Endemol MD Sivan Pilllay

SABC3’s flagship soap, Isidingo, is progressively reclaiming its top spot. Sivan Pillay, the MD of Endemol, gave Debashine Thangevelo the lowdown on what’s on the horizon as Isidingo‘s stories return to its socially relevant roots…

NOT too long ago, I had a very interesting chat with Isidingo’s new head writer, Rohan Dickson. And his plot to revive the soap certainly got me intrigued. A recent chat with Sivan Pillay (pictured), the MD of Endemol, reinforced their conviction to address the problem areas they have found.

A very amiable and business savvy individual, Pillay has been a part of Isidingo’s journey since its conception, if in a different role.

Reflecting on the strides the soap has made, he says: “If you go back to the history, we have tackled incredibly strong issues. We have had mining disasters, mine strikes, lots of murders on The Deep with Cherel.”

At the moment he says their standpoint, given the plummeting audience ratings and litany of controversies, is to “remain true to our roots”.

Pillay notes: “Isidingo’s mandate when it was first commissioned was to create a platform for one-nation viewing. It has different races and social hierarchy represented and I think the core has always remained. A couple of years back – and a lot of this is research driven – all the worlds became similar and out of reach of the average person. All the characters progressed and moved up. The first step we have taken is to ensure that we have a demographic of characters that represent the dichotomy of South Africa.

“Second thing, we make sure we are telling stories that are socially relevant, whatever they may be. I suppose in some ways Isidingo has always created social debate but we have never taken a stance on which side of the fence we sit.”

That was my cue to chat about the Oscar-inspired storyline that got the nation talking.

Young athlete Bradley Haines (Izak Davel), paranoid about the crime in South Africa, shot his father Albert (Michael Richard) four times through a door. Pillay says: “That Bradley storyline was developed in October last year. However, the timing (of it airing) was a coincidental thing – brilliantly so though. Everyone in SA is asking is he guilty? The reason we have written the story is to make something socially relevant woven into the fabric of the story. People, globally, are following the Oscar trial. It is socially relevant on a global scale.

“We need to tell great stories that are woven into the fabric of our society. Social realism is always a talking point for Isidingo.

“I have felt that with the last couple of head writers we have had, people come in with their own idea of how to tell stories and in so doing they moved us away from that social realism and staying true to the characters.

“In the last year, some of the characters moved away from being the character – so that really puzzled and that is why we made the changes. Rohan is rerouting that.”

Pillay says they want the characters to be authentic and believable. Otherwise, Isidingo would become an ordinary soap.

He hinted: “There is a home coming up that will look like what the Matabane home used to be. This is a family rooted in that part of South African society. I can tell you that there is a brand new family coming, with three characters in the family.

“I want the best actors and the brightest stars on the show – that’s our strategy moving forward. We have cast Natalie Becker. She has done some Hollywood movies. I don’t think SA television was what she was looking at but Isidingo was something she wanted to do. She will come in and out of the world as she has a busy schedule. The acquisition of Pearl Thusi was exciting.”

He said Pearl’s popularity on her Twitter and Facebook profile connects with audiences in a different way than the traditional star. Another weapon in their artillery is Russel Savadier as performance manager to the actors.

“He is very experienced, a legendary actor who everyone respects. The way we are producing the show, where we have looked at key areas where the show should be sitting. I’m a very competitive person and we are a competitive company. Being number two is not good enough. It does irk us to see other soapies getting awards – that was a place where Isidingo dominated in the past – and we want to return to that dominance.”

It looks like Isidingo is on its way to being restored to its former glory.

• Isidingo airs on SABC3 on weekdays at 7.30pm.