Friday, January 30, 2009
THE DECONSTRUCTION OF ‘JENIFA’
A REVIEW OF FUNKE AKINDELE'S MOVIE
by Wole Oguntokun
AS PUBLISHED BY THE GUARDIAN OF FRIDAY JANUARY 30, 2009
There are no never-seen-before plots or sub-plots in the movie, Jénífà, no twists and turns that are unprecedented, yet the producer, Funke Akindele, succeeds in showing the truth of the adage that “Originality does not consist of saying what no one has said before, but in saying exactly what you want to say”. Through the protagonist, Jénífà whose name is a corruption of the Anglo-Saxon “Jennifer”, the movie succeeds in meandering through a potent mine-field of well-worn clichés and easily-recognizable situations, ending up as a box-office success, the kind of which has not been seen in Nigeria in recent times.
The movie in its two parts as is the weird way of all Nigerian movies now, tells the tale of a village bumpkin, Suliat, confident in her mastery of her hometown, Aiyetoro, until she is admitted into a University in the city of Lagos. Suliat’s ego is crushed time after time as a new student who discovers her brash ways are considered uncouth and vulgar by the more ‘refined’ city girls. She is adopted by three girls on campus, Ronke Odusanya who plays ‘Becky’, Mosunmola Filani (Tracy) and Iyabo Ojo (Franca). These three musketeers play their roles of opportunistic harpies to the hilt, and Suliat rapidly loses the freshness of a village beauty, evolving into a hardened undergraduate always looking for an angle.
With an array of mostly girl-actors, the cameras range across a university campus and into the city with the total number of actors and extras at about one hundred and five. This kind of numbers are peculiar to the Yoruba film industry, which is alive with alliances and collaborations ensuring that entire groups and caucuses back each other up in casting and technical matters if and when the need arises. There is a pecking order in this industry with the younger ones playing as extras until their own time and ‘freedom’ comes.
The acting sometimes bordering on the farcical, has many fine points, at least of the main actors, with the lead actor, Funke Akindele, apparently following in the footsteps of actors like the British-born Sacha Baron Cohen who studied to create and become the sometimes-vulgar but always very funny character, Ali G, and the equally funny but bumbling character known as ‘Borat’. Funke Akindele, who in real life is a smooth-talking graduate of the University of Lagos, slid well into the persona of ‘Suliat’ a.k.a. Jénífà, showing there had been back-ground work done. Her supporting actors, Ronke Odusanya, Mosunmola Filani and Iyabo Ojo match her in their portrayal of girls in a desperate quest for social relevance and financial security. Kola Olaiya and Tola Oladokun who played Sulia’s parents were well-cast with Kola Olaiya performing superbly as her father. If there ever was anyone born to a role, it must be Eniola Badmus as ‘Gbogbo Big Girl’ (translated roughly as ‘The embodiment of all big-girls’). Badmus, whose presence commands respect on the screen, and not only because she has more weight than the average female, plays a female-pimp that holds the viewer spell-bound with her self-assurance as the Lord of all she surveys on campus. Since Badmus’ performance, the term ‘gbogbo big girl’ has become common parlance in Nigeria.
Giants from Yoruba filmdom were there to lend a steely edge to a movie that might have been considered very light in their absence, with Jide Kosoko, Bayo Salami, Yinka Quadri and Yomi Fash-Lanso weighing in and making it a well-rounded cast. Other noticeable roles are played by Sola Asadeko as the wayward ‘Tutu’ and Honey Ikemefuna as ‘Bobo Ibo’.
Technically, the camera angles and shots are basic, the movie itself easy on the eye, not requiring any pretensions to high intelligence from its watchers. The translation of the Yoruba idioms and phrases to English on the screen, will not score anywhere near a hundred percent in accuracy, and the editing and sound are not always up to par (there is a spot where the boom microphone shows in the shot). Voice-level discrepancies can be heard from shot to shot, even when it is the same character still talking. However, even Hollywood blockbusters like Russell Crowe's 'Gladiator', had many errors in them visible to the discerning eye, including one where a mound of sand was heaped on the ground like a pillow so Crowe the star, could lie comfortably on the ground during a shot, and another where the engine powering a chariot was visible. All these were left uncut in the final movie.
Effort is taken in ‘Jénífà’ , however to have a fairly acceptable musical score and soundtracks.
‘Jénífà’ the comedy, suddenly takes a cruel turn in its Part 2 (which was most probably shot in the same period as Part 1). The style does not deviate from the age-old Yoruba formula for story-telling, where the story gradually unfolds to a didactic or moralizing climax, an end in which people pay for their sins, and the ‘righteous’ are rewarded for keeping to the straight and narrow.
Becky dies for engaging in anal sex, Franca for going to a party hosted by people who needed human fodder for rituals, Tracy loses her ability to bear children because of too many prior abortions and Jénífà is rewarded with expulsion from school and the HIV for her wayward ways. There is no escaping the wages of sin in this movie.
A lack of fluency in the English Language is an impediment to many Nigerian movies, often manifesting as a stilted delivery of lines and an obvious lack of ease in extended dialogue. The producers of ‘Jénífà’ easily overcome this obstacle by sticking to their first language, Yoruba, and manipulating it as they wish. It is a wonder to see language in flight, dipping and soaring in the mouths of experienced users.
This movie will not pass the test in the Western world on account of technicalities but it has found almost unprecedented acceptance in Nigeria, a kind unseen in recent years. The most obvious questions – Should we allow external standards influence our judgement of work or let the public, whether discerning or otherwise, make its own decisions? Can we set Hollywood or Bollywood as the pass-marks of a good movie here? If the people love a work, is cultural acceptability enough?
The ‘problem’ with the critic always, (this writer inclusive) is that he (or she) always imagines he knows more than the public he writes for, and is the person best suited to tell them what they must like and accept.
At The Future Awards, the entire audience numbering more than two thousand, cutting across social strata and class structure stood to its feet as one and clapped all the way as Funke Akindele mounted the podium to receive the award for Actor of the Year primarily for her role in Jénífà , easily beating the Stage actor, Jennifer Osammor and the Nollywood actor, Mercy Johnson to first place. And that might be the final answer to all our questions. Let the people speak.
The Girl Whisperer
as published by the Sunday Guardian
of Jan 25 2009
The Butterfly Effect
This phrase refers to the idea that a butterfly’s wings might create tiny changes in the atmosphere that may ultimately alter the path of a tornado or delay, accelerate or even prevent the occurrence of a tornado in a certain location. While the butterfly does not cause the tornado, the flap of its wings is an essential part of the conditions resulting in the tornado. To put this in simple English, a butterfly flaps its wings in faraway Tibet and thereby causes a calamitous event in a little village in the Eastern region of Nigeria.
Cause and Effect. Do all our actions, no matter how insignificant, have far-reaching consequences in places we cannot even begin to imagine? Does a simple, nonchalant act have a ripple effect in the years ahead in some far-flung place? A young man has an idea one day after a conversation with a close friend of his. He will leave Kenya, the land of his birth and travel to the United States, he will seek greener pastures, try to make headway in this distant land. Things come together for him and he is able to reach the ‘promised land’. Though he faces initial hardship, he is able to father a son, who grows up, steadily, surely and by the time this son is in his forties, he has become the forty-fourth President of the United States. The tornado that tore across a mighty nation which started with a simple conversation between friends close to fifty years before, on a deserted footpath in a rural part of Kenya. Are you starting to get the picture?
You choose to take a left turn instead of a right and at the end of it; you see the result of a simple, natural act and its consequences. After my ordinary level exams, I decided to start my Advanced Level classes in the same school, Baptist Academy, and on the first day of resumption, I met a bespectacled young man, tooth slightly chipped in front, standing confidently against the wall in front of the Principal’s office. He appeared to be about my age and I later found out he was nine days younger than I was. This was the start of a major friendship, one of the most important of my life, and he played the most pivotal role in the choice of course I would study, law. I had no idea why he chose my school for his advanced levels but whatever led him there was the butterfly that flapped its wings and became the cyclone that hit my life.
While still in your late teens, you are woken by a friend one bright Saturday morning. She tells you she’s been invited to a party and because you have no set plans, decide to accompany her. At the party, you meet this smooth talking young man (and believe me, there are many smooth-talking seventeen year olds) who sweeps you off your feet and into a broom closet. A few weeks later, you suspect something is the matter with you. Your mother, who should really be named after the super-heroine, Hawk-Eye, looks closely at you and informs you with steel in her voice, that you’re pregnant. Are you starting to see the butterfly’s wing’s flapping in slow-motion now? It started with the friend who saw your picture in her photo album that day and decided it would be a good thing for you both to hang out. And then the catastrophe.
There are many simple acts we take for granted, not realising that nature abhors a vacuum and that for every act, there is a reaction, often times unseen but able to cause catastrophe if we are not careful. The student that picks up a book to swot in preparation for exams is creating a sequence that will lead him (or her) to success. The gift of a golf club to Tiger Woods at age two created a phenomenon, a golf player unlike any ever seen in this life.
Oftentimes, we cannot predict what the logical fallout of our actions will be. We have no idea if a simple hello will result in a life-changing situation many continents away but as much as possible, we should walk through life with our eyes wide open. As the Whisperer read somewhere many years ago, “He never wise and safe shall be, who shuts his eyes when he should see”
Your decision to unconditionally love a man who has made it plain you do not mean the same thing to him, is one in which you do not have to go far to see its probable results. You don’t have to be a soothsayer to realise it will only end in heartbreak and for just one of the two parties.
Often, we are a result of our childhood, our upbringing, a totality of the confidence given us by our parents and guardians when we were children or the insecurities they foisted upon us. Through the whole of life, the ripples of the past flow like the beginning of waves at sea, gathering momentum as they force their way to crash against the distant shores which will become our future.
Many of us are products of a loving gesture in our past (or a careless word). There is no word that falls flat, no deed that does not take root and become a stepping stone or an obstacle. I am the result of the many comics I read as a child and believe me when I say I read them all; Buster, Whoopee, Dandy, Tiger, Roy of The Rovers, Marvel Comics, DC Comics, , The War Picture Library, Tarzan and his son, Korak, Battle, Crunch, 2000AD and its fallout, Judge Dredd. Even the female comics, Mandy, Jinty, Tammy went through my hands. I can tell you how exactly the Fantastic Four got their powers, the episode in which Lieutenant Darkie in “Darkie’s Mob” lost his life and his last words, “You have won nothing, Nipponi”. I can tell you Nicholas Cage was no “Ghost Rider”, and Arnold Schwarzenegger no “Conan the Barbarian”. Both films were shams. Toby Maguire as Spiderman is a dubious choice and Stan lee, producer of Marvel Comics will live forever.
Now you get my meaning, the butterfly effect of all the Enid Blyton books I read led to a tornado. Femi Kuti’s life was shaped by his father’s influence. Let’s be determined to make our butterflies flap their wings properly and if by some chance, we have suffered for mistakes of the past, let’s make our minds up to turn these mistakes to our advantage. The Girl Whisperer salutes you.
Thursday, January 29, 2009
100 BEST BLOGS ON AFRICA
Got mail that this blog had been posted in an article on "100 Best Blogs for Learning About Africa"
It doesn't come under Nigerian blogs but under the 'Arts and Culture' segment.
I'm not sure what the parameters were but it feels good to be recognized. I have to return to my conscentious blogging days though. Having to write a thousand-word article for the Guardian weekly takes its toll as well.
Monday, January 26, 2009
Theatre@Terra presents Sizwe Banzi is Dead, the classic stage play on the universal search for identity. Every Sunday this February at 3pm and 6pm, starring Sunkanmi Adebayo, Rotimi Fakunle and Segun Ogundipe.
Tickets N2000. Venue- Terra Kulture, Tiamiyu Savage St, Victoria Island.
Saturday, January 17, 2009
The Girl Whisperer
as published by the Sunday Guardian
of January 11, 2009
The Affairs of Men
Mr W. Shakespeare wrote a long while back that “there is a tide in the affairs of men...” When he wrote this in his dramatic work, Julius Caesar, he was talking about life generally and politics specifically. Today, the Whisperer writes of this in relation to the affairs that men and women have outside the relationships they are already committed to.
When I sit to watch CNN or Sky News or their nemesis, Aljazeera, one thing strikes me about all the news they pass on. It is that life’s issues are mainly divided into three main categories; Sex, Politics and Religion. Sex in this case would be all the issues that govern the relationships between men and women and that, is the Whisperer’s business. Politics, in my country and in the developed world as well, is often a charade; subterfuge, disinformation, misinformation, manipulations, you’re either a player or a pawn.
Why do men have affairs? Why is it so difficult for many men to be content with one woman? These questions have intrigued humanity since the beginning of time, from the King who had his eye on the Patriarch, Abraham’s wife, thinking her to be his sister, up till the present date. By the way, and before I go any further, there are many women who are not content with one man and have played the field as well, but we are looking at men today, and we shall keep our focus.
A man has a girl he professes to love and by all accounts, he does love her, being willing to move the world for her sake, yet he is caught in the throes of an affair with another woman. What is the root cause of this? Are men wired differently from women? Is there some kind of faulty (or deliberate) wiring in the DNA circuitry of the hunter/gatherer that compels him to seek mates all the time? Are these urges truly uncontrollable or are many men just base, bordering on bestial with their lack of control?
It is possible that there is a level of social engineering involved in this matter. From childhood, there are very few men who are reprimanded by those with influence over them, for keeping multiple partners. A male adolescent is expected to have many relationships, learning the ability to ‘multitask’ early, and many will grin with pride when they hear of the ‘wonders’ their young male relative is performing. As high school students, we would keep scores, counting how many ‘female’ representatives we had in schools around the state and country. At this time, it was highly unusual to have any form of physical intimacy, but the seeds of men playing the field without remorse were already being sown. As a fifteen year old, my mother would look speculatively at me and tell my much older sisters to my hearing that I would be a success with the ladies. Even back then, I already knew she wasn’t talking about just me and one special person. It was an invitation to hit the ground running when I came of age and I did. In some way, as with many men, there had been some kind of indoctrination. On the other hand, there are very few mothers who can laugh at the idea of a female child having multiple relationships.
Grown men have been known to have relationships with their maids, their au pairs, their friends, strangers met at clubs even though there is someone very special in their lives. It is not a shock to many people to be told that a man was caught with a woman different from the one he professed to be smitten with, and indeed, there are many women who would shrug and not give it much thought if told their man was caught ‘delicto flagrante’. The main concern of many women would be, ‘is he still in love with me?’, and ‘is he going to come back to me?’
Being privy to information given to me by others, the fact that sometimes two people can stand in a room like strangers and no one will be any the wiser that they had been intimate a month or a year before, fills me with wonder and assures me that there are people who get away with murder all over the world and we all have to be careful.
The chances are almost even, that would be one in every two, that a man will at some point look at another woman beyond simple admiration (This is the point when you lower this newspaper and contemplate your partner across the room) Unfortunately, and like the good Mr Shakespeare also wrote, there is no art to seeing the mind’s construction in the eye. You can’t tell who has a propensity to flit and float by just looking. As in all things, the taste of the pudding is in the eating.
Can spirituality help a man ‘calm’ down? Can faith that tells of a world governed by a higher power reduce the anarchic tendencies of some men? This question is asked on behalf of the many that must be thinking a man found in a church or mosque or some other faith must be different. Faith often encourages self-development and there is a probability that the same way medical doctors say faith can influence physical and mental healing, it can harness emotional wildness too though it is not every man of faith that has full control over his senses. However, for those who will not be using spirituality as a parameter for choice, there are self-possessed men all over the world too who understand the need for a man to have control and may be relied upon. My last word on this? Go with your gut feeling, your unction, your heart, (your head too, love must never be blind) in choosing your man and then keep your fingers crossed and hold on tight.
As an aside, I was watching ‘Saturday Night Live’ a few days ago and saw the host for that episode was Anne Hathaway, the beautiful, beautiful star of ‘The Devil Wears Prada’ and a few other movies. She joked in the opening that she had found a new boyfriend on the internet, a Nigerian ‘prince’ whom she loved very much and who was so caring that within a week of meeting her, he had asked for her social security number. She called him Prince Ochachuko Etete or something equally ridiculous and also said to show her love, she had sent a hundred thousand dollars to him. The audience laughed long and hard at the joke and I had to as well for the buffoons who fill the World Wide Web with insane letters have given us all a bad name. But then I thought, ‘Anne, how little you know. We are beautiful people, intelligent, smooth-talking and charismatic (The Whisperer uses himself as an example) and the vast majority of us do not practice advance fee fraud. The only thing we will steal from you is your heart if you ever have the privilege of getting to know us.
Someday, I’ll teach Ms Hathaway about the Nigerian man and tell you how it went, trust the Whisperer on this, but in the interim, make wise decisions about your choice of men. It’s your life and you must have the last say.
Tuesday, January 06, 2009
The Girl Whisperer
as published by the Sunday Guardian
of Jan 4, 2009
AN AFRICAN NEW YEAR
It’s just a few hours into this New Year and the Whisperer like the rest of the world believes it will be one that brings many beautiful things along with it. More than a decade ago, a friend, Dejo Fabolude’, wrote a poem titled an ‘An African Christmas’ and asked in it, “why dream we of Rudolph’s red nose...and fireside repose”, all the trappings of an English Christmas.
For me as a child, the Christmas season and the coming New Year were some of the nicest periods in my life. There was the quietness that pervaded at that period, the hustle and bustle of the city greatly reduced, and the goodwill you could actually ‘feel’ as you walked past or met with complete strangers. It was Christmas and the world was at peace. There were the greeting cards sent to families and friends everywhere, greeting cards with silvery glintz that caught the light and which you could feel if you rubbed a finger down the cover of the card. These things made the life of a child very pleasant. These cards held pictures of ‘Peter and Jane’ families at dinner, the dog asleep in front of the lit fireplace, snow heaped on the rooftops and on the roads, a warm glow from the street lamps with the yellow lights that drew arcs on the quiet roads, a warm glow that conditioned us to believe it was a time when nothing could go wrong. And nothing ever did. Christmas was magical for this child that would become the Whisperer. The air always smelt different at Christmas, cleaner, crisper or maybe it was just the fact that there were lesser cars in the city and the harmattan winds were at work. There were no cares and absolutely no fears, every child at that time knew he would live forever.
I have never seen a reindeer in real life, never met a white Santa Claus, never met actual elves or been to the North Pole but the peace that Christmas brings should be one encouraged to stay through the year. I am not entering into debate with those who say the Christ was actually born in September or March or some other month and therefore should not be celebrated in December. Those things mean little to me. I speak of the ‘spirit’ that flows through neighbours and strangers at that time and the hope that all have that the future will bring much better things.
However, even with all the beauty that follows the ‘greeting card’ Christmas, there is such a thing as an African side to it. The hustle and bustle that causes insensitivity is greatly lessened in this period and people once again allow their true selves to come to the surface. People are treated with compassion and the less-affluent are sought out and assisted. It’s a great time to be alive. The role of the communal spirit in the yuletide season in Africa is a very significant one, it’s a time when you may get help from the most unlikely places, when friendships are made stronger and love thrives.
What does the future hold for those in love or those who seek love? There are no sure answers to this, no time-tested methods that will guaranty life-long happiness; however, there are basic ways to avoid pitfalls. The first rule in your relationship in this New Year is not to operate under the delusion that someone else will ‘complete’ you. If you are an incomplete structure, you have no business allowing other people to inhabit your premises until you’re ‘safe’ to live in. There is no one person that can complete another human being, they can add value to your life as a person, bring great happiness to you, but your joy and sense of self-worth must come from within. The Whisperer is aware that there are people who go around, believing their next relationship will somehow transform them as persons and make their lives wonderful. There is no such thing, and all you do is prove a maxim that “It is every man’s inalienable right, the right to deceive yourself. No one can take it from you”. People who go around seeking their completion in others do disservice to themselves and the persons they end up weighing down. It is a truly developed person that should be in a serious relationship. In that case, the other party is able to benefit from the union. It’s quite simple, ‘be a radiator, not a drain’. When we go searching for the ‘missing part’ of us in others, we end up with more missing parts. A great part of life is about self-development and there is no Eastern mysticism in that statement. Develop yourself; make yourself a more attractive person, emotionally and mentally and the cards will fall in place for you.
Do not imagine also, that finding someone who’s right for you means the ‘work’ is over. As a matter of fact, that’s the point it’s just started. A relationship is a journey, not a destination and there are few things as difficult to synchronise as two people who come from different backgrounds and psychological make-ups. Even having a relationship with a night-owl if you are a ‘morning person’ can be nerve-racking and put strain on a relationship, talk little of someone you have differing issues with concerning finances, the position of the extended family in your lives and other life-threatening matters. A relationship must commence with both parties (the Whisperer is conservative and imagines there will be only two people involved) purposing they will work hard to make it right. Anyone who says relationships are a breeze hasn’t been in one yet.
Is there such a thing as the perfect mate? Is there someone so genetically modified for you that you will never be all-together until you are with this one person? I choose to think that there is no one person and the billions who have fallen in love with their perfect mates and been heart-broken can attest to this. You can find someone you are genuinely in love with, genuinely compatible with and then you can make it work. But the departure of this person will not end your life. I still haven’t met Nicole Kidman yet I think she and I will get on like a house on fire. There are different things that attract us in different people. The point is to find someone you thing you make good music with, and then hold on...very tightly. Love can be a bumpy ride.
May all your good dreams come to pass in the New Year.