By Enoch Chihombori
Around 1996, I was an aspiring actor and scriptwriter at an acting club called Screentalent in Harare. I was struggling to write my first Gringo script then.
One day at this club, we were being taught how to react to situations when it so happened that one aspiring actor was failing to portray the excitement of someone who has just won a lottery.
A number of guys tried, but none was very convincing. The leaders of the club then decide to get someone who could demonstrate what was required and they picked one guy I had not seen at the club before.
He was not a regular at the club and also, since I was fairly new to the club, I did not know him. But when he was called to the stage, I could feel the air of anticipation within the club and I knew we were going to see something different.
They knew what he was capable of and when he got to the stage, he did not disappoint. We all applauded the realistic, but somehow humorous manner in which he portrayed a lottery winner.
That was the first time I saw Lazarus Boora (Gringo). The following few weeks, he didn’t come to the club and I soon forgot about him.
Then, I saw him acting in Aaron Chiundura Moyo’s television drama series called Chihwerure. He had a small part in this drama series where he acted as a junior policeman.
The moment I saw him on TV, I immediately realised he was that guy from the club. Unfortunately, his part in Chihwerure was not a major role, so he did not have much room to showcase his talents.
Towards the end of 1997, I had finished writing the first draft of my Gringo script. I sought guidance from the then chairman of Screentalent, Yanai Tsvuura, on how to have my script produced as a television drama series.
He helped me get in touch with Amai Dorothy Chidzawo, who was a drama producer at Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation and after going through rigorous scrutiny and a rewrite, she eventually accepted my script and preparations for shooting started.
For a start, we had to find the main character to the story. Mai Chidzawo had worked on Chiundura Moyo’s Chihwerure and she still remembered the guy who had played the role of a junior policeman.
She mentioned the character and I immediately told her, I knew him. She told me that, during the filming of Chihwerure, he was so good, and she wished he had a bigger part. It was a no-brainer, we had to get our man.
Boora was asked to present himself for the auditions, which he did, but he did not audition for the part of Gringo. He just came and took it.
There was no competition and frankly, no one dared to try and challenge him for it. When we tried him for the first time, it was as if he was preparing for the part all his life.
During rehearsals and shooting, Boora took to the part of Gringo like a duck to water.
At the beginning, I was not really sure if the script was good enough to give us a story with a decent appeal to the viewers.
A glimmer of hope started showing during rehearsals, most actors would stop their rehearsals just to watch Lazarus do his lines. It was even more entertaining when he interacted with Collin Dube (the late John Banda).
During filming, there was a time when the crew had to ask him to tone down his antics because they could not do their work properly as continuous bouts of laughter kept disturbing them.
When the first episode of Gringo aired on ZBC in April of 1998, I was so nervous and apprehensive about the outcome. I was so afraid our type of humour and storyline might not be accepted by the viewers.
This is so because some people who had read my script had dismissed it as child play. Indeed, I also thought that in some parts, the story was childish, but with actors like Boora, William Matenga (Gweshe Gweshe) and the late Stembeni Makawa (Mai Gweshe Gweshe), the childishness was seemingly masked out of the story.
Boora made the majority of viewers believe and appreciate our brand of comedy. By the time our story got to the fifth episode, the story and especially the character of Gringo had somewhat hooked the viewing public.
I could not believe what was happening. About 10 years earlier, I had started a Gringo cartoon character in weekly newspaper Kwayedza and now Boora had personified that cartoon and elevated its character to heights of popularity I never imagined.
The day I went with Boora to visit my mother in Glen View was the first time I got to realise how popular he had become.
Mai Chidzawo, the producer and director, also stayed in Glen View, so we decided to visit her first, then proceeded to my mother’s place.
By the time we got there, we had a small crowd of mostly kids following us. They had recognised Gringo and as we left Mai Chidzawo’s place, we had quite a sizeable crowd following us.
When we got to my mother’s place, the crowd had grown significantly. My mother and everyone who stayed at that place were shocked to see a large crowd converge upon them. I won’t forget that day.
The more we stayed, the bigger the crowd grew. People wanted to see Gringo. That is the day I got to realise how his stature had changed in society. He was now a genuine Zimbabwean television star.
From 1998 to around 2003, we had high hopes for our brand and during that time we had done four Gringo drama series on television.
Gringo’s popularity was ever rising, but things were not always smooth sailing. We were young and the excitement of the popularity that came our way sometimes got the better of us.
I remember there are times when I used to sit with Gringo and we would sort of counsel each other on personal issues. HIV/Aids was rampant and there are times when we would discuss our vulnerability and how to safeguard ourselves against the disease.
There was a critical time around 2001 when his personal life nearly led to the collapse of the whole project. He felt people did not understand him and were quick to judge him. Through dialogue we managed to iron out most issues and our project got back on track.
Things really got bad for us after 2005 when we felt we were no longer getting paid what we deserved for our efforts. We went on to do our own independent projects, but as good as it seemed, we never got to succeed financially.
Lazarus last acted as Gringo in 2013 when we did the film Gringo Troublemaker. The film cemented him as a popular actor, but unfortunately, due to circumstances we could not control, he and everyone involved never got any significant financial reward from the film.
I have experienced and witnessed Lazarus’s life as an actor and it’s sad for me to say as much as we were always happy and joyous while filming, it was never always an enjoyable journey. He deserved much better. News Day