One of black people’s biggest fears is being bewitched. We aren’t certain of how true the idea is, but it’s one that both scares and enchants us. Phumlani S Langa watched Omen, a blood-curdling production that uses this theme to its dramatic optimum.
Mzansi Magic (DStv channel 161)
Omen is the latest drama to be aired on Mzansi Magic and it tells the dark story of a family of royals from Limpopo. But they’re not your average ruling family, they preside over witches and those skilled in the dark arts.
The witch king passes away only two scenes into the first episode, which is a good look, with the creators giving you a character and yanking him away just as you start becoming attached.
From the first scene you can tell that MultiChoice is flexing its financial muscle on another impressive-looking project. Black South African audiences are fascinated by the supernatural traditions safeguarded by our cultures, and many of these are not spoken about, especially those involving the resurrection of the dead. The witch king and his mistress attempt this but fail, resulting in the king’s death.
As is the case with any story where power hangs in the balance, there’s one person with a rightful claim, surrounded by those who want to ascend to power, just nje. This formula very often shows a character who wants nothing to do with the throne. In this case it’s Mogale, played by Lesley Musina of Muvhango fame. He returns to our screens a little more seasoned than his days as Ndalamo.
Mogale was born to the king but given away at nine months old. His parents told everyone in the village that he had died. He’s now a happily married lawyer and about to be a father. He has no idea that he’s the rightful heir to supersede the witch king and he harbours a deep resentment towards his family for how they treated him.
Mogale is a man who has modelled his life on the idea of empirical evidence and scholarly knowledge to explain the world. But like most black people, his past is steeped in tradition and curious practices.
The shots and their composition are suitably sinister, with suspense-filled music incorporated throughout. Creators Kelton Sinyosi and Zelipa Zulu use a familiar recipe, employing a striking wardrobe, artful lighting and a story strong enough to allow the actors and the audience to lose themselves within it.
It’s the same thing that has made The River, Grassroots and The Republic stand out and leave other televised competition floundering in their wake.
Omen is by far more mystical than anything else we’ve seen. Sure, it’ quite on the nose at times, but it works. A criticism, however, is that some of the studio sequences in the throne room look obviously like a studio set-up.
However, Molobane Maja-Mbatha’s performance as the evil mistress Chingani is the perfect distraction. There’s no trace of the role she played on Skeem Saam as Mrs Kgomo. She’s by far one of the best reasons to watch Omen, just to bear witness to the level of her skill.
Her twisted henchman Nelson, played by Thabiso Mokhethi of Generations, is just as good.
Watching Omen is like sitting in front of the TV and being put under a dark but gripping spell, and it’s a feeling we like.