It is said that prison time is slow time, and as per the subtle depictions and ideologies we take from other prison based TV shows and movies, the likes of Escape from Sorbibor and Prison Break just to mention a few, is the suffering that comes with prison system and the obvious need to break free from this cage of institutionalism.
However, Jela 5 star is different.
On this show, the prisoners are learning to make lemonade out of lemons that life throws at them.
In one episode the inmates decide to start Jela 5 star TV, a genius way to pass time if you asked me. Professor, the know-it- all inmate, is the chief mastermind behind this idea and probably most other bright ideas that pop up in the course of the show. He makes a frame that resembles a TV from cardboard and from behind it, he plays actor and TV host, while his fellow inmates watch. His idea is so solid that he even has a continuity presenter who keeps things going by doing funny imitations of adverts we see on regular TV during commercial breaks. What better way to bring out the idea of Raha Ni Kujipea Mwenyewe! especially when faced by the reality of prison time?
That being said, Jela 5 star, is not your average prison based drama. This prison based comedy is a combination of classic Kenyan acts, not necessarily bigwig actors but a well picked cast that represents the diverse Kenyan landscape. From the Somali guy who keeps saying “weka ii kitu bahali yake” to the no-nonsense chief warden keeps a punching bag in her office (and also, by the way, rides a motorcycle ).
Talk about lanes, you never want to find yourself on the warden’s wrong side if you spend your days behind the walls of Jela 5 star.
The key acts that bring this TV series to life include the pretty nurse Stella (played by Damaris Matunda) who often keeps temperatures in check within Jela 5 Star ; whose role feels like a delicate balance between following strict prison rules and her feminine empathy, Madam Melba (Lucy Njoroge) who plays Chief prison warden, Afande Kasoro – you can’t miss him he is a well built man with a block stature and a tummy for days (played by Bilali Wanjau), and Omuami (Benson Ochung’o Obiero) who also plays the role of warden (he is always carrying an army baton; so if you see an army baton wielding man then that’s definitely him).
Among the prisoners you won’t miss “Professor”, a tall skinny inmate who speaks more English than our famed PLO Lumumba played by Kevin Ogutu, Ghost who is a big, dark, built inmate revered for his build and stature, Odhis who is probably the loudest inmate on the block -a trait that often has him in the doghouse with the authorities and to cap the list of main acts there is “Abdi”- the Somali guy who we know and love for his famous line “weka kitu bahali yake”.
This comedy series has great direction from a films critic’s perspective. The lighting in my opinion is well done; not too bright with a modern twist. Its moderate pace gives the show a down in the trenches sort of reality too. However, the scripts feel a bit too generic, something about some lines in this show will not sit well with the average viewer, it often feels like trying too hard to squeeze a laugh out of the audience.
A few short cuts within the setting of the show come out as you watch it; like having a prison based TV show fully done indoors. Which means no prison yard? This phenomenon comes in the way of any viewers’ expectation, there are things we expected to see; like the chief warden’s motorcycle which ,in my head, is something off the movie ‘Ghost Rider’;a machine so mean and fiery with a rattle that can wake an entire city up when it roars to life. But at least they have an indoor prison gym, but let the record reflect that this does not compensate for the lack of an actual prison yard!
Other than that, this show is definitely a classic, and shows great promise of continuity especially in a setting where the drama never stops. The show also allows for new talents to make an entry into the acting scene. Which is a plus for any TV show.
This show is definitely worth watching so next time you sit in front of you TV, It currently shows on Maisha Magic East.
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