Rising from nowhere


Starring in a film is not an easy feat as one has to show great potential to get into the cast. Actually, filmmakers and producers have to run auditions in order to pick the best for the film they work on.

It is not just a matter of picking every Jim and jack. You have to be good, good enough to produce the best in the movie so as to win the hearts of the people.

Actors and actresses are also the face of the films and this is why names also matter.


In Nollywood in Nigeria, for example, there are films involving actors such as Desmond Elliot, Richard Mofe Damijo, Rita Dominic and Genevieve Nnaji which would attract so much attention because these actors and actresses have done well.

The same applies to Hollywood where you have names such as Denzel Washington and Samuel Jackson, who are versatile and their acting skills have attracted more people to watch their films.

Coming down to Malawi, whose film industry is still in its infancy but making positive steps despite inadequate resources, there are actors and actresses among them Flora Suya, Hope Chisanu and Tapiwa Gwaza, who have shown exceptional talent and won the hearts of many people having starred in Charles Shemu Joyah’s debut movie Seasons of A Life.


These are the names that people have become used to when it comes to movies done by Joyah and so it was the same trend when he produced his second film The Last Fishing Boat. Having played the main role in Seasons of A Life, Suya was at it again in The Last Fishing Boat alongside Chisanu.

But it was a different story with Joyah’s latest and third movie The Road to Sunrise where the veteran filmmaker decided to use fresh actors and actresses and so there he was conducting auditions that saw one Mirriam Phiri earning a spot as a lead actor.

Without enough experience and not well known in the industry, Phiri found herself taking up a lead role in Joyah’s film. It was a challenge and the shoes were just too heavy for her to fit in especially being the first time to star in Joyah’s film.

Again playing as a lead actor, it was a challenge as she had never played one before as a lead actor.

The film itself The Road to Sunrise was tough as she had to play as a prostitute and be involved in scenes that would among others, see her kissing, but she challenged herself to go for it.

In the film, exploited by men and ridiculed by the world, two prostitutes Rubia (Mirriam Phiri) and Watipa (Chantelle Phiri) struggle to survive in the rough, unforgiving slums of Blantyre.

When one of them refuses to have sex with one of her clients, a very rich businessman, he violently attacks her and, in self-defence, she stabs him to death.

Her subsequent arrest and murder trial becomes a battle not just to escape the death sentence but also a journey towards her inner emancipation.

Mirriam played the role well and, with the film on the ground, she has brought her name to the limelight such that other filmmakers have also come knocking on her door seeking her signature to star in their films.

And just like Kenya’s Lupita Nyong’o’s rise in Hollywood, Phiri has also come from nowhere to make a name in the industry and if she plays her cards right, she might go all the way.

Born on July 29 1996 and a second born in a family of five, all girls, Phiri comes from Nkhata Bay in the area of Traditional Authority Nkumbila.

She did her primary in three different schools – Chifuniro, Athens and Chilinde LEA and then Chilinde CDSS and Byanzi.

The actress later studied shipping and logistics at Lilongwe Technical College and later pursued design and tailoring at Don Bosco in the same city.

She started acting at the age of seven in church and for her then it was fun and she never imagined she would take it as a serious career.

But with encouragement from friends, she later started doing it seriously and this was cemented by her election as a troop leader for Scout Association of Malawi representing Athens Private Schools in 2006.

But this was only stage drama for her and never imagined she would be on the screens starring in movies and most importantly starring in The Road to Sunrise by Joyah.

“I have a friend, a very best friend of mine Henry Kumbanga and it is this guy who helped me a lot to go far with acting. I am saying this because there was a time I thought acting was just a past time and nothing serious,” Mirriam said.

According to her, Kumbanga told her that ‘acting can be a career’ depending on how you f e e l about it’.

But I told him that how can I make it a career?

“He did not respond the same day, it actually took about a week when he called me over to his house and that is where I found a script. It was in English and he recorded it as I played alongside his brother Hasheem Kumbanga. Then after that he started sharing the audio to his friends until it reached one guy known as Inkosi Sam Katengeza, who searched for my number and called me that we should meet,” Mirriam narrated.

Mirriam said Katengeza introduced himself to her, saying he came because he had listened to a radio play.

“He asked me a question as to who I looked up to when it comes to acting in Malawi. I mentioned a few actresses that I admired such as Tapiwa Gwaza, Mildred Mulindiwa and Linda Chatha but I emphasised that above all, the person I would love to meet was Flora Suya and then he said Flora would be in Lilongwe the following week,” she said.

And it came to pass as I managed to meet Suya and that time, she did not manage to discuss more with her as Suya was leaving for Zambia.

But when she came back from Zambia, Suya started a theatre group and Mirriam was involved but this other time she got a text from Joyah, information that he got her number from Suya and that she should call back.

“You can imagine how I felt and I knew it was the beginning of my dream career. I actually called Flora and told her the good news. Flora told me Mr Joyah was working on a movie and she asked him to try me but she cautioned that I should not be too excited because it was a big role,” Mirriam said.

That, indeed, marked the journey for her to star in The Road to Sunrise as she was later given a chance to audition and as she waited for the results, her friend Joyce Kathewera took her to experience more about film acting.

A film was being made and it so happened that an actress, who was playing the main role never showed up and this was the third time she failed to show up. And so a suggestion was made for her to help in reading the lines just to help other actors rehearse their roles and soon after the first scene, the director said he wanted to replace the other actress with her.

It was thus open to the cast to make a decision and they all agreed in chorus that she was the perfect choice.

They went on to rehearse for two weeks before starting shooting the film titled Virginity Policy written by Ian Chisekula.

And weeks later, she was excited to hear that she had been given the biggest role in Joyah’s The Road To Sunrise.

Once she got into the action during shooting of the film, Mirriam playing Rubia said it was difficult for her to play almost every scene considering the fact she was new and that it was not easy playing romantic scenes.

“Naturally, I am not romantic so I had to watch other movies and adopt ideas. The other challenge was I always thought of how my parents would feel if they were to watch and how about the church my parents are Jehovah’s Witness you know how it is, the community at large what would the think of me and so they more I thought of such things, the harder it became and so to make it easy I just forgot myself and focused on the end product,” Mirriam said.

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