Tuesday, April 13, 2021

Touring the great Mma Ramotswe set with McCall Smith

The man behind the Mma Ramotswe novels, renowned author, Alexander McCall Smith, on Thursday visited one of the movie sets which is built at the foot of Kgale Hill.

I was one of the lucky journalists to tour the set with McCall Smith. When I arrived on the set, I did not believe for a second that this place was built just seven weeks ago. I thought it was an old place which had been there all along. It is a very colourful place and quite historical. It has this mildly old atmosphere, and I felt as if I was being transported back to an old fashioned mall of the late 60s which I only saw in the history books.

The set is made up of approximately twelve detailed buildings, most of which erected to look old. Some of these buildings include the supermarket, internet caf├®, hair salon, a pharmacy, an old post house, Chinese shop, a Chibuku deport, variety of street venders, butchery, car-wash, a caravan for take-away foods, and a fashion stall. The place also has hawkers who sell traditional products by the road side. There is also a very old rusty Dutsan loaded with bags of oranges.

In an interview with The Sunday Standard, McCall Smith said that the set, which looked so authentic, captured the essence in his famous book.

“The people who created the set have really done a wonderful job in putting all this together. What I like most about this set is that every detail has been attended to, and I’m surprised to see how detailed it is.”

McCall Smith said fading colours on some of the buildings were a precise representation of what he described in his novel.

“Films and movies are all about illusion which means they should be close to real, and this is what exactly this place is,” he said, adding that the set represented the comfortable pleasant nature of Botswana.

Though there is a beauty salon in the mall, McCall Smith pointed out that Mma Ramotswe does not like going to the salon.

“Her hair is always braided, and braiding is at all times done by her friends at home,” he explained. Mma Ramotswe, he said, is not fashion conscious and believes that her dresses should be big.
McCall Smith, who once lived in Botswana, stressed that he is very pleased to see this movie being made in Botswana.

“These are the people who understand the book better. They understand its approach and its philosophy,” he said, adding that this should be exciting for Gaborone because it is the beginning of many good things to come.

Addressing an issue that wagged many tongues – why an American woman, not a Motswana, was given the lead role – he said though it would have been nice if it had been a Motswana in the lead role, people have to understand that making a movie requires a lot of experience, and somebody who would do extremely well.

“There are so many speaking roles for Batswana who are taking part in this movie. They are really doing a great job and I’m happy about these characters,” he said.

He expressed gratitude to Amy Moore for making this movie a reality. He said Moore is the one who initiated that this novel be transformed into a movie and insisted that it should be shot in Botswana.
The Production Designer of the movie set, Johnny Breedt, told The Sunday Standard that this incredible place had been designed from different old buildings copied from some of the places in Botswana, like Serowe, Mahalapye and Lobatse.
“For me to come up with the idea of this set, I took more than ten thousand pictures showing the way of life of Batswana so as to get an understanding of how Botswana looks like and feels like.”

He said he visited the modern malls and old malls, like the African Mall.

“I have experienced the taverns and the shebeens to get the feel and experience of what life there is all about.”

Breedt said that though the place is not real, it required more experience and that was a bit challenging which was good since he does not normally get a chance to design a set where a movie is being shot.

He said that most of the settings in the movie are real except for this one in Kgale.

“I have a crew of 30 people from South Africa, and about 35 people from Botswana who are working with me. They range from skilled carpenters to plasterers and builders.”

Breedt said that he is also working with ten chemical and mechanical interns from the University of Botswana who are doing a great job.
“I have been using local contractors to build roads for this set.”

Even after the filming of the movie is over, it will remain the most original and unique place in Gaborone, a place worth a visit to remind oneself of the good old days. I found it to be a wonderful place.


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