After having Shaka Zulu’s story told through a white gaze, Stained Glass is giving us a well-told narrative free from colonial partnerships. Phumlani S Langa sees how the show about the Zulu king is representing the country on an international level.
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The production opens with a stick fight between two young warriors in a storm. Immediately, you notice that the people responsible for the imagery were prepared to put on a good show. The scene, with no dialogue, is a little like one from the movie 300. The expensive sheen gives Ifalakhe a fantasy feel, and this helps the story a lot.
Stained Glass Productions, with Gugulethu Zuma-Ngcube at the helm, has continued to outdo itself. It is responsible for the most watched soapie in the land, Uzalo, and this latest offering makes that seem like Pumpkin Patch.
The show takes us to pre-colonial times of Zulu kings, queens, war and witchcraft. The Okuhle kingdom has a proud king with two queens who are yet to bare him a son. The hair and wardrobe are striking. Big Afros, regal braids and mighty locks are so much better than the wig and weave-inspired cheap imitation of our capturers. The clothing looks like traditional Zulu attire but with splashes of modern chic and golden hair accessories.
Tension around the heir mars the family as both queens are pregnant, which means that whoever bears a child first will have given birth to the next king. King Khombindlela (Bheki Sibiya) rules his lands as best he can but, as is the case with most men of power, he has secrets, and these force him to go to great lengths to defend his honour and rule.
The show could be like our very own Game of Thrones. A break from boring boardroom banter about blatantly fake administrative issues. Cattle theft and tribalism make up the bricks that erect this solid and sincere plot.
The relatively unknown cast makes for an even more convincing watch. A few of the more famous faces are also left little room to rely on their star power and followers. The jealous first wife, Nomvula, played by the multifaceted Sthandwa Nzuza, has a dark story of envy and love for the banished king’s brother. She seeks out dark magic to aid her struggle to be the queen mother. She parts with five years of her life to do this in an exchange with a sinister-looking sangoma.
The Okuhle kingdom is also under threat from a rival monarchy, the Khanya kingdom, that steal cattle from the Okuhles. This adds fuel to a rivalry between the two kings.
In the first episode, a battle is fought, and the attention to detail in the fight is better than many I’ve seen. Punches look real, and blades penetrate torsos. Stained Glass Productions could’ve had their first full-length feature if they condensed this into a movie. The story involves intricate character arcs that are suspenseful but don’t develop too slowly.
Kudos to the scriptwriters for the poetic use of the Zulu language whose aggression was used fittingly for the charged scenes. Forget a South African Film and Television Award, this seems to be aiming at that coveted International Emmy slot occupied by The River. And after watching this, it is safe to say The River had a good run.