Sunday, September 17, 2006

postheadericon Movie Review: Abeni (2006) Nigeria

Actors: Sola Asedeko, Amzat Abdel Hakim, Jide Kosoko, Aboh M.
Akinocho, Kareem Adepoju, Moufoutaou Akadiri, Idowu Philips, Bukky Wright

Director: Tunde Kelani

Release Date: 2006 April

Language : Yoruba with English subtitles

Watch out Hollywood and Bollywood, for there's a new kid in town! Its name is Nollywood, it hails from Nigeria and is all set to take this neighborhood by storm! It's true, Nollywood or the Nigerian film industry is one of the largest in the world today and poised to get bigger. According to the Guardian.UK :
In Nigeria, the average film costs between £10,000 and £15,000, is shot on video in about a week, and released into a bustling market where 100,000 videos are sold in one morning.

Nigeria is a young democracy (about 6 years old) and making videos or movies is one way for young Nigerians to tell their stories after years and years of having no freedom of speech. Last night, at the TIFF showing of "Abeni" Tune Kileni, the director, informed us that there are atleast 50 new releases in Lagos every week! If that's true, Nollywood sure leaves Hollywood and Bollywood in the mud!

Coming back to Abeni, although it was the toast of Africa at the film festival, to me the story lacked depth and conviction and the cinematography lacked the slickness of Bollywood. From the sets, the acting. the horrible canned music playing in the background right through the movie and the quality of production, I would have preferred to have it classified as a home-made movie.

Like I said, the story lacked depth, but after talking to a couple of regular Nigerian- film goers I have concluded that most Nollywood films are about young people going to university, rich people having affairs (a la our mid-morning soap operas on the idiot box) or films about rich girl marrying poor boy and getting hell from the parents because of it. I guess, what I am trying to say is that, the industry is not big on social issues, they prefer pot boilers with cliffhanging endings, however, Abeni was worth watching because it showcases the unique Yoruba culture that flows between Nigeria and Benin.

Let me include a short synopsis from Rotten Tomatoes:

Abeni (Sola Asedeko) is a beautiful, ambitious young woman born to a rich father. Akanni (Abdel Hakim Amzat) is a handsome young man who has pulled himself up from poverty. When he was a child, his father worked for Abeni's father and the children were sweethearts, but Akanni's recklessness led to his whole family relocating across the Nigerian border to Cotonou, in Benin. When Abeni and Akanni meet by chance as adults, their romantic fate is sealed. He is already engaged and she is set to be married off by her father, but this couple has other plans.

Friday, September 15, 2006

postheadericon Acid Attacks on Women in the Subcontinent

Right across the road from my mother's childhood home there lived a family with two daughters in their twenties. I was at the age when one tends to idolize girls older than oneself and so, whenever I went to visit my grandmother I would spend hours admiring these two Anglo-Indian sisters with their honeyed eyes and golden-brown hair. Shortly after my 10th birthday I noticed that the older girl had dropped out of sight. After many weeks had gone by, I asked my grandmother why Rivalli* was nowhere to be seen and she told me (my grandmother was not one to mince words) that Rivalli's boyfriend had thrown acid on her face in a fit of jealous rage. Being only 10 years of age, I didn't know the damage that acid could cause so imagine my shock when I saw Rivalli several months later to find half her face had been eaten away by the acid and she had a permenant limp owing to damage caused to her feet by the acid.

Sadly, I would go on to meet and know a couple of other women who were victims of acid attacks. Whilst in High School, two of my classmates were also victims with one of them losing an eye due to the corrosiveness of the acid. The Indian newspapers were full of sad stories of young men who would resort to acid throwing when they felt spurned by the object of their affection. I read recently that such cases are also very common in Pakistan and Bangladesh. Infact, in Bangladesh, acid throwing is so prevalent that they even have a special hospital and rehabilitation centre for victims.

So, I found myself wondering why some men use this cruel method to exact revenge on a lover who has spurned his attentions and why acid-throwing happens to be a favored measure of retaliation for men from the sub-continent but hardly found elsewhere?

Let's try and tackle these questions together- I think one of the big reasons men in the subcontinent favor acid-throwing is because acid is cheap and easy to buy here. Sure, there are regulations on the sale, use, storage etc., but the rules are lax, also, in the male-dominated societies of the sub-continent, the man loses face when rejected and so he wants the woman to lose face, too, pun intended. Statistics tell us that women who have been left scarred or disfigured in an acid attack seldom ever get married, they are ostracized by their family and friends and are unable to find jobs. Their lives are all but over.

So, the next time the world celebrates an International Woman's Day can I ask all of you to remember the victims of acid attacks? True, in most cases their lives are spared, but because they are shunned so much by society I am sure a lot of them wish they were dead.

* Names have been changed.
Friday, September 08, 2006

postheadericon Incha Allah Dimanche (2001) - a review and a rant

In the aftermath of World War 2, France attempted to replenish its weakened work force by recruiting men from North Africa, in particular, Algeria. In the mid-1970’s, the French government relaxed its immigration policy to allow the families of Algerian men to join them. INCH ALLAH DIMANCHE provides us with a deeply moving memoir of the sense of isolation and vulnerability that the immigrant family experienced upon their arrival at a time when racial integration was virtually non-existent.

I found this movie extremely moving and it's no doubt because I could identify with the main character, an Algerian wife and mother, Zouina who was forced to leave her family and friends behind in Algeria to join her husband in a country that was so alien and unfriendly to her. She is so lonely that the minute she hears of another Algerian family in the neighborhood she plots (her husband doesn't like her to leave the house) to go visit them. When she does find the family she is greeted warmly enough, but the minute the lady (Mallika) realizes that Zouina is there without her (Zouina's) husband's permission, she goes ballistic and throws her out the door. This scene might seem overdone and highly dramatic to a lot of viewers, but many immigrants, after they move to a new country, seem to enter a time warp. They do not keep up with the times and the changes in their home country and are thus far more traditional than their people back home. To simplify, I find some of the Indians I meet in Canada hold the traditions and values that people in India held over 20 years ago. It can be quite weird!

Last year in Toronto there was a spate of suicides among young women from Vietnam and Sri Lanka( the motivating factor, the medical people say, was depression). Upon further investigation it was found that the one common thing between these women is that they were all recent immigrants! Something more needs to be done to make integration easier for these young men and women that come from countries so different from their host countries. In our globalized world, immigration and relocation is not just beneficial to the immigrant but also to the host country ( a lot of countries in Europe have an aging and negative growth population and are in desperate need for young families). Immigrants bring in a lot of money, young blood and important and much needed work skills. It is our responsibility to see that they feel welcome and are able to integrate quickly and painlessly. I am sure well-meaning people will point out the scores of organizations (charitable and government- run) that help with integrating immigrants, but it's not enough to just teach them English and give them a set of skills, we need to to have social programs where they can meet people who have the potential to be "friends" to these people. Loneliness can be a terrible thing. While work is fine, what gets these people is their inability to meet and socialize with people in the long evening hours or on the weekends.

I do apologize for the rant but this is a cause that is very close to my heart. I have contacted the appropriate authorities and have volunteered to set up a social program - they have promised to "look into it". This was 2 years ago.

But to return to the movie, it is a splendid effort with each of the actors (children included) playing their part to perfection. I have read that this award-winning film is based on director Yamina Benguigui's own experience growing up as the child of immigrant parents amid the tumult of Arab assimilation and the women's rights movement in France. The music is Algerian and hauntingly beautiful and I will miss not being able to listen to it on a CD. I will not miss seeing the hideous furniture and wallpaper from the '70's however!