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New kid on the local screen

By | March 6th 2011

By George Orido

When The Rugged Priest premiered last Friday, there was every indication that the film would trigger social and political debates locally and beyond.

The film brings to fore many issues bedevilling the country. It also illuminates the pains, struggle and tenacity of her citizens. The film that has brought out the innate talent in Bob Nyanja’s direction has a compelling plea for truth, justice and reconciliation of a country with a murky past of high handedness and State corruption.

The cast carried the story through and the lead female character Alice, played by the newly discovered Sarah Ndanu, is the thread through which the story is hemmed.

Sarah Ndanu during the interview. Photo: George Orido/Standard

In a seamless fashion, Alice carries the baggage of being raped by the dreaded special branch.

She is also a teacher inspiring the young and preparing them for the great responsibilities of nation building.

Alice is ironically the one who cuts short the chequered career of a young priest Father Ian (Lwanda Jawar) by getting into an intimate relationship and later begetting a child and living together as husband and wife.

Ndanu who turned 23 on the day of the premier says it was the best birthday present ever.

" It was not easy at the start especially the love scenes," says Ndanu who began her screen career last year in the TV court drama Nairobi Law as an intern.

She, however, almost did not star in the movie.

"I was also disturbed by just how my parents and especially my boyfriend would react to the scenes. I told Bob I would not do such kind of things," she recalls.

Acting meets reality

Granted, it was acting and the director assured her the scenes she was uncomfortable with would be done professionally.

With that assurance, she took on the role with the passion and the drive envisioned in her character.

In the film, she has humbling but fulfilling moment acting alongside giants such as Oliver Litondo, John Sibi Okumu, ‘OJ’ Ojiambo and Simpson.

While she appreciates the cast and crew for being supportive, she has special accolades for the Maasai community at Kona Baridi –– outskirts of Nairobi –– where the movie was shot for two months.

For a person who attended over 20 auditions without a chance of even being an extra, her effortless rendition of her role received accolades.

Well, real life experience and those around her strengthened her resolve to deliver. She says the rape scenes stirred many emotions in her because she knows friends and people who have been victims.

"I actually met and shared with them the prospects of articulating their pains, and struggles to remain in dignity," remembers Ndanu in deep reflection.

Family background

She feels the strength of The Rugged Priest is in its boldness to approach the ills affecting the Kenyan society. In particular, she cites the impunity of elected leadership.

"I am also happy the church has been rebuked because where would the flock turn to if the shepherd was also lost? She poses.

For the sociology and tourism management major at the University of Nairobi, acting runs in the family.

Her mother Celestine Mwaniki is a drama and English teacher at Thika High School. Her other siblings Winnie, Alex and Ken are artistes too. The youngest, Jacinta Wangeci of Booker Academy, is the reigning Solo Verse champion in Western Province.

Ironically, Ndanu says her parents never approved her short stint in drama while at school, considering it playful.

Her father, Anthony Ndirangu, worked in Western Province for a long time with the civil society and a result Ndanu and her siblings are fluent in Bukusu, beside Kikuyu, Kamba, Kiswahili and English.

Ndanu credits her manager Onesmus Muturi for the breakthrough and urges upcoming artistes never to give up.

She has previously worked as a sales executive but is now acting fulltime and will soon feature in a brand new M-NET and KTN TV drama. In her free time, Ndanu trains drama at her church.

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