From saint to sinner, Jack Devnarain descends into darkness on 'Isono'

Jack Devnarain as Hashmi in ’Isono’. Picture: Supplied

Jack Devnarain as Hashmi in ’Isono’. Picture: Supplied

Published Aug 22, 2021


With as many years as Jack Devnarain has under his belt in the industry, it was only natural for him to start stretching himself as an actor.

In fact, it is a rite of passage for most actors who, in having proven themselves, have the freedom to now explore and push the envelope.

And, boy oh boy, is he proving his chops in darker roles, which is a far cry from Rajesh Kumar, his saintly character on SABC3’s “Isidingo”.

Since returning to BET’s “Isono” as Hashmi, he’s really sunk his teeth into the role.

I’ve been following Devnarain’s career closely since he joined “Isidingo”. Over the years, the formal tone of our interviews softened into informal catchups.

So when we spoke recently, we first indulged in a speedy catch up on what’s been going on since the hard lockdown of Covid-19.

Delving right into it, he said: “It’s been a long haul. I think, fortunately, I’ve achieved enough in my career, that producers know what they are going to get. I’ve built my career based on reliability and solid preparation.

“This helps producers to plot their schedules, their characters and their storylines because they know that I come with a certain number of years in the industry and that brings stability to their cast.”

And he is certainly shaking things up on “Isono” by taking on the feared Mary Ndlovu (Nthati Moshesh).

Jack Devnarain. Picture: Supplied

He admitted: “This is one of the darkest characters I’ve ever played.

“As far as characters go on ‘Isono’, I think he is one of those attention-grabbing characters because it is not something that you would expect from this otherwise polished man.

“Yes, there is darkness to him. There is a lust for danger, for power and for violence that distinguishes him from many of the other characters.

“He’s so driven by revenge in this particular story with his return. It’s almost the thing that keeps him up at night.

“You see him plotting and planning and nurturing this vengeful hatred for Mary because he wants to be this kingpin.”

Revisiting his earlier storyline on the telenovela, he said: “You can imagine when we first met him, he was the kingpin in the prison empire.

“And that was a microcosm of his world. Coming out into civilian life, he wants to be the kingpin in a bigger set-up like he was in prison.

“He’s an ambitious man and he’s prepared to risk everything to achieve that.”

Now Mary isn’t someone you cross on any day. She’s ruthless and takes no prisoners. And that is probably part of the appeal for Hashmi - she makes for a formidable rival.

Devnarain offered: “Hashmi has that kind of arrogance about him that says he doesn’t have to earn anything.

“He’s also a quick study. He will take a look at a particular criminal syndicate and suss it out very, very quickly.

“He will know where the moving parts are, he will spot where the vulnerabilities are and he will see where to take on the leader and challenge for the role of leadership.

“And he can do this very quickly. So that’s how he tries to get in at the top.”

Of course, in Mary, Hashmi has met his match and although the out-and-out gangster won’t readily admit to it - he’s rattled.

With Devnarain unpacking his character with such passion, it was evident that, aside from having a blast with this role, he cherished playing Hashmi.

And his fans are pleasantly surprised to witness this new dimension, too. More so, with him channelling his inner-villain time and again on’s” Imbewu”, where he plays Durban businessman Sanil Maharaj.

He laughed: “And there the character is definitely another who is smooth and charming but absolutely ruthless and self-obsessed.

“He is a megalomaniac and focused on self-enrichment all the time. I think he could easily become a South African politician.”

In the meantime, he is enjoying unleashing the controlled madness of Hashmi.

The seasoned actor added: “He is shrewd and calculated on the one side and, at the same time, it makes it extraordinarily violent and unpredictable.

“So if you can imagine putting a character like that, who is obviously not a young man either, and to be able to combine that with a man who is an experienced gangster, it makes for a wonderful combination of some of the most interesting things to play in a TV role. And I’ve embraced it!”

By the way, he will also be playing a menacing character in an upcoming Netflix series. But mum’s the word for now!

“Isono” airs on BET Africa (DStv channel 129) at 9.30pm from Monday to Thursday.