he’d got the part. “I went crazy,” he says.

Kaylin plays Thu Sheleni, a hustler who works at a bar as a waiter. He had to attend acting workshops conducted by Duma to prepare for the role and will forever be grateful to him and “Bab Ncayiyana”. “If it wasn’t for them I wouldn’t be here.” Kaylin acts alongside Raphael Griffiths.

“I was a wreck in my first scenes with him,” he admits. “But he helped me to relax and be myself.” Acting has been so good to Kaylin he’s moved his family out of the township to Phoenix, where he now goes to school at Westham Secondary. “Bhambayi is kind of dangerous,” he says. “It’s not that I think I’m better than people there but my friends even suggested I move because thugs would be breaking into my house every day thinking I have money because I’m on TV.”

His mom couldn’t be prouder, he says. “She loves the show. And my friends are happy they go to the same school as a celebrity.” But he’s not letting it go to his head. He just wants to use acting to give his family a better life, one scene at a time.