I first auditioned for the lead role in the movie Kalushi two years ago. I had never heard of Solomon Mahlangu, but when I saw the script I knew that it was a powerful story and I had to be a part of it. After my first audition, the director (Mandla Dube) decided to go with a more experienced actor but they kept auditioning me just in case. I auditioned for quite some time, three months to be exact. I was eventually told that the producers had decided to drop the other guy and the role was mine.
How I prepared for the role
Preparing for the role was both an informative and emotional experience. Mandla Dube facilitated the entire journey as we travelled around the country together with Solomon Mahlangu’s older brother, Chief Lucas Mahlangu. I was fortunate enough to meet some of Solomon’s uncles and sisters as well as his nieces and nephews who gave me insight into Solomon’s character and some of the things that he went through. It was a humbling experience.
“Being on set everyday was amazing”
We began with the production in 2014. I was proud to be cast as the lead on a completely local production. I felt like if it had been an international production, my role would have probably gone to Michael B. Jordan and local actors would have been used as supporting cast. Being on set everyday was amazing, everyone brought their A-game and it was awesome to see South Africans working together. Having Chief Lucas Mahlangu as the on-set production advisor made the experience that much more special. Chief Lucas gave me insight into Solomon’s character and went into detail about some of the things that Solomon went through. He helped me to create a kind of bond with Solomon’s spirit and allowed me to embody it. Out of my conversations with Chief Lucas, I was able to write the final monologue in the film, which is based on what I think Solomon would have said during the trial.
Half way through the production, we got the news that production had to be postponed due to lack of funds. Disappointing news but I had faith in Mandla and knew that production would pick up soon. When production halted, I wrote down my weight and measured the length of my hair to make sure that when production picked up, I would look the exact same way I did on the last day of production. I hoped no one would notice the difference when the film was finally released.
A year later, production picked up again and the trailer was released hot off the heels of the #FeesMustFall protests.
Lessons we can learn from the story of Solomon Mahlangu
Solomon Mahlangu is not an obvious hero. This is shown in the film as we see how his friends, Mondy and Lucky drive the story forward. I think the story of Solomon is so relatable because he is not a hero, he’s you and I who have no choice but to do what is right. Some people are born great while others have greatness thrust upon them. I think greatness was thrust upon Solomon.
What I have learnt from Solomon is that love is an important tool to fight anything.
It is often easier to fight hate with hate and it is harder to fight a hateful person with love. Solomon was spurned by his love for his people and his love for himself. In the film we show the transition of him learning to love himself enough to say “I want to fight for my freedom and for my people’s freedom”.
The lesson I hope South Africans take away from the film is that they should never underestimate themselves. For so many years we have been told that we could never produce good quality films but we have proved that we are more than capable of telling our own stories.
What does the future hold for Thabo Rametsi?
I’m shooting quite a few films now. I want to tell more South African stories by South Africans. I’m doing a few things overseas too but I’d love to tell more stories from various parts of Africa.
As told to Keneiloe Nkomo
Follow me on Twitter: @Kenei_N
Image courtesy of Pambili Media