He has made a mark as one of the most prolific Ugandan stage actors and stand-up comedians in a career spanning over 18 years.
And last Friday, acclaimed dramatist and founding member of The Ebonies, Raymond Rushabiro, made a rather impressive entry into the world of film playing the main character in Bala Bala Sese as the hotly-anticipated local film premiered at Theatre Labonita in Kampala.
The film, talented music video producer Bashir ‘Badi’ Lukyamuzi’s very first, cast Rushabiro alongside more experienced screen actors including the power couple of Micheal Kasaija and Natasha Sinayobye.
But the 43-year-old star’s performance as Kasirivu – a drunkard, womaniser and tough-loving father – was in the end lauded by many critics and fans as the best.
“I am totally overwhelmed by the audience reaction. Never in my wildest dreams would I have imagined such a warm reception for my first film gig,” an elated Rushabiro told this blog soon after the film had screened to hundreds of moviegoers.
The unmarried father-of-three and member of comedy outfits Fun Factory explained that he was a little skeptical when his old pal Lukyamuzi first asked him to be a part of the project back in 2012.
He however said he eventually found the guts to give it a shot after reading the film’s script penned by award-winning filmmaker Usama Mukwaya.
“I found the character of Kasirivu to be exciting and intriguing at the same time. It’s really his dynamism and multi-faceted nature that drew me to him,” Rushabiro said, thanking his crew for helping him overcome the rigors of acting for screen.
Previously, most Ugandan actors who have crossed over from theatre have ended up struggling on screen, which makes it all surprising that the funny man who broke out with The Ebonies in the early ‘90s nailed his role with much ease.
His character in the film embodies both terror and compassion with a dose of comic relief – he is seen as a loving family man on one hand and a monster on the other.
The film’s storyline sees Kasirivu offer to give away his daughter, Maggie (Sinayobye) to a village tycoon and business associate, Zeus (Jabal Ddungu), as a form of settlement for a debt.
The problem is that Maggie is deeply in love with another village boy named John (Kasaija), which sets the two lovebirds on a collision course with the two older men.
Meanwhile, as the riveting story unfolds, it is revealed that Kasirivu is actually impotent and has been philandering around, desperately trying to sire children.
The Luganda language feature also offers a subtle-but-critical look at the theme of AIDS as seen through Maggie’s sister, Ellena (played by Fiona Birungi) who contracts and eventually succumbs to the deadly disease after she’s raped by Zeus.
Lukyamuzi had earlier revealed that the AIDS sub-plot was inspired by his own experience having lost a sister to the deadly virus.
And Rushabiro, who’s looking to further his screen career when he features in an upcoming TV series due to debut on NTV soon, says it is such relevant stories as Bala Bala Sese that will eventually win struggling Ugawood some recognition.
“I think that Ugandans deserve to see more stories about them told with a professional and international touch,” he said in reference to the film that received a big boost from its official soundtrack, singer A-Pass’ hit single Wuuyo.
Bala Bala Sese, which picks its name from the scenic Sese Islands of Lake Victoria where it was set, boasts some breathtaking cinematography and sound but its plot development is uneven and sometimes meandering.
Some additional time in the editing room might however help to smooth over the movie’s rougher patches before it heads out to next month’s Uganda Film Festival (UFF) where its already tipped for an awards haul.
Sese is lined up for a comprehensive theatrical and international festival tour soon after UFF.