There have been myriad twists to the battle between the Zungus and Ndlovus in The Bomb Shelter's brilliantly crafted telenovela, Isibaya. Such has been the success, not to mention popularity, of the series that Mzansi Magic has, in a rather unprecedented act, extended its lifeline to a daily drama, writes Debashine Thangevelo.
CURVE balls in the plot are par for the course.
But the one Mzansi Magic has thrown is definitely going to leave Isibaya fans euphoric rather than devastated.
Instead of ending its one-year supremacy on the small screen (indicative by all the Twitter traffic during its screening), the channel have decided to cling to their winning streak by turning the telenovela into a daily drama.
As of March 13, it will have enjoyed a run of 208 episodes, in its prime time 8.30pm slot.
On Mzansi Magic’s ground-breaking decision to give Isibaya the green light as a soap, Yolisa Phahle, the Channel Director of M-Net’s General Entertainment Channels, says: “Our guiding principle is to give the audience more of what they love. We have been overwhelmed by the success of this series and the opportunity to extend its life by building on the journeys of some of the most popular characters is something we decided to explore.”
Of course, it is logical to assume the decision was spearheaded by the ARs. We also asked how it has performed in comparison to iNkaba, the channel’s first telenovela.
She responds: “Isibaya is one of our top performing shows, it is the most-watched programme in its time slot and one of the top-rated shows for DStv viewers.
“iNkaba was the first locally produced telenovela and also a top- rated show, playing a significant part in the growth of Mzansi Magic and it paved the way for Isibaya.”
Naturally, the urban-meets- rural storyline, hitched to a taxi war, needs to evolve with the genre shift.
Phahle says the channel is working closely with The Bomb Shelter on how they will be taking Isibaya forward.
“We work extremely closely with Bomb Productions and all decisions are made based on audience insights. We want the story to keep its signature elements of high stakes drama set within the framework of a rural and city world, the expanse of the landscapes of KZN and the backdrop of the taxi industry. We are exploring innovative ways of creating a daily show without being confined to a studio and interior world only.
“While stories will shift to accommodate daily television, we believe the rich and diverse worlds of Isibaya will remain at the heart of the show,” she reveals.
Although most of the top-rated lead cast will stay, an influx of new characters, comprising industry veterans and novices, will feature in the running order.
Meanwhile, Desireé Markgraaff, Managing Director and Executive Producer at The Bomb Shelter, said: “Initially there will be very little difference as we pick up our story with our main characters directly from the finale of the telenovela.
“Moving to a daily soap means we have to change the rhythm of our dramatic peaks and broaden our set of characters to allow multiple stories to unfold – parallel to each other rather than all the stories interlinking and driving to one climatic end.
“But we are very keen to retain the elements of being unpredictable, high stakes and surprise twists as with the telenovela.”
Not wanting to let the cat out of the bag too soon, she hinted that there will be more unsettling dark secrets unearthed along with incredible new characters.
As for the logistical changes merited by the change, she pointed out: “Very little changes will be made to the team – they are passionate about Isibaya and excited to bring a new energy, look and feel to the terrain of soap. We won’t be stuck in a studio with a fixed lighting set up. We will keep exploring the world between Joburg and KZN.
“We will keep our streets, taxis and farm yards as a central element to our show. So we have had to expand a little on the production support to accommodate the scale, and also added to the story team.”
That the telenovela has been given a new lease on life, albeit in a different genre, Markgraaff says: “We are excited about the move to a soap and want to bring the same energy and passion to this format as we have to all our other work. We have always been committed to telling South Africa stories, entertaining and delighting viewers.”
And it looks like the door on Isibaya will be open… and for some time. Reason enough to pop those bottles of bubbly then.