Life imitates art for Kani in film version of 'The Suit'

07 February 2016 - 02:00 By SHANTHINI NAIDOO

Atandwa Kani channelled his personal heartbreak for his latest role as a jilted husband in the short-film production of the classic Can Themba short story, 'The Suit'.

Kani - who recently learned he was not the father of twin boys raised with ex-wife Thembisa Mdoda - plays the lead role of Philemon, a lawyer who finds out that his wife is having an affair.

"To access that archived bruised and battered feeling is a good thing. I think it will bring a great performance. I can feel the authenticity of his devastation," Kani said on set in Sophiatown this week.


The famous short story by Themba, the Drum magazine writer and apartheid dissident who died in exile in 1968, is set against the backdrop of forced removals in the 1950s under the Group Areas Act.

Banned by the apartheid government, The Suit became a high-school set work, then a local and international theatre hit in the 1990s.

It tells the story of Philemon, who discovers his wife, Matilda, in bed with a lover. The man flees, leaving his suit behind.

Philemon torments Matilda, making her treat the suit as a guest who must eat with them, go on walks and sit next to them in church. A humiliated Matilda commits suicide.

The novella will be captured for the first time on celluloid by fledgling writer and director Jarryd Coetsee of Mandala Films. "I have wanted to make a film of this special story from the very first time I read it in high school. I feel that people do not have an emotional or psychological gut understanding of what happened during the forced removals. Can Themba's story is so powerful in bringing that dysfunction across on a human level."


Atandwa's father, theatre legend John Kani, who produced The Suit on stage, makes a cameo appearance as Mr Maphikela, the friend who breaks the news of the affair to Philemon.

"Ordinarily in such a scene you would need to create an emotional rapport with the actor, but it was already there. I could see Atandwa coming to me as a child ... and I had to break this terrible news to him [Philemon]," said Kani snr.

He added: "This yarn seems to haunt me . It did so well as the French production by Peter Brooks, Le Costume , on the West End and on Broadway. It was also the first real acting role for Sello Maake ka-Ncube. A story of love and forgiveness."


Coetsee said that, for "a period production shot on a tight budget" from the National Film and Video Foundation, he was privileged to shoot in some of the few original Sophiatown buildings.

"Including the St Joseph's Diocesan and the home of anti-apartheid cleric Trevor Huddleston; places Can Themba would have visited and near where he and his family lived."

Newcomer Phuti Nakane plays Matilda. "My grandparents lived in Sophiatown and were also evicted ... It is an honour to give Matilda life and understand her as an oppressed woman of that time - who could not live her dream of being a singer because of her circumstances - and not just a woman who had an affair."

'The Suit' will tour the film- festival circuit from February 21 and is expected to appear on local screens in July