Bahle Hadebe finds his balancing act in Mkhonto

By Xabiso Ngqabe26 May 2023

Bahle Hadebe finds his balancing act in Mkhonto

When a herd boy becomes possessed by the spirit of a great 18th century chief and warrior, a battle for the throne ensues to right all the wrongs of the past in the sacred kingdom. Child star Bahle Hadebe is looking forward to Mzansi viewers watching him in Showmax new feature film, Mkhonto, which is landing on the homegrown streamer on 26 May 2023.

Every once in a while, a bright young star grabs the attention of viewers and quickly becomes a household name. Over the last few years, Hadebe has been making a name for himself. The National School of Arts alumni stole hearts with his role in the award-winning short film The Letter Reader and also featured in the Showmax film Induku.

The 18-year-old, who is popularly known for starring in numerous TV series such as Black Tax, Isono and Ring of Lies, will play the lead as Celani/Mkhonto. A herder boy who is possessed by the spirit of an 18th century king, Mkhonto ka Celimpi, after stumbling on his great spear. Mkhonto is determined to use Celani to reform his once great kingdom and right the wrongs of its current leader, Chief Siviko ka Vaka (played by SAFTA nominee Dumisani Dlamini). 

Watch the trailer for Mkhonto

We sat down with the rising star to discuss his role in the film.

How far and wide did this role stretch your acting skills? Did you find yourself extremely challenged in comparison to other roles you’ve played? 

In every role I play, I always have to navigate different parts of myself that I can find in order to bring justice to the role. No role is ever easier than the other but, apart from comedy this tragic kind of storyline was hard to portray as it needed more emotion. I take every role as a new challenge as I believe it has its own difficulties and easy parts as well.

Overall, it was challenging as I do not have spiritual gifts in real life and the role needed me to be in tune with that ancestral and spiritual world. It was also important for me to portray it in a positive manner rather than the negative.

After reading the script, what did you find compelling about the role?

What I found compelling was the dynamics between the two roles I played (Celani and Mkhonto). For instance, Celani is a shy herd boy who is given the task of finding a valued cow that has gone astray. Celani is scared, but soon discovers his immense bravery through Mkhonto.

Bahle Hadebe as Celani in Mkhonto

Although Mkhonto is an old, angry and frustrated character, he’s very determined and has an aura of a brave warrior. Those are the two dynamics about the characters that caught my attention and got me excited to play both characters. 

What was the process like in preparing for both roles? Were there any daily routines you had to adhere to?

It was just learning my script and understanding each character’s body language. I would literally look at how older people interact and I would study their body language so I could differentiate between the two characters. Mkhonto is an old man and Celani a young boy. Since I’m a young boy myself, it was not difficult for me to find a middle ground. I wanted to see how far I can take it but since Mkhonto is an older man I had to see which other parts I can change to fully immerse both characters equally.

Each day I would practice how I could manipulate my voice to go deeper or lighter. For example, there was a scene where both Mkhonto and Celani had to be present, my voice depiction and body language had to be accurate in that scene. 

Can you recall a scene that required you to dig deep into your personal experiences in order to bring the character to life?

It’s the scene where Celani was in an open area near some trees. He was practicing how he was going to fight the king – he broke down because he wasn’t getting his movements right. He was trying to summon the spirit of Mkhonto and to inform the Mkhonto that he had lost his father. 

Being someone who also lost his parents, I know and understand Celani’s pain. It became easy to bring that moment to life as I borrowed from my experiences as Bahle and gave my parts to it and translated it to the scene.

After every role, how difficult or how long does it take for you to shake off a character and get back into your normal self?

Playing Mkhonto was scary for me as I felt like I don’t want to lose myself but I always try to pray about it so that it gets easy for me to get back to myself. I’m very self-aware so I know when I’m in character and when to get back to being myself. When you play a new role, you never know how it’s going to turn out. Sometimes I would feel a deep cloud over me because of how hectic the scenes were.

How was it like working with veteran actor Dumisani Dlamini? 

It was very inspiring to work with him. It’s always an honour for me to work with legends in the industry as they bring so much experience and knowledge. When doing scenes with them, you see the amount of power they bring into their performances – it’s inspiring and drives you to excel in your role as well. It also evokes a different side to your character because when you do a script on your own, you have a certain voice in your head about the other character, but when it’s literally played by a legend and someone so powerful it brings a whole different aura.

Mkhonto is on Showmax

Produced by M’Darkie Revolution Productions (Induku, Isifiso), Mkhonto is the feature film debut of Pheelo “PJ” Makosholo (The Estate, Keeping Score). Look out for the likes of Andy Mnguni (Sindi in The Republic) and Andile Mbatha (Bra Carter in House of Zwide) as Celani’s parents, as well as Bheki Vilakazi (Yizo Yizo) as a royal advisor to Chief Siviko.

Be sure to catch Bahle Hadebe in Mkhonto when it lands on Showmax on 26 May 2023.

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