Wako, a gangster film about cervical cancer

POLLY KAMUKAMA

Barely two months after premiering The Superstition, Ugandan filmmaker, Aaron Zziwa, is back on set to work on what he says is the biggest project of his career so far.

Entitled Wako, the feature film is set in Kampala’s underworld and charts the story of a young hustler who is drawn into a world of crime in a desperate attempt to save his cervical cancer-stricken sister.

TOUCHING: 'Wako' charts the story of a young hustler on a desperate mission to raise money needed to operate his cervical cancer-stricken sister.

TOUCHING: ‘Wako’ charts the story of a young hustler on a desperate mission to raise money needed to operate his cervical cancer-stricken sister.

And Zziwa, a self-taught filmmaker who started out as an actor eight years ago, says the film is way into its shoot and will likely wrap-up by end of this year to allow for an early 2015 release.

Speaking exclusively to this blog yesterday, the youthful filmmaker who is shy about his age revealed some exciting tidbits about a film he is already proudly promoting on social media as a ‘big bang’.

“This is a story that is so close to my heart because I have lost a couple of close friends and family members to cervical cancer. I have also seen how young underprivileged people struggle to survive in Kampala,” Zziwa said of the inspiration behind the story he conceived early this year while still working on Superstition with Paresh Gondaliya.

GANGSTER: The film is set in Kampala's underbelly where ruthless gangs terrorize neighborhoods with impunity.

GANGSTER: The film is set in Kampala’s underbelly where ruthless gangs terrorize neighborhoods with impunity.

The film thus follows two intertwining threads with a mix of turns and twists for equal measure, he says.

It casts first-rising actor Geoffrey Echakara in the titular character, Wako – a slumdog and petty thief who returns from jail to find his young sister dying of cervical cancer.

Despite being a young boy himself, Wako has to assume a fatherly role to his two siblings because their single father (played by Roger Masaba) is all but a drunken womanizer.

DESPERATE: In order to be able to raise money for his sister's treatment, Wako takes to the bloody and illegal sport of street brawling.

DESPERATE: In order to be able to raise money for his sister’s treatment, Wako takes to the bloody and illegal sport of street brawling.

In a race against time to raise money for his sister’s operation, Wako joins the bloody sport of street fighting that is controlled by violent gangs that trade in anything from guns to prostitutes.

“I am drawing so much from my personal experience to play this part I feel like the whole film is about me,” says Echakara who admits to having previously ‘hustled on the streets for survival.’

The 25-year-old actor, who bears an uncanny resemblance to the Beninese-American Hollywood star Djimon Hounsou, naturally fit in the physically-demanding role given his athletic build and experience acting in several local action movies by the famed Wakaliwood studio.

GRINDING: To be able to perfect the role of Wako, Geoffrey Echakara adopted an intense workout regimen between takes as seen in this picture.

GRINDING: To be able to perfect the role of Wako, Geoffrey Echakara adopted an intense workout regimen between takes as seen in this picture.

He has however had to make some sacrifices to nail the part including cutting off his signature braided beard and adopting an intense workout routine that sees him knockout hundreds of pull-ups between takes.

Echakara is leading an ensemble cast in this full-directorial debut by Zziwa, including Masaba, Jayant Maru, and Ernest Bbumba, most of whom were a part of Superstition.

Bbumba, an actor many believe is one of the finest in Uganda today, reprises his role as the main antagonist, this time around a wild-haired trigger-happy gang kingpin named Mugi.

TERRIFYING: Ernest Bbumba, seen here in his role as the film's antagonist, Mugi, has made himself a name playing villainous characters, and is considered one of the best actors in Ugandan at the moment.

TERRIFYING: Ernest Bbumba, seen here in his role as the film’s antagonist, Mugi, has made himself a name playing villainous characters, and is considered one of the best actors in Ugandan at the moment.

A picture taken on the film’s set in the notorious Giza Giza slum in Mbuya shows a bloodshot grungy-styled Bbumba pinning a pistol to the forehead of a terrified man as another gangster stands by with a sledgehammer in his hand.

“My cast and crew have been amazing. They even contributed towards funding the film’s production,” Zziwa says of Shs20m budget picture he wrote, produced and directed.

He has also had to take a bank loan but is nonetheless optimistic he will make enough profits once the film goes to market early next year, thanks to its wide appeal and critical subject matter.

According to recent Ministry of Health reports, Uganda loses at least 2,500 women to cervical cancer every year. Most of the fatalities are due to lack of access to proper health facilities – there are apparently only 50 cervical cancer diagnosis (cryo therapy) machines in the country.

DOPPELGANGER: The film's lead, Geoffrey Echakara, seen here on set a few days back, could pass for Hollywood star Djimon Hounsou thanks to their close resemblance.

DOPPELGANGER: The film’s lead, Geoffrey Echakara, seen here on set a few days back, could pass for Hollywood star Djimon Hounsou thanks to their close resemblance.

The disease dubbed ‘silent killer’ due to the fact that symptoms usually show when it has reached advanced stages is rare in women below the age of 25.

The most at risk victims are those who start sexual activity at an early age and those with multiple sexual partners – trends common in city slums.

Meanwhile, Superstition continues to impress after winning the Best Editing award at last month’s Uganda Film Festival (UFF). It has since been selected to participate at a number of international festivals including Arusha (Tanzania), Abuja (Nigeria), Ugu (S.Africa) and Silicon Valley in U.S.A.

Whether Wako will beat that remains to be seen.

kamukamapolly@gmail.com

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