Sibling rivalry knows no bounds in the world of Igiza, the brand-new Kenyan thriller series now streaming on Showmax.
As episode one kicks off, we meet identical twins Linda and Nicole in their very different worlds.
Nicole is clad in black and white stripes prison uniform, serving time for a crime we know nothing of yet, drinking watery prison porridge and getting harassed by prison guards while also being forced to offer sexual favours to a very sleazy prison warden.
By contrast, the sophisticated Linda runs her successful fashion house with an icy attitude that makes everyone cower at the sight of her. With the backing of some big investors, she’s just gearing up for the launch of her tenth clothing store, a move that will take her to the next level.
But their lives are about to change in the most spectacular fashion as Nicole sets her plan in motion to take back everything she’s owed. Linda betrayed her in the past and is now going to get a taste of her own medicine.
Serah Ndanu, who plays twins Linda and Nicole, describes her dual roles as every actor’s dream. “But at the same time, it comes with a lot of demands because you really have to distinguish these two characters, even for the audience to be able to see the difference,” she adds.
Joining Ndanu in the lead role is Kevin Samuel, an actor who we last saw on our screens in Mali in 2015, and who now returns as Linda’s ambitious and calculating husband Reggie. Like Linda, Reggie will do anything to get ahead, even use his wife’s business to launder money for a very dangerous crime syndicate.
“His ambition has pushed him into doing some questionable things and has now landed him in a position where not only his life, but the life of his family is under threat,” Samuel says. For him, one of Igiza’s greatest appeals is how dark the show is willing to go. “I’m sure there’s no other locally produced show that goes as dark as this one.”
Episode 1 also introduces us to Blessing Lung’aho as Dom, Nicole’s very capable accomplice. It’s a different pace from what Lung’aho is used to in his predominantly telenovela roles. “The stakes are very different between playing Alejandro in a telenovela and being Dom. In a telenovela, the worst thing that can happen to my character is that he won’t find the girl of his dreams. In Igiza, the stakes are very high because, at any point, anyone can die,” Lung’aho says.
Igiza’s storyline plays out against the backdrop of Nairobi’s fashion industry and the money laundering world, popularly known as wash wash. “Both these worlds are about image and status. And we chose them because of their current nature and relevance in the Kenyan society,” director and producer Abdi Shuria says. “The wash wash industry in Kenya is unlike any other around the world. Here, money launderers openly flaunt their wealth, living large and dangerously. I found this to be an irresistible opportunity to dive into that underworld and uncover a different side of Nairobi.”
The prison setting is also key to the show’s storyline, introducing us to an interesting cast of characters who are not so different from those plotting in the world beyond the prison walls. These include Musa, the crooked warden (Ainea Ojiambo, Kina); Senje, the hateful prison guard (Eillene Otieno) who derives pleasure from tormenting Nicole; and Salome (Sheila Ndanu, Maria), who runs the prison and who has a bigger stake in Nicole’s revenge mission than we first realize.
A lot of preparation went into capturing this prison world as authentically as possible. “We visited Lang’ata Womens Prison to learn about the different prison dialects, procedures and what the experience is like for both inmates and guards,” Shuria says.
Igiza is the fourth Showmax Original in Kenya, building on the success of the Kalasha-winning police procedural series Crime and Justice, the coming-of-age film Baba Twins, and the drama series Single Kiasi.