Thu, Jul 05, 2018 - Page 14 News List

Social realism and a ‘new voice’ in Nigerian cinema

‘Kasala!’, a low-budget comedy set in the gritty suburbs of Lagos, is for its director a love letter to the sprawling Nigerian capital

AFP, LAGOS

Nigerian film director of the Nollywood film Kasala Ema Edosio sits in a shanty last month in Lagos.

Photo: AFP

A low budget comedy set in the working class suburbs of Nigeria’s capital, Ema Edosio’s debut film Kasala! is a world away from the usual style and glamour of Nollywood.

Instead it almost oozes sweat, dust and marijuana with the smell of rotting meat and engine oil in what is effectively a love letter to Lagos that reflects a growing interest in social realism.

The film, whose title means “problems” in local street slang, is set in the streets of Ojuelegba, a working class suburb in Lagos’s densely populated “mainland.”

Wandering through the neighborhood, residents greet this 34-year-old director like a local. Even though Edosio herself lives on the “islands” — the more well-to-do area of this megacity of 20 million people — it is a reality she knows well after growing up in a similar area with her eight siblings.

“Eighty percent of Lagos is like this but it’s... under-represented in the cultural scene,” she said.

“I want to be the voice that puts their life to the screen.”

The plot, which unfurls over 24 hours, involves four young friends who are out for a good time and steal a car belonging to one of their uncles. But they end up having to find 20,000 naira (US$55) to fix it when they have an accident.

TJ and his friends are typical teenagers but even a youthful error of judgment can have serious consequences in a poor neighborhood of Lagos. The uncle is up to his eyes in debt and risks being killed if he doesn’t sell the car.

The film shows young Africans stuck in poverty, debt and second-hand clothes, dreaming of a better life just like their idol, Afropop superstar Davido.

Above all, it is a film about friendship in which the resourcefulness of Africa’s big cities is ever-present.

SOCIAL CINEMA

Gritty realism is exactly what attracted Abiodun Kassim, who plays the poor, indebted uncle who is trying to make ends meet at his filthy meat stall in the local market.

“My character represents the backbone people of Nigeria. It’s the daily life story of all these people who force their way through life,” he said. “These... are the majority, but people don’t talk about them.”

Since its release, Kasala! has won critical acclaim in the Nigerian press. “2018 has not been a very good year for Nollywood,” wrote Oris Aigbokhaevbolo on the Bella Naija Web site. “But Kasala! might yet save the year.”

Writing on the Lagos Film Society Web site, Dare Dan hailed Edosio’s “razor-sharp sensitivity to what life is like in these neighborhoods from the very first shot.”

“Comedy, rooted in realism, is not something we often come across on Nigerian screens,” he said.

‘REFRESHING, AUTHENTIC’

Yet no local cinema has agreed to show Kasala!

“Everywhere I am told that people want to see inspiring movies,” said Edosio, which for most Nigerians means showing wealthy people.

“This kind of social cinema is struggling to emerge,” said Serge Noukoue, the organizer of the annual Nollywood Week film festival in Paris.

“It’s not in the DNA of Nollywood, which aims to entertain.

“We’re still in the ‘high life’ wave of Nigerian cinema — very sophisticated, in fashionable areas, women wearing lots of make-up.”

At the festival, however, Kasala! was singled out as one of this year’s “must watch” films.

“It’s a refreshing, authentic film,” said Noukoue. “Ema Edosio is a ‘new voice’ in the universe of Nollywood. That’s a good and very positive thing.”

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