YOU gotta love The Bomb Shelter television and film Production Company. Here are the klevas who’ve been pushing the envelope ever since the appearance of their ground breaking work Yizo-Yizo. While I cannot claim that I am a fundi when it comes to South African television production companies’ prowess applause klap-klap have to be given where they are due. For now The Bomb Shelter takes center stage. Until I am conversant with the oeuvre of these klevas’ work collectively I shan’t spew a crit’ at what we’ve seen so far coming out of their finesse touch. I came of age on a diet of Yizo-Yizo, was aware of Jacob’s Cross, later on, Watched Zone 14 to come nice, albeit when it got routinized it bored me to the core. It is yet to be seen what Ashes to Ashes, the upcoming E TV’s tellenovella will do with the sub theme of undertaking on a grander scale. A Soap Dish war fare at prime time is waged and remote control sojourn questioned around the living room! But back on track towards the point that the present jotting is trying to make. Isibaya cemented The Bomb Shelter as a formidable force as far as envelope pushing is concerned.¶
You see these Klevas neh, it’s like they look at our society and say ‘OK We gonna take a closer look at what makes people uncomfortable and ‘bang’ put it, that very thing, in front of them.’ Or ‘We gonna confront our society with what they sweep under the carpet; bring the dirt out.’ Even better ‘We gonna rear the head of the monster that our society does not want to confront, the fear they loath and chooses to ignored while silently trying in vain to wish it away and let it be internalized, it will be interrogated and assimilated into the psyche of South Africans when it hits the fan’. Here we see art playing the role of studying the society within which it is produced and, to a certain extent, helping that society understand itself a little bit better even if it causes friction in the process. Remember the gay love making scene in Yizo-Yizo the third? It caused an uncomfortable ripple in the moralists’ circles. Despite their OMG protest placards wielding that aspect of our society had been put out there in the wide open and The Bomb Shelter moved on towards the horizon like a fast gun fighter who’ve just traded lead with a tough hombre and emerged unscathed.
And then something happened in telly land. The-modern-fire-place-story-teller yielded to the burgeoning blackoisie; ag man I meant bourgeoisie, Mzanzi Magic (DStv Channel 161) was launched and many moons later Isibaya appeared, initially as a tellenovella; and, mfana sonny, The Bomb Shelter now challenged our fears by interrogating the Zombie phenomenon. Without warning, all the ingredients that are rolled together with human cruelty when someone is turned into a zombie were shoved into our faces at prime time in the soap dish war zone and we had to endure seeing a character beloved by all turned into a monster. It’s important to note that when in that very tellenovella cum soapie Zungu died in a mysterious car accident and there was an uproar from the viewers’ side to such an extent that they, the viewers, threatened to boycott the show. Who knows whether the mkhovu phenomenon was part of the original text? However this global narrative found its way into our living rooms and we dabbed the corners of our eyes with tissue paper sonny, a sniff here and there and a sigh yonder. We were being emotionally entertained – the mjitas and sisters of The Bomb Shelter crew restored our faith in them by bringing Mpiyakhe Zungu back from the dead.¶
Now at a light jog, huddling together with the other germs in the stable of The Bomb Shelter universe aYeYe is here; breaking some more new ground. Besides in your face sex scenes, the obscene gestures and the use of the word ‘f***’ casually dropped in the characters interactions with each other it is a class conscious piece of work (apologies for self censorship, some of my readers are conservative). The three protagonists JK (Thapelo Mokoena), Neo (Sthembiso ‘SK’ Khoza) and Lebo (Mpho ‘Popps’ Modikoane) are a reflection of this class blabber thing. JK is a ‘spoil brat’ as his dad admonishes him several episodes into the series about his ungrateful nature. Neo seem to have been brought up by uGogo, as the fridge saga attests few astride episodes as the narrative expands. He is ambitious and like JK has an insatiable appetite for women (and I dare to say even men) and Lebo is from a stable family background. His loyalty to stability is shown when his friends resign from the marketing company KT&T when they feel unappreciated even though they had won an award for a recent ad they put together and he decides to stay. The outfit is splintered by the ambitions of the two unstable characters; It seems Neo will follow Jacaranda to the edge of the flat world in search of fame and fortune.
The prowess of The Bomb Shelter, their greatest uppercut to date, was demonstrated in an episode wherein Lebo meets JK’s sister Ziyanda (Zandile Lujabe) for lunch and she brings her colleague, Baps (Somizi Mhlongo) in tow; the latter having invited himself out of curiosity to ‘check out’ this guy whom he has heard so much about from Ziyanda. When Lebo arrives he is surprised that there is a third person in this lunch date and is also taken aback by his androgynous appearance. As he stutters after taking his seat Baps jokes ‘Cant your friend talk, he stutters like Mshefane’. The profoundness of this utterance cannot be overstated to viewers who are knowledgeable about South African films and television. Here as a character he, Baps; from a performance text perspective – I am tempted to even use the term meta-narrative, is referring to one of the legendary comics of all times in South African film industry namely Ndaba Mhlongo. However, parallel to that, to viewers aware of Somizi Mhlongo’s family background he is actually referring simultaneously to his father as well. This interplay between a fictional character referencing a real person who happens to be closely related to the actor portraying the fictional character does not complete a circle of influence but expands it in a progressive direction that highlights and affirms that the actor performing this feature is not in the shadow of his parents. Consider that Somizi’s mother is also a veteran actress, Mary Twala, but at the instant of this specific performance Somizi Mhlongo’s acting prowess interrogates at a distant of his own doing as far as his achievements are concerned an entrenched beloved character. He encapsulates the circle of his parents achievements with that of his own. It amplifies the great tradition behind Somizi Mohlongo’s achievements in parallel with that of his fore bearers. It is a homage par excellence! We look forward to see where these klevas at The Bomb Shelter will take us with this stellar studded cast, especially on a deep structural level of viewing, for now – aYeYe.¶
Mmutle Arthur Kgokong 2015