Actor Edwin Chonde will always cherish the special moment he had playing a role in a Hollywood movie – The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind directed by renowned actor Chiwetel Ejiofor.
This is a film which tells the story of innovator William Kamkwamba, who hails from Wimbe in Kasungu District.
Chonde never knew he would one-day have an opportunity to feature in a Hollywood film let alone rubbing shoulders with Hollywood star Ejiofor, who has starred in several high profile movies including 12 Years A Slave.
It actually seemed impossible for him after he had gone for auditions having been told about it by actress Brenda Mselu.
“She gave me a number to call and submit my name, which I did and then about two months later I was scheduled for auditions right here in Lilongwe,” the actor said.
Chonde remembers vividly that on the day of auditions, he went in casual wear – in his pair of jeans and a T-Shirt.
On the day of the audition, Chonde, said there were a lot of young men and women, who were being categorised according to their age groups by a Kenyan lady.
He did not fit into any of the groups so, he stepped aside and just waited. Then the lady came to him and asked why he was just standing.
It was then that Chonde told the lady that he did not fit in any of the age groups she had mentioned.
“She looked at me then asked me, how long it would take for me to go back home and wear a suit. I told her to give me an hour, and she did,” the actor said.
An hour later, Chonde was back wearing a suit and later he heard the Kenyan lady whisper perfect and it was this whisper of perfect that gave him an assurance he needed.
The Kenyan lady then asked him to step in front of the camera and mimic the country’s former President Bakili Muluzi.
It was then that he raised his hands, brought the palms together and in a deep Yao accent Muluzi was known for shouted “Zinthu zatani?”
The Kenyan lady tilted her head backwards and uttered an outburst of laughter, the kind women produce when someone really impressed them and so, she never auditioned anybody for the role.
What turned out to be impossible in the first place turned possible and God had made a way for Chonde and today he can be watched all over the world in The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind.
At 51 years old, Chonde still continues to show the best of his acting skills in the creative world and has featured in a number of projects as well as music videos with the latest being a love song ‘Ndigubila’ by Ennoh Mwana wa Igwe which he collaborated with Lulu.
As an actor, Chonde, said he has always been fascinated by the art of storytelling.
“I enjoy telling or listening to a good story. So, back then in my childhood, I remember that every Friday I would be on my best behaviour and help my sister with her household chores so that at 9:10pm she would translate the radio play in the weekly programme Theatre of the Air for me,” he recalls.
He also remembers a watchman in their neighborhood who was popularly known as Bulawayi and that every night, all of them as children then would find themselves around him to listen to his stories.
“He was such an excellent narrator. But perhaps what I see as my defining moment, was when my Sabbath school teacher (what you call Sunday school in other churches) challenged me to audition for a role in biblical story, The Prodigal Son and I got the role,” Chonde said.
He discovered he could act and that this was one of his talents and since then, he has never looked back.
But Chonde’s real acting came when he went for his secondary education at William Murray where he met Deus Kunthembwe, Charles Gondwe and Raymond Majiga, who all passed away and Andrew Chalamanda.
“They were the first ones who introduced me to a scripted play and taught me how to interpret my lines and this was in the years 1987 to 1990,” he said.
But his entry in movie acting came when he met award winning actress Joyce Mhango Chavula.
“Joyce Mhango Chavula has never ceased to inspire me ever since. She is the one who taught me everything I need to know as far as film acting is concerned,” he said.
Chonde has been inspired by a number of people as far as acting is concerned and he also singles out the late Smart Likhaya Mbewe, a veteran playwright and radio actor.
“He is such a great inspiration to me. I actually grew up in Kanjedza in Blantyre where he used to live. Then there were also people like late Chipiliro Matiya, and Symon Suwedi, in their days at Chichiri Secondary School. They also inspired me greatly. But I guess my greatest insipiration has and will always be the late Du Chisiza Jr and his Wakhumbata Ensemble Theatre,” he said.
During Chisiza’s time, Chonde recalls that he would not miss any of their shows even if it collided with Bullets versus Wanderers match.
Born Edwin Kondwani Chonde on June 11, 1969, the actor is married to Edda Tamara and God blessed them with two daughters – Beverly Mtinawa and Lena Deborah.
Chonde comes from a family of six children – three girls and three boys.
“Unfortunately two of the girls passed on, only one girl is alive, and three of us boys but we are all fully grown up now,” he said.
The actor’s mother hails from Kande, Traditional Authority Fukamapiri in Nkhata Bay District whereas his father comes from Chikumba Village, Traditional Authority, Chadza in Lilongwe.
He holds Bachelor’s degree in Theology from Jacksonville Baptist University, Jacksonville, Florida in United States of America (USA).
Having studied theology which to him is more of a calling than a career, Chonde has not restricted himself to only acting but has taught in different secondary schools subjects like Bible Knowledge, History and literature.
“But of late, I guess that calling is being heard louder and louder. So don’t be surprised, if besides being on set, you see me on the pulpit,” the actor said.
While starring in The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind has been his biggest achievement in his acting career Chonde also managed to claim the Best Actor Award in the Mega Fox Talent Search organised by Mega Fox Nigeria in 2014.
He has also won an award in the Lilongwe Short Film Awards.
Chonde believes there is more room for improvement for him but also more things to offer in the creative industry.
He however, bemoans lack of support which was failing many players.
“Right now, I have 13 complete episodes of very exciting TV series that are literary begging for any well-wishers to come forward and partner with us in producing them. They have been written by myself, Dipo Katimba and Brenda Mselu,” Chonde said.
The actor said he was thankful to all those who have come out to support the creative industry which has been sidelined in the country.
“We need good props, access to locations, and good production equipment if our movies are to compete internationally. Malawi is a beautiful country with great people and wonderful stories. My appeal to anyone who cares to listen is that they should partner with us so that we tell stories of this beautiful country on earth through the cameras,” he said.
Chonde describes The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind as the most exciting project he has done so far to his collection.
“Well organised, and something out of this world. Chiwetel is a good director and a wonderful person. The project brought in a lot of people from all around the world, sharing our experiences, the things we have in common and even our differences and this is really something I will cherish for the rest of my life,” he said.
In terms of payment, Chonde claims he was not paid enough.
“I would like to be personal here, because I do not have the mandate to speak for others. I was not given enough. I think this is where the issue of managers ought to come in. For most of us, it was the first time doing an international project, and we did not know how to negotiate our own deals. So, in terms of exposure the project was excellent, but in terms of payment, I got a raw deal,” he said.
On what he thinks of the industry at the moment, the actor, said the future looks bright.
“There are some guys on the ground today who have potential and are talented when it comes to shooting. I am looking at guys like Hastings Golosi and Gift Sukali of HD Plus Creations and Khama Mbaula of Afitrix. They really mean business when they are behind the camera,” he said.
Comparing to what the industry is today and what it used to be, Chonde said:
“I can surely say that we are getting better. I am a keen follower of Flora Suya’s Spouses and workmates. I see a lot of improvement in terms of acting, picture quality and casting. People like Shemu Joyah have done well producing great movies”.
But are we yet there?
“We have made progress 100 percent but we are not yet there. We are far from it. When Lewis Armstrong first walked on the moon he said, “This is one small step for a person, but one giant leap for mankind!” The movie industry in Malawi is still very small by international standards, but has made a giant leap forward by Malawian Standards,” he said.
He said passion is what drives him in the industry.
“Acting for me, does not put food on the table, but I know it will kill me if I don’t act, because this is my God-given gift. So, I still find myself acting. So passion is my secret,” Chonde said.
How far then will he go in acting now that he is 51 years?
“Well, as far as this industry can take me. I would still want to act even on the day when I am in my casket. To look at those mourners and tell them, “stop shedding those tears for me, smile instead and give me that round of applause!” he said.
He ends it all by saying that acting is not real.
“There are times when society perceives you negatively just because of the role you played in a play or movie. The script may determine that I be a robber, a murderer or a rapist. That does not mean that I am like that in real life. In fact I hate robbers, rapists and murderers and believe that the world would be a better place without them,” Chonde said.
He adds that Manganya is not Michael Usi, Winiko is not Bon Kalindo, and Jakobo is not Eric Mabedi.
“So, next time, don’t tell me, “Tinakuonani mukugwiliira kamwanatu,” (we saw you defiling a child) because in real life, sindingagwililire kamwana! (I did not defile a child),” Chonde said.