“Mimi ni Kubwa Sana”- means I am a big man. A little bit of Kiswahili and a full length Bollywood film in Kenya is the Rajiv Rai multi-starrer, Vishwatma.

Ever since, Kenya has made a cameo in Bollywood films like Ram Gopal Verma’s Company but never again a feature-length movie, why?

A quick synopsis of Vishwatma first, where director Rajiv Rai repeated a trio love story, cops and robbers chasing like his mega-success Tridev. He also repeated most of the cast and didn’t fall short in giving them meaningful roles. A traitor to India, Amrish Puri plays Azghar Jugad who is a well-known smuggler based in Kenya and settled with his sons. One of his sons raped the Kenyan Police Inspector Surya Pratap (Naseerudin Shah’s) wife who is also sister to Renuka (Sonam) who is connected to the Indian Police. Thus, starts their hunt for Azghar and meeting with Surya and their adventure to gather evidence and take Azghar back to India.

Several twists, turns and song sequences come up, which are interesting and have their bit of humor. In the end, all’s well that ends well and the villains don’t have anywhere else to hide and get caught and arrested at their own den. The use of location, from Maasai Mara, Mombasa, hotels and casino in Kenya are useful and Rajiv Rai and his team do justice. Even the Kenya Police get prominence and much reel time.

Ever since Kenya is not able to compete for films that have ended up in South Africa mostly due to failure in Immigration polices, tax issues, infrastructure and general permissions and licenses. There has also not been an aggressive initiative to promote Kenya as a film destination. The scene is changing at a slow pace and that is mostly due to foreign crews who want to shoot adverts, documentaries and news worthy pieces. There are now several production houses that are making use of the new digital and technological advances to create decent to wow film shots. The recent success of the film Nairobi Half Life has awoken interest and brought attention to the world that Kenya is getting serious about cinema, because the audience demand is growing. For the first time ever in the history of cinema going, Kenyans came out in large numbers to watch this film, as opposed to sitting at home and watched pirated DVDs, which are menace. There are not enough cinemas, but then there is not enough culture to go to watch a film, even if ticket prices were dropped substantially. Even though secure public transport is an issue, Kenyans are fans of education and are busy at night classes, or socializing. The young are catching on the film, theatre and music scene, so they will bring in the numbers.

The new Jubilee Government has made a commitment to renew the interest and attract foreign crews and boost the local industry. This requires mega funds and major cooperation from all industry players, such as Kenya Revenue Authority, Department of Immigration, Interior Ministry of Security, and Minister of Culture & Sports, Ministry of Tourism and City Council. Without their concerted effort to make Kenya an easier place to come and film, foreign crews will continue to give Kenya a small space on screen and many potential stars, directors, technicians and story writers will not get their chance. The stardom of Lupita Nyongo has shown Kenyans are talented and if they are in the right place at the right time, they too can shine.

 

Africa is ripe for investment and the entertainment scene from Nigeria to Morocco may be happening, but it is time for East Africa to take charge and create its own reel.

 

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