Friday, September 18, 2020

Mma Ramotswe TV series: A big yawn

I need to state from the onset that I am one of those who were never caught in on the hype that came with the release of the movie, The No.1 Ladies Detective Agency, commonly referred to as Mma Ramotswe, the name of the lead character in the movie adapted from Alexander McCall Smith’s novel of the same name.

In fact, up to this date, I have not watched the movie and this is because it is not available in Botswana, despite being associated and shot on location in Botswana.

This is the movie that our government pumped millions of taxpayers’ money towards its production only for the movie, upon its release, to be played exclusively to a select audience of high earning taxpayers when it was premiered in Botswana and only in Gaborone.

I have not even bothered to get a bootlegged copy from the streets because, truly speaking, I have always had my own reservations and misgivings about the movie even before the words ‘lights, camera and action’ were shouted.

Here was a movie to be shot on location in Botswana and supposedly depict Botswana and the lifestyle of Batswana but the cast is almost all foreign with Batswana actors relegated to cameo appearances and insignificant roles where they do not even utter a word.
Watching the series, one would be forgiven for thinking it’s one of those South African television dramas. To add salt to injury, the story line is too childish and outright cold if not stupid.

I have no qualms with Jill Scott taking the lead role of Mma Ramotswe. After all she’s already a brand in her own right and that definitely helped bolster sales of the movie to international audiences. What irks me to the bone is the number of South African actors who have been roped in to play even minor roles that a lot of Batswana could have played with ease, confidence and much less coaching.
Perhaps you’re wondering why I would bark out so loud yet I declared that I have not yet watched the movie.

Well, finally our national television station, which never gets its priorities right, decided to air the series of The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency. By the way, I’m told we’re only watching it at the goodwill of it’s producers as our government was reluctant to purchase the rights to play it on Btv, despite having wasted so much money on its production.

Watching this drama series one can tell the reason behind government’s unwillingness to show us this project, which cost us so much money. They didn’t want us to see the movie because it is not worth it. I have already watched a few episodes and still I cannot grasp the plot.

Mma Ramotswe’s secretary uses a pre colonial type writer whereas we see modern and latest models of cars being used in the movie. If they managed to use the latest Range Rover in the drama series they could as well have used a computer at Mma Ramotswe’s office instead of that noisy outdated type writer.

The producers say the production presents modern Botswana but I beg to differ because in modern Botswana we no longer use those typewriters.
Nonetheless, the drama series boasts of a highly rated crew of Producers and Directors and this is shown in the quality and professionalism displayed in the episodes currently run on Btv.

Perhaps I should also give due credit to the producer, Amy J. Moore, for fighting tooth and nail to have the movie shot on location in Botswana. Most of the locations are depictive of Botswana save for that shabby makeshift border post and the typewriter.

You also get the feeling of Botswana when you see familiar places and cars in the drama. Actually it’s quite clear a lot of hard work and money was put into this project.

I’m also reliably informed that a lot of Batswana who hired out their services such as vehicles were handsomely paid. But having watched a few episodes of this series, I am sorry to say, I find the whole story line too childish and a load of hogwash.

I may be wrong but the story line would appeal to kindergarten kids. I know the series is classified as comedy/drama but I still feel it is not appealing and is irrelevant to our modern times, which it seeks to depict. That it has made headlines abroad is neither here nor there because it only got rave reviews from people who honestly do not have a grasp of what should have been done for the drama to be fully depictive of Batswana.

Let us now move to the part which really got me writing this piece of review. This is where the drama did our country a lot of injustice.

Despite being produced entirely in Botswana, it is worrying that certain words have been pronounced differently from local usage. One critic had this to say about this whole assault on pronunciation of some words, “For instance, in Setswana the common address of a man as “Rra” is pronounced ‘’Ra”. Also, the Setswana name Mmapula is pronounced in the series with emphasis on the short “a”, rather than on the long “u” which most Batswana would use.”

Whoever was hired as the language/accent/dialect coach, or whatever they are called in the movie industry, should not have been paid a single Thebe. The actors’ accent is nowhere near Botswana. The two lead characters, being Mma Ramotswe and her secretary, Mma Makutsi, played by Anika Noni Rose, do not sound anything like Batswana.
I feel sorry for Jill Scott for all her precious time which was wasted being coached to speak like some Nigerian lady while all she wanted was to learn to speak like a Motswana.

Speaking of Nigeria, someone has whispered to me that even before Jill Scott landed here, she was assigned some Nigerian lady to be her dialect coach back in the US. It is rumoured by the time Jill Scott was assigned a Motswana coach her brains were already awash with the Nigerian accent. But I must say Mma Ramotswe is not as bad as her secretary who does not only sound Tswana but acts like a retarded soul.

The only thing that Jill Scott fails to say properly is the greetings. I don’t know if her coach was so scared of Jill’s celebrity status so much so that she could not tell her to say “Dumela Rra” or “Dumela Mma” as slowly as any normal Motswana lady would.

As for the bespectacled secretary, if I had the powers I would order a reshoot of the entire drama series without her or with her accent and body posture completely changed.

The lady speaks fast with an accent that is inconsistent and totally foreign. The lady is not calm and collected as is the norm with most real life secretaries found in the country.

Well, perhaps it was the producers’ deliberate intention to depict her as abnormal and to that I cannot complain. My only bone of contention is, the storyline is too childish and it is very difficult to follow the series and connect what you saw on Monday with what you see on Wednesday.

The dialect coaching department also failed dismally. The casting agency failed Batswana by preferring foreigners at the expense of Batswana despite the fact that our government wasted a lot of money in the project.

I wonder what The Office of the President has to say about this project. I wonder if they too have picked the wrong accent and awful pronunciation of Setswana words from the actors or perhaps to them it is what they are used to.


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