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The rise and rise of Kenya’s telenovela couple



The rise and rise of Kenya’s telenovela couple

Through their company Jiffy Pictures, Lulu Hassan and Rashid Abdalla have at least 10 drama series that have aired on Royal Media Services, DStv’s Maisha Magic East, Bongo and other streaming services.

It all started in 2017 when their show Maza was accepted by MultiChoice under Maisha Magic East.

The show, which was produced in Mombasa, depicted the intrigues and drama of a once successful family whose strong bond was crushed one night by an envious friend.

It featured five main characters Dingo (husband), Lea (wife), Maya (daughter), Badi (son) and Kate (best friend to wife) and supporting characters.

During an interview with Nation when the show premiered, Rashid said the show set out to teach the audience about the culture, traditions and lifestyle of the Coastal people. He said it wasn’t easy to get started as the series had once stalled before the media couple revived it.

He recalled how he was once in Kilifi when he saw the actress who played the role of Lea. “I followed for like 30 minutes and in between she disappeared and I had no idea where she went,” he said back then.

“I went back home and told my wife about my experience and she told me there was something about her which was hidden and it had not yet been exposed.”

He subsequently contacted the show’s script writer Ibrahim Chitai and, after talks, agreed to revive Maza on condition that they will do it together.

Maza was then followed by Aziza, then Moyo, Maria, Zora and Mizani. The fanatical following that their shows have drawn, particularly Maria and Zora, exemplify their contribution to Kenya’s TV industry and entertainment in general. To do it all while being known for something else entirely makes the feat even more impressive.

Maza was nominated for Best TV Drama and Best Lead Actress in a TV Drama (for Angie Magio) at the Kalasha Awards 2018.

The influences from the Coast, where Lulu and Rashid grew up, are apparent in the shows they have helmed. Their shows have gone to win awards and made stars and household names out of cast members.

Huba, which airs on Africa Magic Bongo, won the gold medal for Best General Entertainment Promo at the 2019 Promax Awards in South Africa. Lulu always credits the achievements to her husband who is the major scriptwriter for their outstanding shows.

Rashid Abdalla and Lulu Hassan
Media personality Rashid Abdalla with his wife Lulu Hassan.

For Kovu, another Swahili telenovela as compelling as it may be, Rashid said previously that he wanted it to have an impact on society rather than being just a unique and interesting story.

Set on the Kenyan coast, which is known for its cartel-controlled drug menace, the show was inspired by his need to air out the drug menace in the society, which is run by “philanthropists” who pretend to assist the community though they are using it to cover their real intentions.

On the other hand, he also wanted to showcase how some families are sometimes embroiled in turmoil and dark secrets, and that at the end of the day, not all secrets are worth hiding.

Despite its intense plotline, Kovu, a high-budget Kenyan TV series that features veteran actor Ken Ambani, still finds some moments of humour, especially with the domestic workers who feed their daily gossip by listening in on their masters’ lives through kitchen walls and closed doors.

Kovu is a very different story compared to what the Kenyan audience is used to. It’s too tense and thought-provoking hence I had to add some comical aspect to it, but if you are keen, they all have a story as well,” Rashid said.

Trisha Khalid, who stars as Ruby Haze in the series, said Lulu is the one who encouraged her to play the character despite her not being an actor.

“I first turned it down when Lulu Hassan called me, and I told her that I was not an actor; that they should give it to someone else. The good thing about Lulu is that she encouraged me and convinced me to try it out and it was the best decision. So far, so good,” she said.

The couple, who have three children, also enjoy a big following in Tanzania where they have other shows running. Among them is Swahili TV drama Sarafu that also airs on Maisha Magic Bongo.

Last year, Lulu bagged the Best Producer in a TV Drama award during the Women in Film Awards 2021 ceremony.

Also victorious was Maria lead actress Yasmin Said who walked away with the Best Actress in a TV Drama award.

According to Lulu, the couple look to create high-quality content in their productions.

“If you look at the response on our shows, what stands out is how different we are from other production companies. We heavily invest in our stories,” she said back in 2019.