If you’ve been on social media over the last week or two, you’d know Blood and Water is the recent Netflix original set in South African that’s been ranking high up the charts across many countries worldwide.
Rich kids, a new school, privileged bullies, child trafficking and abducted siblings are just some of the reasons why this 6-part series is binge worthy. Directed by Nosipho Dumisa (who also directed Nommer 37), Blood and Water follows the exploits of 16-year-old Puleng Khumalo ( Ama Qamata ). Puleng moves to Parkhust College on a mission to prove that the 17-year old famous Parkhust’s star swimmer and head girl candidate, Fikile Bhele (Khosi Ngema) is infact Phumelele Khumalo, her long lost sister who was abducted at birth, 17 years ago.
In the opening, we’re introduced to the Khumalo family celebrating their long lost daughter’s
birthday. An annual celebration that has grown to bore holes as huge as her 3-tier birthday cake, on Puleng and her little brother, Siya. Puleng doesn’t understand why is this thing such a big deal - worse when the last born only got a small birthday dinner and an off tune birthday jingle at a restaurant. Puleng’s mother, tries to cheer her up, and she states “it’s a birthday party, not a funeral”. Well, might as well be one!
By the third episode your patience is tested and your frustration around Puleng’s secrets, lies and lack of action in pursuing her mission thickens. You want to yell, "just tell someone!" through the screen. But you remember that social power is everything in high school and maybe Puleng is worried that if she risks her investigation too soon, she also risks being Parkhurst’s laughing stock. By no means is this a bad story; it’s a clear, ‘high concept’ idea, told in the simplest, but in the slowest way possible. Perhaps because of Puleng’s skills as an investigator, or because it’s a high school teen drama, but it seems to take quite a long time to click.
Puleng is far from perfect. She settles differences the best way she knows how to, with a hand on her opponent’s face. She sneaks around, lies to her parents, and breaks into the school premises. Perhaps this is why her parents have declared her long lost sister a better child than her. She is, however a considerate child to her parents. Knowing how much disappointment her parents have faced trying to find Phume, she decides to keep her suspicions about Fikile until she is sure of her facts.
While the friendship between Zama and Puleng begins to suffer, Puleng builds a thicker bond with Fikile - the girl she suspects to be her sister, and it doesn’t help that the details around Fikile’s life are as sketchy as Puleng’s investigative skills. As she infiltrates the rich kids world, more characters begin to emerge, the interesting Wendy Dlamini who calls out her enemies on their privilege while she’s basking comfortably in her own. The high school heart throb KB who struggles to live up to his father’s expectations, while on the run for Puleng’s heart and perhaps the misunderstood Chris who’s in love with Zama but also declares his love for Mark.
Although Ama, and the rest of the cast give memorable performances, they may at times lack in providing emotional hooks. It seems as though that this is not necessarily the actors’ shortcomings but rather the writing's, which is more concerned about forward narrative movement, and not necessarily intimacy that fosters attraction between characters and their audience.
Nonetheless, Blood and Water has clear structural integrity, and it provides valid dramatic dilemmas. Although the ending only feels like the actual beginning of the story, with Puleng finally dropping the bomb on Fikile with evidence to support her claims, the pay off is worth it.
Visually, the show offers a form of African storytelling we don't often get to see. It helps that the show is not set in the hustle and bustle of Jo’burg. Cape Town is beautifully captured as a living, breathing character with which the story interacts with. The ocean waves, The Lion’s Head in the far vicinity, all add to a beautiful alternative to admire, when the story is not necessarily keeping you up on your toes.
The show has a stellar cast, both young and new faces. If you’re an advocate of
#OpenUpTheIndustry, then you’re also in for a treat. Other members of the cast include Khosi Ngema, playing the swimming star, Fikile. Taking up this role as her television debut. Cindy Mahlangu, as Puleng’s friend - Zama, assuming her third television role in the country. The influencer and musician Thabang Molaba playing KB, and more experienced, armed with her NYFA qualification, Natasha Thahane playing Miss Wendy Dlamini. The older stars, include the legendary Sello Maake Ka-Ncube, Gail Mabalane, Xolile Tshabalala and Baby Cele.
By the end one question remains. It's clear Puleng wants to be a hero and solve her family problems, but does she really want to find her sister? All her life, the missing sibling has been idolized, and held up to her parents’ unrealized dream. Does she really want her kidnapped sister back? And if perfect Fikile is indeed her sister, this only means Puleng’s worst nightmare has just come true.