When Cynthia Rao was announced best actor for Mirage, it didn’t exactly come as a shock. Being one with the character had become an obsession when recording began. The theme of the film was the discrimination and abuse subjected to the differently-abled in the society. Rao plays a blind girl caught up in a drugs web.

“I stayed in character for days. On set, people would ask what was going on, why I was still ‘blind’. But I wanted to inhabit the character in a way I could tell the story.” There were few dry eyes in the hall following her performance.

Rao has seen her talent reach heights at Kenyatta University. The recognition at the festivals now casts distant the early days when she would be kicked out of sets because she was too small. Had it not been for an observant teacher who called her out from the hockey team, she might as well have abandoned her dream altogether.

“The teacher called me from the field and told me I can be an actor,” says Rao, sporting defiant locks that rise from a shaved lower head.

“It is a passion. It’s my life. I want to do it professionally.”

For her winning solo verse, director Fridah Karuri picked on a controversial subject — Josephine Kabura, the woman implicated in the still-simmering National Youth Service money imbroglio with former powerful Cabinet Secretary Anne Waiguru.

“I wanted to play the devil’s advocate,” says Karuri laughing. “I knew it would be viewed as a controversial subject, but her story had been lost in the conversation.”

The first-time director sees her win as a spring board that will bring along more success. “I was surprised to be called upon (to direct). Dr Shikuku told me I can do it. I hope to step up. I am an actress by background, but I aspire to be an all-round artiste.”

In 2016, Joel Lukamasia saw his dance lose the top prize at the national festivals. Later, he sat and reviewed the circumstances, identifying holes. He promised himself that he would come back better. In 2017, he scooped his best choreographer prize for the dance Musa.

“The art was in the simplicity,” says Lukamasia. The dance revolves around a distasteful man with a tight leash on his daughter. It is about triumph, staying power.

“Going into the finals, Lukamasia felt he had a winning product in his hands and when the announcement came, he remembered with fondness his school days at Kakamega High School where he majored in drama, and then when he auditioned for a place at KU.

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