As film and TV productions grow in the region, a new crop of stars are being born.
Most recent, Gudrun Mwanyika and Ikhlas Vora, the main characters in Tanzania’s award-winning film Vuta N’kuvute, are the new kids on the block.
For Mwanyika who plays Denge in the film, it has always been a dream of his to work with director Amir Shivji, and for Vora, who plays Yasmin, this was her breakthrough casting, which gave her, her debut role.
Like the character she plays in the film, Vora grew up in a strict Muslim family in the Kenyan coastal city of Mombasa.
“I was expected, just like other girls to ‘behave’ in a certain manner but being creative, I loved acting, singing and dancing, and my mother would diplomatically chastise me saying that despite my love for the arts, I had to limit myself,” said Vora.
But she always knew she wanted to be an actor despite following her mother’s advice and even became an air hostess.
One day she was challenged by her good friend Willson Rumisha, who challenged her by asking; ‘’What is your purpose here on earth?’’
“I couldn’t sleep that night and the question occupied me for months, and every time the thoughts of my acting ambitions surfaced I’d suppress them,” she said.
Eventually, she gave in to her inner voice and started to actively seek people she knew in the film industry.
“I called one up and we went for a beer and told him my story.
''He called me back after a couple of days and asked me to go audition for T- Junction, but I didn’t have the confidence yet and didn’t show up,” said Vora.
Then the same questioning friend, Rumisha told her of Shivji’s project which is based on Adam Shafi’s Swahili novel, Vuta N’kuvute. She bought the book and knew she had to be Yasmin. She auditioned for it in Dar es Salaam.
“I waited for months for a call back but I didn’t get any. I fell into a deep depression and anxiety for months but prayed earnestly for the chance to play Yasmin.”
One day she received a phone call from an unknown number, requesting her to go to Zanzibar for a second interview. She was overjoyed. The rest, as they say, is history.
“Vuta N’kuvute was my long-waited debut grand entrance into the acting world a grand one and hopefully not the last one,” she said.
For Vora’s co-star Mwanyika, his passion has always been to work behind the camera.
“Shivji insisted I audition for Denge’s role,” he said.
Although he had read the book in high school, he says he reread it four times to connect with Denge’s character.
Mwanyika says the foundation of his artistic expressions was laid by his driver who worked as a driver but loved photography and fine art.
He plans on exploring the film industry both behind and on camera and thanks “Vuta N’kuvute for opening doors for me in the film industry,” he said.
He believes that more collaborations among players in the sector are the only way to develop it professionally.
“I believe that if we start looking out for one another in terms of supporting our works it will take us far from where we currently are,” he said.
Vuta N’kuvute made a buzz since its first premiere at the Toronto Film Festival late last year. It's recent showing in Tanzania sold out for the whole month of June and early July.
The film tells the story of a young revolutionary, Denge and a runaway bride, Yasmin whose romance thrives on the back of a political revolt in colonial-era Zanzibar.