Godwin Muzari : Memory Lane
In comedy, there are some characters that can make you laugh before they even say a word. Their looks, behaviour and approach to acting scenes exude humour and speech is simply a last component of their recipe for cracking viewers’ ribs. Actions can be more comic than words. Rowan Atkinson proved it with “Mr Bean” series.In yesteryear local series “Gringo”, one funny character who could leave viewers in stitches by his mere appearance on screen was Firimoni.
Despite being caught up between Gringo’s mischievous tricks and Madhumbe’s witty shenanigans, viewers never felt sorry for Firimoni because we was just funny.
Gringo was a gardener at Gweshegweshe’s house and Madhumbe was the maid while Firimoni was her boyfriend.
Out of jealous, Gringo made tricks to fix Firimoni while Madhumbe wanted to prove that her boyfriend was ‘the real man’. But Firimoni was dull and he always received Gringo’s pranks in abundance.
Firimoni’s looks enhanced his dull actions, which brought more fun to “Gringo” series.
Even today, when you meet Fanuel Tonganayi on the street, the temptation to laugh is irresistible. Tonganayi played the Firimoni character to the gallery and many people in his neighbourhood do not even know his real name.
He is still known as Firimoni, although he last played the character 13 years ago. Memories of his hilarious scenes in “Gringo” will live long.
Tonganayi admits that most people still believe he is naturally dull and he is used to meeting people that laugh at him when they remember Firimoni.
He also laughed at himself as he went down memory lane this week, recalling scenes that most people still find extremely humorous.
In “NdiGringo Chete” Firimoni spends a night on the roof of Gweshegweshe’s house after being tricked by Gringo.
Gringo challenges Madhumbe to send Firimoni up the roof to clear fallen leaves from the tiles. While Firimoni is busy weeping the roof, Gringo takes away the ladder and disappears, leaving his victim helpless until night falls.
Firimoni makes disturbing sounds on the roof throughout the night, prompting the Gweshengwes to check the source in the morning. Hell breaks loose when they discover a stranger atop their house and mistake Firimoni for a thief.
However, they discover that Firimoni is known to Gringo and Madhumbe when another hilarious character at the house Mbudziyadhura challenges him to jump from the roof since he had once claimed to be a soldier.
In the midst of the melee Mudziyadhura emerges and comically says: “Ko blaz jambaika handiti makati murimusoja.”
Firimoni responds: “Haa kana masoja chaiwo pakadai haajambe (even real soldiers cannot jump from this height)”. Firimoni is then rescued after a night on the roof.
Another scene when Firimoni is on the receiving end of Gringo’s mischief comes when the former is asked to go up a tree with a beehive supposedly to take a ball hanging up the tree.
Firimoni does not know about the beehive and he gets stung and falls off the tree shouting for help.
Then there is a day when Gringo locks Firimoni and Madhumbe in Gweshegweshe’s bedroom.
Taking advantage of her boss’s absence, Madhumbe wanted to spend some time with her boyfriend in Gweshegweshe’s bedroom and Gringo locks the room from outside until the owners of the house return and commotion erupts.
Such are some of the hilarious scenes that Firimoni was involved in and many people found comic relief in his suffering because of the way he acted. The scenes were indeed made to be funny and Tonganayi was up to the task despite getting the Firimoni role coincidentally.
“I joined ZBC as a driver in 1993 and I ferried several drama crews to their shooting locations as part of my job. I had gone to a site with the ‘Gringo’ team when the person who was supposed to take the role of Firimoni was unable to deliver. Anga akangwarisa, but the role yaida munhu akapusa so they needed an urgent replacement and I was told to try the scene,” said Tonganayi.
“I had previously been tasked to do some lines on radio dramas and had worked with ‘Gringo’ producer Dorothy Chidzawo, so she did not hesitate to throw me in for a trial of the Firimoni role.
“I briefly read the script and went on set. Everyone was happy with my performance and that is how I got the role. It was easy for me to fit in because I had seen how other actors did it when I witnessed their shootings as their driver. I knew how to portray a dull character, but I did not know the role would be so popular.
“It was also easy for me to click with actors that I shared scenes with and most of them would laugh at me even on set because of the way I easily allowed myself to be fooled. I enjoyed the relationship I had with Memory Makuri (Madhumbe) and I was happy to work with the writer Enock Chihombori (who was Toby in the comedy), main actor Lazarus Boora (Gringo), Stembeni Makawa (Mai Gweshegweshe), Collin Dube (John Banda), William Matenga (Gweshegweshe) and Blessing Chimhowa (Mbudziyadhura).
“I drove everyone else in the cast, but I really enjoyed the time I had with these people when we were on set. It was real fun.”
Tonganayi’s role in the series also meant he would get more income in addition to his salary as a driver at the national broadcaster. He got allowances under ZBC’s authors and artists pool and he is happy with the financial gains of being fooled by Gringo on set.
He could not take part in “Gringo Mari Iripi?” because he had relocated to Gweru when Power FM was moved to the city.
Although he did not have a bigger role after ‘Gringo’ series, Tonganayi is still popular and funny because of Firimoni.
“I was speaking to a certain lady another day and she laughed at me. She said she was surprised that I would engage in an intellectual discussion. She thought I was dull as I portray in Firimoni. Such are the consequences of acting. Some people cannot separate the actor from the character. I am used to it because it is common to meet people that just burst with laughter when they recognise me.”
He has done cameo role in a few films and is no longer with ZBC. He is currently into farming and he spends most of his time in Hurungwe where he is majoring in tobacco production.
This year he bought a grinding mill after selling his tobacco and has started his small business in Hurungwe.