High school is all about pressure: the pressure to excel, to be cool and to fit in. Biko, played by Atandwa Kani, knows all about pressure. On the brink of writing his matric exams, Biko’s priorities are girls and having fun.
To prove how cool he is, he agrees to a bet with his friends. He will prove he can seduce the virginal, diligent, serious Ayanda in return for having sex with Lizzie, the most popular girl in school. Despite herself, Ayanda – who is trying to secure a place with the African Ballet Theatre – finds herself attracted to Biko. Biko, in turn, falls for Ayanda.
Meanwhile, Biko’s friends, Zane and Craig, are facing their own demons. Craig must get into medical school to please his parents. Zane is caught up in dealing drugs to his schoolmates. With the bet to be revealed at Zane’s year-end party, everything is on the line. Biko struggles to find a way to tell Ayanda the truth. But will she forgive him? Will Craig learn to follow his own heart and not that of his parents? Will Zane escape the long arm of the law? The choices they make will determine their future. The Bet is directed by former Isidingo star and All You Need is Love presenter Hlomla Dandala.
Atandwa Kani is the son of theatre heavyweight John Kani. He says of the Heartlines project and why he wanted to be involved: “I am South African and I am proud to announce that I was part of a great South African story telling. It goes back to where we as South Africans have started.”
Hlomla Dandala, acclaimed actor and director – well educated, well travelled, suave and super sexy, yet at heart, the simple son of a preacher man.
Dandala recently directed the film The Bet which is part of the Heartlines film series. The series is being screened on all three SABC channels and a project of the Mass Media Project. The aim of the eight-movie series is to spark national debate on values within South African society and to bring about positive values-driven transformation.
The Bet focuses on the value of self control, and although it features teenagers largely, it speaks to people of all ages. A few of the issues covered in the film are: HIV/Aids, peer pressure, family relationships and pre-marital and casual sex.
Hlomla’s father is the Reverend Dr Mvume Dandala, the former patron of Heartlines, and when Hlomla first heard about the project from his father many months back, he immediately wanted to be involved.
A few months later, he says, Curious Pictures, executive producers of the series, called and asked him to look at the scripts for “Heartlines” and The Bet. “I was very excited about working on this campaign and The Bet spoke to me the most,” he says.
Dandala first came to our screens when he presented the popular TV programme “All you need is love”. He then joined the crew and cast of popular local TV series “Isidingo”. He performed as Derek Nyathi for about three years on the set, with his last year spent acting in and directing Isidingo.
Dandala says he enjoys acting and directing equally. “When you direct you are much more invested and somehow the work is a great deal more taxing, whereas with acting it’s a matter of learning one’s lines and doing your best to play that character. Not that I think acting is easy, because it is not! I do not love one more than the other though.”
After Isidingo, Hlomla directed the series “Gaz’lam!” It was commissioned by SABC Education and a Canadian film company. It was mainly educational, focusing on twenty-something-year-olds in Africa and how they dealt with life in general and the pandemic of AIDS.
Hlomla says that he selects films and projects that “talk to him”. – “If I start seeing pictures in my head when reading the script, then I know I am eager to get involved and I know it will be good. If it doesn’t speak to me, then I don’t even consider it.”
Because of his father’s work as a cleric, Hlomla’s family constantly moved home. His background is diverse and saw him living in almost all of South Africa’s provinces – even a period in England. This taught him to become adaptable and tolerant of people from varying different walks of life. “It also taught me to enjoy my own company and to be self sufficient.”
Prayer and Sunday morning church services were an integral part of his life as a child, and still feature largely for him. The Bet and all other Heartlines’ movies are ‘God-based’, which Hlomla says is a very delicate subject. “Unfortunately religion is very often seen as judgemental and preachy. One has to be careful when trying to communicate to people. The Bet is aimed at teenagers who are even more difficult to get through to. It is better to engage people than to preach at them, and that was what I tried to do in the movie,” he says.
Hlomla says he drew on his experience with his Dad for the father-son relationship angles in The Bet. When I got to the part where the father discovers drugs in his son’s school bag, I could not go with the original script. In my mind my father would simply say: ”Do you think I’m stupid? Do you think I’m stupid?” For me, that is all that most fathers would say.”
Does Hlomla think that soap operas have questionable values? He hesitates in his reply and says: “There is a huge market for soap operas and people love them. Unfortunately they are driven by numbers and so it pays to go on broadcasting them! Most of the responsible soapies try to cover life issues. Anyway. I have nothing against them!”
Dandala’s next project is a drama series called ‘Jozi H’. “It is a hospital drama and I play the Human Resources director. It covers all of life’s issues, more specifically those within a hospital and most importantly, the issue of the HIV/Aids pandemic. I am very pleased to be a part of this team. It will be a brilliant series. It is a joint Canadian and South African transmission.”
Hlomla refers to the decade that he grew up in as the “nineteen – uglies” (Better known as the 1980s) He tells a chilling story of his worst moment as a teenager. “My best friend’s father was mayor of East London where I lived in the Eastern Cape. At that time, apartheid was still in full swing and the majority of people saw it as a betrayal to work for government on any level. Even if you were totally opposed to the apartheid government, it was a sin to be employed by them. The community therefore took it upon themselves to ‘socially punish’ my best friend, and his father and mother. The punishment was necklacing them. This brutal act was somehow quite acceptable in the 80s,” he recalls.
His friend’s mother survived the ordeal, but his best friend and his friend’s father died. “It was very bizarre to be sitting in class with the same peers who had just committed such a brutal act. In those days this was seen as quite normal and I remember being shocked, hurt and totally confused. I could not conceive that life could just go on. But it did! Hlomla says that there is life after death. He says that the act took him years to get over, but sheer perseverance and hope pulled him through.
“The timing for the Heartlines project is perfect in my opinion. It seems that there is far too much violence, hatred and negativity within South African society. I know that it has only been 12 years since we had our first free and fair elections and there is much backlash from the apartheid era, but we need to work on these issues and the Heartlines’ initiative seems the perfect platform for that. In the past, before we attained our freedom, those of us who were fighting against the regime, seemed to pull together amazingly in order to bring about great change. It worked eventually. Here we are in 2006, and some of us are reaping the benefits. Surely we can once again as South Africans rise up in the name of goodness and overcome our difficulties?” he asks.
By Rowena Seabrook
- Running Time: 52min
- Release Date: 2006
- Rating: PG13
- Genre: Drama
- Language: English, isiXhosa
- Director: Hlomla Dandala
- Cast: Atandwa Kani, Nozipho Nkelemba, Shodine Schalkwyk, Robert Pombo
- Written by: Busi Ntintili, Michéle Rowe
- Editor: Megan Gill
- Director of photography: Trevor Brown
The Bet can be bought as part of the Heartlines 8 films – 8 values set.