Kalushi is the true story about 19-year-old hawker, Solomon Kalushi Mahlangu (Thabo Rametsi), from Mamelodi, a township outside Pretoria. He is brutally beaten by police. Kalushi goes into exile following the 1976 Soweto uprisings to join the liberation movement.
He returns from military training in Angola but on the way to their mission, his friend and comrade, Mondi (Thabo Malema), loses control and shoots two innocent people on Goch Street in Johannesburg. Mondi is severely beaten and tortured; Kalushi is forced to stand trial under the common purpose doctrine. The state seeks the highest punishment from the court, death by hanging. Kalushi has his back against the wall and uses the courtroom as a final battlefield. His sacrifice immortalizes him into a hero of the struggle and an international icon of June 16, 1976.
Apartheid-based films have dominated the South African film industry especially with regards to black cinema. Many have focused on former president Nelson Mandela so Kalushi is a refreshing addition to the stories of South Africa’s struggle for freedom. What hinders the film from really pulling the heartstrings is the screenplay, casting and inadequate direction.
The dialogue in Kalushi jumps between Nguni vernacular and English, which would usually make sense when you’re trying to reach a broader audience. However, in the movie, the characters only change from vernacular to English when plot points are delivered. It would have been better if the whole film were either fully in Nguni vernacular or English. The constant back-and-forth breaks the flow.
The pacing is also all over the place. One minute we have these fast-paced scenes, which are then stopped abruptly by weird camera angles and static emotional scenes. The pacing then also bleeds into a lack real emotional connection to the characters and their tragic situations.
The casting of the movie is also a bit off, especially casting Quantico star Pearl Thusi as a schoolgirl. I know that actors often play characters that are much older or younger than their real age.
However, Pearl does not look that young. She still gives a stellar performance and makes a lasting impression but really – a schoolgirl? The cast as a whole also lacks chemistry.
One of my biggest pet peeves is when films use narration to move the story along. I understand why Dube uses it as a storytelling mechanism, but by doing this it treats the audience like idiots. Number one for good filmmaking – show don’t tell.
Overall, Kalushi is an OK addition to the South African struggle film genre. However, if this important story had been in the hands of a more experienced filmmaker it could have been one of the best films of the year.