___I wrote here that the most vibrant movie industry after Hollywood and Bollywood is Nollywood, from Nigeria. Nigerian movies are not released in theaters but made directly available on DVDs, CDs and videos. As the most populous country in Africa (130 million), Nigeria provides a ripe market for Nollywood (it also has markets elsewhere in Africa and the diaspora). The industry is based in bustling Lagos, where there's a powerful actor’s guild with 5000 registered actors.
Nollywood’s settings are decidedly rudimentary, the special effects tacky and amateur, but that’s because the directors work on shoestring budgets and extremely short timelines (2-3 weeks for instance). They work despite choking traffic and noise on Lagos streets; bystanders are often brought in to do roles in impromptu fashion; and in one case a movie was shot in an actual hospital, with patients and hospital staff featuring in roles even as they went about their daily routines.
There is simply no time for elaborate sets: Nollywood directors and crews make do with what they can.
I saw two video documentaries (by Journeyman Pictures, links above) on YouTube recently that gave fairly decent overviews of Nollywood. The second video includes interviews with some successful directors, mainly Ralph Nwadike; an actor, Hank, whose I-am-a-big-man attitude, sports cars and fancy motorbikes reminded me of Salman Khan; Nollywood’s most popular actress and heart-throb, Stephanie Okereke; and a 25-year old director and scriptwriter, Chinny Ahaneku, on the sets of her historical movie, Deceit of the Gods, set in a precolonial Igbo village. (The Igbo are one of the major ethnic groups in Nigeria.)
Let’s go on the set of Deceit of the Gods for a bit.
The movie is being shot in a village in Eastern Nigeria, with much effort expended on costumes and authenticity. The villain in movie is an evil priest who sacrifices children and twins; there is also an evil forest - readers of Chinua Achebe’s famous Things fall Apart will be familiar with these cultural aspects of precolonial Igbo society.
At some point in the story, a white priest needs to appear and introduce Christianity to the village. But the director, Chinny, has not planned for a white actor. In a hilarious moment that is representative of the spontaneity with which Nollywood movies are made, she requests a cameraman, Jacques, a white South African – in fact the only white person in the village at the time – with no acting experience to fill in the role.
“But I have never acted,” he protests.
“Acting starts in a day; everything starts in a day!” Chinny pleads.
Jacques agrees reluctantly. He slips into a “tight-fitting and excruciatingly hot white robe”. Chinny had planned a minor role for him, but, in yet another unplanned twist, Jacques becomes a major actor in the movie and has to act for two full days.
To the evil priest and king of the village, the colonial priest delivers such solemn sermons as: “Idol worship and human sacrifice is from the devil. But if you accept God Almighty, he will save from all Evil!”
The movie ends on a feel-good note. The evil heathen priest is driven away; the king and the villagers accept the word of God preached by the white priest and convert to Christianity. The villagers dance to celebrate this happy event. Chinny herself plays the king’s bride, bringing in the love angle. (Again video here.)
I found the movie's main premise fascinating because its happy ending is diametrically opposed to the climax of Chinua Achebe's literary classic Things fall Apart. Achebe’s story too is about a precolonial Igbo village that has its own rules and hierarchy. It also has the same customs that seem strange today – such as sacrificing twins in the evil forest. Here too Christianity comes and declares that heathen ways should be given up. But the end result is not only an end to cruel customs, but also a complete breakdown of Igbo society. The ambivalence produced by the arrival of Christianity, and the collapse of Igbo society as it was then is at the heart of Things fall Apart; it takes up only a 30 odd pages, but Achebe does it brilliantly.
But in Nollywood, as in Bollywood, there has to be a clear resolution, the end has to be happy, and that’s why Deceit of the Gods ends in simplistic fashion, with villagers joyously converting. And why not? Who wants to see it end seriously?