House of Lungula, by Alex Konstantaras and Lizz Njagah is the latest Kenyan film to hit the theatre, and I say theatre, singular. Strangely, it’s as if only the Century Cinemax at the Junction Mall is the only place that screens Kenyan movies. That’s a damn shame. Nevertheless, we are grateful because the last Kenyan movie to be screened was Judy Kibinge’s Something Necessary early in the year. It has been a long wait.
Sex Comedy, Sexy Comedy, Adult movie??? Those are the words I’ve seen being used to describe House of Lungula. What movie genre is it exactly? Based on my observation, it’s definitely not a sexy comedy, and I had no idea there was such a genre. However, calling it an adult movie, which is basically saying it is pornography, is a bit of a stretch, though select scenes would leave you wondering. There has been a lot of heat generated by this new movie especially with religious connotations, but I’d say opposition is just the mark of progress. Any Kenyan who knows anything knows that ‘Lungula’ translates to SEX in sheng and as such, House of Lungula is a comedy about sex, pure and simple.
It is the story of financially strained man, Harrison (Gerald Langiri), who urgently requires money to pay for the dowry of his fiancée, Charity (Nice Githinji). Through his boss, Mr. Taylor (Ian Mbugua), he gains access to a huge house, belonging to the CEO of their company Mr. Lungula, which he is charged with cleaning for an agreed fee. A posh empty house presents opportunity and under the right circumstances could generate some quick cash. Alex (Lenana Kariba), Harrison’s friend and co-worker is looking for a place to entertain a ‘client’ for a day. For the right fee, he gains access to the House of Lungula but with conditions of course. Mr. and Mrs. Taylor’s (Lizz Njagah) marriage sails in rocky waters and she has suspicions that her husband is cheating. Helena Waithera’s character provides a solution, an eye for an eye. To be fair, these suspicions are not entirely unfounded as Mr. Taylor is a very naughty boy, slinging around the beautiful chichi (Sarah Hassan) while he’s supposed to be at the office. Chichi on the other hand also has a lover, Tito (Gitau Ngogoyo) to make the plot even more complex.
The wheels turn as the vehicle of this love, or should I say sex, circle is steered by Harrison and leads straight to huge house, the House of Lungula. To cut the story short a hilarious drama ensues where secrets will be revealed and relationships are at stake. The law may even intervene in the name of its upholder, the police officer played by Sheila Kwamboka, who has very comfortable police shoes.
Well if you were wondering if the movie lives up to the hype, it doesn’t. But what movie does? Plot wise the movie does seem to have a very slow beginning which I almost got through without a single laugh. The exposition is rather uninspired and dragged out with certain characters inadequately introduced. I was shocked to find out that Alex works with Harrison at Lungula Holdings. The story however picks up at the Lungula house where it is laughs galore. Harrison is a very lovable protagonist who may seem even clueless but is actually very intelligent. The fact that the entire main cast end up in the same room at the climax is a very common plot structure especially in theatre plays, and it is one I abhor in film. The ending of the film lacks a convincing resolution. Saying that Mr. and Mrs. Taylor later renewed their vows is absurd when the movie actually ended at the height of the conflict.
The most interesting character in House of Lungula is definitely Harrison Hamisi and Gerald Langiri does a good job with it. His ability to seem weak and fragile and yet on top of the situation is very endearing and he is the only character driving the story. Ian Mbugua as Mr. Taylor still looks like the Ian Mbugua everyone knows and hates. However, he delivers a solid performance as the bossy manager who loves to have a good time. Notably, the two outstanding performers will have to be Lizz Njagah and Lenana Kariba as Mrs. Taylor and Alex consecutively. Mrs. Taylor evolves from the sad confused wife fearing his husband is cheating on her to the confident vixen out to even the scores by having an affair. On the other hand, Lenana Kariba has such irresistible charm oozing from him making the pair our very own Mr. and Mrs. Smith. Sarah Hassan who many people consider as just a pretty face did pull her own weight as Chichi and her performance as the naive social climber was worthy of the role. However, I don’t think it can be helped that she just isn’t funny.
Nice Githinji’s role as Charity is so shallow it could as well have been left out. It was a waste of great talent, considering she has just won the best female actress in the just concluded Sanaa Awards. However, she has a great smile, so I loved watching her. GItau Ngogoyo should just borrow a leaf from the cast of Nairobi Half Life and do research on his role of Tito. His attempt at being a hardcore ghetto guy is just pathetic. It’s in his language, speech, mannerisms and overall demeanour. Maybe he thought having dreadlocks means you’re hardcore, wrong!!! Helena Waithera just has the charm of a star, doesn’t matter how small a role she plays. That’s all I will say.
The graphic design work in House of Lungula is wanting, but I guess it was not close to the top in the production’s list of priorities. The cinematography though not spectacular, is solid. The story could however use a greater number and variety of shots, especially in the crammed office scenes. I would be amiss if I failed to mention the poor audio dubbing which I found very distracting and irritating in some of the early scenes.
As a film lover, I am proud of Historia Films for bringing us House of Lungula, which is miles ahead of the empty wishes and complaints aspiring filmmakers keep blurting out regarding their non production of films. Let’s hope we shall be back in the cinema to watch more Kenyan films soon.
© Kimani Wandaka.