Wednesday, September 23, 2020

Botswana’s sunny side shines in London

It was a sight many Batswana have longed to see: I am right in the middle of London, a blonde middle aged woman tottering on high heels flashes me a smile upon learning that I am from Botswana and says “Domela ra.”

My visit to London has been full of such moments. On my first morning here, I was roused from my sleep by a female voice singing “Ke Khutsanyana ke setse matlotleng.” I looked around, pleasantly surprised. There was no one in the room. It was just me, American R&B singer, Jill Scott, her full figure filling out her traditional Leteitshi dress and a television set mounted at the corner of my hotel room. The television footage of Jill Scott singing the Botswana folks song is being used to advertise the No1 Ladies’ Detective Agency movie which plays on BBC television today (Sunday). And Britain is in the grip of a Botswana mania, well, maybe not a Botswana mania, but Botswana seems to be everywhere you look, and you are unlikely to meet a Briton who still asks: “Botswana, which part of Nigeria is that.”

For example, Tuesday afternoon, I jumped out of the subway, shouldered my way through a riot of blonde, red, brunette and black kinky heads huddled inside heavy coats and suddenly found myself face to face with a huge poster on the subway station walls advertising the No1 Ladies’ Detective Agency movie “a literary adaptation set in Botswana.”

Far from the hustle and bustle of London, in Carlsbad, the local library was preparing to host an evening with Alexander McCall Smith, the author of “The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency,” next month as part of its annual “Carlsbad Reads Together.”
Alexander McCall Smith’s books about a “traditionally built” Motswana woman who opened a detective agency in Gaborone, has everyone in the UK talking. First published in 1998, the stories proved so evocative of a country and a people with a quiet dignity, a moral compass and a sprightly sense of humour that the tales of Precious Ramotswe, her finicky assistant, Makutsi, and her mannered suitor, JLB Matekoni, have become as popular as Rebus or Miss Maple, with fans in 40 countries.

The movie, co- scripted by Anthony Minghella, who died last week and Richard Curtis will be shown on BBC One tonight (Sunday). There will also be a spin off series of 13 one-hour episodes based on the detective agency characters.

It may not be the instinctive reaction of those who work in newsrooms, but there comes a time, just occasionally, when hats must be doffed in the general direction of the government enclave.
When news first broke that the Botswana government would partly sponsor the movie, there was a serious backlash from the media and the local public. Indications, however, are that the publicity and general goodwill that will spin from the movie will surpass, by far, Botswana’s initial investment.

By the beginning of the year, it was becoming evident that the No 1 Ladies Detective Agency movie could turn out to be an even bigger investment that initially anticipated.

Home Box Office (HBO) has ordered, upfront, 13 episodes of the drama series, “The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency.” The drama will star R&B singer Jill Scott, who will play the role of Precious Ramotswe.

For this project, the network closed a deal with Weinstein Co., the BBC and filmmakers Anthony Minghella and Richard Curtis, who were to be the executive-producers of the new drama series.
While, HBO will control TV and home video rights in the U.S. and Canada, and BBC will handle the U.K. television distribution, Weinstein Co. will control all other international rights. The TWC co-topper Harvey Weinstein said, according to the Variety, he was extremely glad to have the opportunity to work with HBO on this project.

“It’s always been a dream of mine to produce a series for HBO. I’ve often called there to tell them that they make better episodes than we make movies.”

The shootings are to take place in Botswana and London. It, however, will not be all plain sailing. The death of Anthony Minghella, last week, provides a headache to the producers of No1 Ladies’ Detective Agency drama series.

The pilot film was a “special project” for Minghella and he was the “driving force” behind it.
“I think he understood what the books were about and what Botswana is about. He really understood what that country means to its people,” says McCall Smith.

“It is a view of decent people leading good lives with a sense of humour. They are the same as us in their hopes and ambitions,” McCall Smith was quoted as saying.

The Movie, which premiered in London last week, is expected to be a big hit in the west but may attract critics among afro-centrists. The African story is often times very sensitive, especially when told through the eyes of non Africans. The No1 Ladies Detective movie displays the sunny side of Botswana through humour. There is, however, danger that those who have not read the novels could miss the plot and understand the movie humour in the Gods- must- be-crazyesque light. All in all, however, it was a worthwhile investment for Botswana.

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The Telegraph September 23

Digital edition of The Telegraph, September 23, 2020.