The coming of many television stations in the country would have closed the long yawning chasm of entertainment which the motion picture provides to people.
With only MBC TV beaming in the country from the late 1990s, one had no choice but to consume with gusto anything the state-owned television dished out. This lack of alternative choice of local television stations forced some highly passionate entertainment-oriented people to start following some international television programmes with total abandon.
Women and men, girls and boys turned to African Magic, SABC, M-Net, Telemundo and recently Zee World for movies, live-talk shows, reality TV shows, series and soap operas.
But it is TV series and soaps that many Malawians have fallen head over heels with. At the turn of the millennium, MBC, then called Television Malawi (TVM), used to relay a popular South African soap called Generations. This is the soap in which the famous Lerato Khumalo of the Sarafina film used to star. The love Malawians showed for Generations was akin to what one accords the gods. When MBC pulled off the plague on Generations, it was like a dark cloud had descended over the enthusiasts of the show.
Perhaps, realising that by stopping to relay Generations on the only local TV then had disconcerted some of its fanatics, MBC innovate something out of this world—relaying one of the highly revered e.tv Africa’s series—Scandal. In the spur of the moment, the decision to relay Scandal sounded convincing as it had a utilitarian end.
At least for sometime, the entertainment-starved souls were pacified and MBC had lived to their billing—inspiring the nation. Then, from the excitement of Scandal series crept out a scandal that ended in ignominy. No more Scandal on MBC.
Like a phynx that rises from its own death ashes, MBC inspired the nation with another series, this time around, a local series was to fill the huge gap left by Scandal. Choices clicked to life on the local screen in January 2015 to excite the passions of many.
Unlike Scandal and Generations in years back, Choices is a series which talks about various issues affecting society in general especially in urban setting.
“It’s been running since January 2015 and we have screened 75 episodes. Still, we are going places,” says Ashukile Mwakisulu, producer and director of Choices.
Following in the footsteps of MBC, Times TV has also launched their own series called Spouses and Workmates. This is produced and directed by Flora Suya.
It is soothing to the soul to see that local series and soaps are finding their way to the screen especially at a time when arguably a lot of viewers are facing towards the east to the Zee World.
The consumption of foreign series and soaps should surely have some ramifications on the moral fabric of society as these series advance foreign culture.
That is why Mwakisulu argues that soaps are important “as they help us tell our stories as a people. Whether be in urban or rural areas we have our own unique way of living as Malawians.”
Stories are a convenient vessel through which generations are taught about the glory of their nation’s past and prepare them for the uncertainties of the future. Chinua Achebe writes that a story survives the savagery onslaught of war on the battlefield where valiant soldiers succumb to the weight of defeat as such local stories that are familiar are better.
For all Malawi’s enthusiasm for films, series and soaps, only a few of those series with serious intent to entertain and not just to bring laughter from viewers with funny jokes are made.
“There are few soaps because many people are discouraged to produce them as the cost to sustain the episodes for a considerable time eats deeper into the pocket,” Mwakisulu says.
It is the same issue of money that has also contributed to poor production of some local films.
Ezaus Mkandawire, president of the Film Association of Malawi says that the lack of finances is affecting the film industry in Malawi.
There is need for the whole film industry to improve the skill levels through training in order to produce quality films and eventually soaps, observes Mkandawire.
On his part Shemu Joyah, a well known film maker, says that lack of comprehensive technical knowledge of film making is a challenge. Most film makers do not have proper training in various departments of the film making process like script writing, camera operation, lighting, sound, set designing, editing and making of film products.”
To know all this one needs to undergo adequate training. And this needs adequate money.
So the negligible number of local soaps is attributed to the high cost of production. That explains why perhaps, MBC was showing Malawians foreign series and soaps in the past.
Ironically, the coming of many television stations has failed to ignite fire in the film makers to produce more soaps. There is a total indifference from the practitioners of the film industry to utilise the available avenues in local tv stations.
Perhaps that is what leads some to conclude that there is no such a thing as the film industry in Malawi from which more soaps can be produced. n