Otelo Burning review

By Drum Digital
14 May 2012

What makes Otelo Burning different from most South African films set in the apartheid days is its strong focus on many subjects other than racism – an exhausted theme typical of films portraying pre-1994 South Africa.

With a cast that boasts familiar faces like Jafta Mamabolo from Generations, Thomas Gumede, Sihle Xaba, Kenneth Nkosi, Tshepang Mohlomi and Nolwazi Shange,  the film highlights various social ills including rape, betrayal, child abuse and neck-lacing.

But most of all, Otelo Burning is a story about township boys who discover the joys of surfing, a hobby in which they find escapism from the hardships of family and society.

We catch up with Mamabolo, who plays lead character Otelo Buthelezi, Sihle Xaba, who plays the role of jealous villain Mandla Modise and Nolwazi Shange, who stars as Dezi, an impressionable girl who sets Otelo and Mandla’s egos head to head.

We met the 3 cast members at the film’s screening session at the Atlas Studios in Auckland Park.

Shange is first to tell us how she discovered acting is her calling.

“It started with jumping around the house and my grandparents thought ‘eish, maybe there’s something special about this child’,” she says.

“So they decided to take me drama school. I was still in primary school by then.”

After school, she went on to cement her career acting on popular TV shows like A Place Called Home, Mthunzini.com and Soul City.

Having acted and presented on range of TV shows including Soul Buddyz and Yo TV, Mamabolo’s profile is by far the richest of them all. He was 10 years old when TV cameras fell in love him.

For Xaba, currently working as a lifeguard for the eThekwini Municipality in Durban, the big break into acting was an accidental opportunity he couldn’t turn down.

“I was just at the right place at the right time when I met Sara [Blecher] (Otelo Burning director),” he says.

“She asked me about surfing, where I come from and ya, the rest just happened. Otherwise, I never thought I would be where I am today.”

We ask them about the challenges they recall while shooting the film and Shange’s face lights up.

“For me, working with so much testosterone was a challenge,” She says and they all melt in laughter.

“But the most challenge was definitely the rape scene. It wasn’t an easy thing to do. I even got injured but we got it right at last.”

For a boy bred speaking SePedi in Limpopo, adjusting to isiZulu was Mamabolo’s biggest challenge.

“I’m a Pedi Boy from Ga-Masemola where I was raised. But I’m glad I was thrown into Soweto and that’s basically where the rest of my childhood was spent. So I learnt to speak something apparently known as ‘Joburg Zulu’, that I supposedly spoke and constantly reminded of during the shoot,” he says with a chuckle.

Despite the challenges, the film turned out perfectly. It later scooped two awards at the 2012 African Movie Academy Awards.

So do they have any plans going forward, we ask.

Shange tells us that she plans to focus on getting her communications company off the ground.

“I’m currently in negotiations with key people in this country. You will hear about Shange Communications soon,” she says.

While SA’s biggest soap opera Generations keeps Mamobolo busy on weekdays, he said some of his energies will be spent on launching his fashion label.

If not saving lives at the beach, Xaba spends some of his time converting glue-smoking street kids into lifeguards.

“I currently have two kids who work with me. They are now professional lifeguards from smoking glue on the street,” he says.

Otelo Burning opens at cinemas on 11 May.

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