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» Film Review – "Muigwithania"

"Mr Patel" and the Mau Mau Struggle

The recently released film Muigwithania (‘Reconciliation’), written and directed by Amit Tyagji, is set at the height of the Mau Mau war in 1954.

Two freedom fighters, General Rashid and one of his soldiers, Mbogua, are on the run from a unit of the British Army in a forest in Central Province. The General is injured and they decide to hide in a nearby village.

Realising that his need for medical attention will drive him there, the British Major orders the chief to search all the houses. The Chief complies, but does not think it necessary to search the premises of the local shopkeeper, ‘Mr Patel’. However his home is exactly where the fighters are hiding – and holding the family hostage.

The village herbalist, Nganga, is the only person who can treat the injured General. An unsuccessful attempt to reach him finally reveals their presence to the British. They call for reinforcements, planning to attack the house the following morning.

Now both the fighters and the shopkeeper’s family are trapped together in the house overnight. The safety of each can only be secured by the help of the other. This compels them to re-examine their attitudes to one another, and their vision of the Kenya they want to live in, if they come through the night alive.

Despite the inevitable simplification needed to encompass the complexities of a national struggle in a two hour film, the characters are credible, and the actors provide fine performances. These are difficult characters to play, as they change with the events they experience.

Tonny Njuguna gives an intense portrayal of the General, while Mehul Savani, as Mr Patel, carries the brunt of the film.

In a complex and realistic depiction of a stereotypical role, the character of Mr Patel begins defining his part in the future the General is envisaging. His discovery of himself as Kenyan, amid the conflicting tugs of the immediate situation, and old attitudes, is simply and credibly expressed expressed by the talented Mehul Savani.

Bharati and Prachi Sevani, Mehul’s wife and daughter in real life, play his on-screen family, Mrs Patel and daughter, Rajni. The daughter is the catalyst for many developments in the story, while the mother is another complex and manifestly real character. Tom Alter brings authority to his role as the British Major.

The title of the film draws upon our past. Muigwithania (Reconciliation) was the name of the newspaper published from 1928 by the Kikuyu Central Association (KCA), and first edited by Jomo Kenyatta.

The choices that Asian Africans like ‘Mr Patel’ and ‘Mrs Patel’ made in 1954 are the choices that all Kenyans will have to make in 2012, at election time, when the politics of ethnicity are unleashed again.

We too will have to choose – communal chauvinism or national muigwithania.

Muigwithania is now available on DVD.