Zambezi Magic Films Under Review: Mpali – Culture Versus Modernity


When Nguzu and his latest wife, Nancy, return from the honeymoon, she walks straight into a hostile reception from her fellow wives and probably you feel pity for her. Now that empathy may be tapering off. To some extent, you are now seeing sense in the antipathy of Shupiwe, Monde, and Tombi, aren’t you?

Firstly, her presence in the family is primarily business. She is a wife, alright, but top on her agenda is business rather than matrimony. She said it in one of the episodes. She even buys off Nguzu with her idea of manufacturing banana juice to be branded ‘Nguzu Banana Juice.’

Secondly, she takes over the master bedroom and denies the other wives their conjugal rights. The weekly program that they were following is scrapped off. It is only when she feels like it that she can live the bedroom. It doesn’t work like that in a polygamous marriage. Doesn’t she realize that if her fellow wives start flirting, they can bring HIV and AIDS into the family and she can be infected? Okay, she doesn’t according to the author. We leave it like that.

Thirdly, she is ignoring the cultural values that put a man at the helm of a family, and that Shupiwe keeps emphasizing. She has literally taken over the headship of the family that comprises women who have grown in traditions that regard a man as the decider of the next move. On many occasions, she even stubbornly refuses to listen to Nguzu’s advice.

Against that backdrop, she must modernize her rival wives (and of course the viewers especially of the female gender) who are born and bred under deep African customs. She envisions a future where every wife of Nguzu lives like a queen who does no household chores. Good idea, not so? Alas! Not for an African woman, especially one who is in a polygamous marriage and must draw the attention of her husband by the way she cooks. Maybe Nancy has a point; only it has come too early.

I was thinking that Tamara will have no quarrel with Nguzu marrying another woman but it looks she is not ready to shed the title Mai Nini (youngest wife/mother) any time soon. She is, meanwhile, faking a pregnancy at her sister’s apartment somewhere away from the farm.

All that is presented to us by a team of nationally acclaimed good actors. Good actors? Oh yes, but they can do better. Again, let me voice out on my detestation of the mannerism of humming unnecessarily. I’m talking about punctuating lines with expressions like “hmm!?” “huh?” “heh?” You don’t notice these mannerisms in other movies but in Mpali you will hear tens of them in just one shot. You know, it makes actors look like they are regretting what they have just said or they are not sure of what they are going to say next. It’s like at that moment they are out of character. It’s as if they are saying, “Did I say it right?” or, “What is my next line?” Directors must be on the lookout for such seemingly trivial matters. It’s amateurish and it sucks!


City of Fire has no humming mannerisms. The youthful actors are good and you can see prospects of improvement. There is maturity in the way actors execute their lines and actions. Comparing with other movies currently showing on Zambezi Magic, I can say City of Fire is the only one that is scripted and where characters are guided by the rules of acting. It’s not like a sketch where actors are just given the storyline and what they say or do is up to them provided that the concept is visible. No, City of Fire is not like that. Hats off to the scriptwriter, producer, and director, Wyclif Mwamba!

Now here is where I punch holes. About seven episodes down the line and the main character can’t easily be identified. I don’t want to ask those who watched the first time it was shown, I want to see for myself. I’m also still struggling to find a link between the divorcing family, Kangwa and Mutinta, and the rest of the story. If there is any connection hitherto, it must be really faint. Maybe I missed the part that provided the link. That’s the writer’s fault. Don’t live too much for viewers to figure out for ourselves.

Another thing. The movie overflows with the cliché about “last time I checked…” It’s like every actor’s favorite and everyone wants to use it at every opportunity. But they can use synonyms like “if I remember correctly” and many more. Variety, you know. Hey, I’m not here to teach English!

Enough for today.

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