It has been a while since our dramas were graced by a villain of Indian descent. Once upon a time, there was Max Naidu (Robin Singh), the dreaded drug merchant who got the lovely Karabo Moroka (Connie Ferguson) hooked on cocaine.
That was vintage Generations in the 90s, when the soapie genre was still a novelty on local screens. There was also a time when the charismatic Shafa’ath-Ahmad Khan seemed to play all of the baddie roles on SABC dramas.
Who could have suspected, though, that the man who played prim-and-proper businessman Rajesh Kumar on Isidingo would abandon his long-standing part for the role of a rogue character?
After a solid 15 years with the two-decade-old SABC3 soapie, the likeable Jack Devnarain has called it quits. Sanil Maharaj is the Durban-born actor and former policeman’s new character in Imbewu: The Seed. It is an influential role - the pivot around which the new e.tv daily series’ storyline will revolve. Maharaj is the sultan of skulduggery and, as far as Machiavellian tactics in the boardroom go, he ticks all the boxes.
He is a powerful Durban businessman who, on the surface, resembles old Rajesh Kumar with regard to his suave and charming personality. However, beneath this deceptive veneer is an unscrupulous and ruthless corporate player with a reputation for hostile takeovers. He comes into prosperous Maluju Oil after relations between board chairman Ngcolosi “Zimele” Bhengu (Mpumelelo Bhulose) and long-standing partner Pranav Rampersad (Koobeshen Naidoo) sour.
When Rampersad appoints him the new chairman, he is seemingly oblivious to the fact that his actions are similar to wrapping up a viper in a warm blanket, only for it to sink its venomous fangs into its unsuspecting benefactor’s flesh.
Sooner or later, those who cross his path are guaranteed to taste the wrath of the businessman, whose middle names are treachery and cruelty. Corporate ethics and loyalties are alien concepts to him. Maharaj’s ultimate goal is total control of an oil empire that he didn’t build.
Devnarain’s ability in front of the camera is indisputable, but he needs to prove his credentials off-screen. As chairperson of the South African Guild of Actors (Saga) - a representative body that advocates the interests of actors in the performing arts industry - his challenge is to work tirelessly towards improving the working conditions of actors. The employment status of these artists remains a problem still to be resolved for the sector to be regarded as an industry.
The fact that they are called freelancers, independent contractors and self-employed is a case in point. It is a precarious position that has made it possible for unscrupulous producers and broadcasters to exploit them. Their intellectual property rights are still to be defined and recognised so that they can earn royalty payments.
Recently, on Docuville (Sundays, 7.30pm), SABC3 broadcast a special feature on the plight of South African actors as they voiced their frustrations with their conditions in the industry. In this regard, Saga has lobbied the SABC to review actors’ contracts.
Tragic events - such as that of the actor who fell to his death while shooting a fight scene in the Drakensberg, as well as the whole cast and crew that were forced to abandon a movie project in KwaZulu-Natal - are proof that the battle for fair working conditions is far from over.
* Imbewu: The Seed airs on weekdays on e.tv at 9.30pm.