by Efe Kalu
If you were to ask any Nigerian what genre they think best describes their lives, you may find yourself chuckling as they describe themselves as unlikely heroes in the usual fares – romance, comedy, tragedy, or adventure. But come to think of it, taking into consideration of events, both past and present, isn’t the Nigerian reality for most of us firmly at home in the black comedy genre?
Think about it.
Day after day, Nigerians wake up to diverse socio-political issues that should do their heads in but they snigger at them or, at worst, for a minority, find ways to insulate themselves. This is not foolishness or a willful insensitivity to the bleak reality but a resistance, a grasp at survival. Indeed, the existential dread that should colour their overt reactions remain seated in the far trenches of their minds. To acknowledge them is to worry to death and Nigerians are far from ready to throw in the towel just yet.
Kenneth Gyang’s Confusion Na Wa is the critic of the times we didn’t know we needed.
The 2013 film begins as you’d probably expect. A rather cynical narration from one of our protagonists on the meaning of life. “When I was a boy, they told me that everything happens for a reason, but they were wrong,” Chichi says (Gold Ikponmwosa ), “You get born, somethings just happen, then you die. And in most cases, you shit yourself.”
There’s something decidedly honest about the film. It isn’t the first nor will it be the last Nollywood film to attempt to tackle or provide commentary on a very long list of societal ills. Confusion Na Wa is a sturdy drama that balances both humour and honesty, dispelling vain comedic theatrics and pretentious grim-faced seriousness to capture the quintessence of Nigerian millennialism – suffering and smiling
The film’s title takes inspiration from a lyric in Fela’s 1975 album – Confusion. That particular album provided rather stinging criticism on the post-colonial state of Lagos, adequately musing about the induced and inherent confusion of the average Nigerian in such a polity. This sort of philosophical pondering punctuates rather than subsumes the film’s sharp, witty, and rather colorful dialogue.
It stands in rather stark contrast to what we’re used to in mainstream Nollywood dialogue. There’s an abundance of gross obscenities, barely any pidgin English and no incongruous litany of raised voices. Although, this seeming sophistication may sometimes lean too heavily on our characters. A case in point is a conversation between two of our protagonists, Charles Duka (O.C Ukeje) and ChiChi near the beginning of the film. As amusing as this sequence is, it seems rather unlikely as a casual conversation between two friends in a bar.
Taking a cue from Fela’s criticism of a post-colonial Lagos, ChiChi and Charles’ banter over the poor state of Nigerian films leads to a rather “woke” interpretation of Disney’s The Lion King. ChiChi speculates that Mufasa’s reign as the lightly colored king of the jungle – peaceful and prosperous, comes in stark contrast with the darker Scar and his stigmatized hyenas – harsh and tumultuous.
Simba’s return as the right and true ruler of the jungle sees the hyena’s ultimately manipulated into betraying Scar, revealing still the uncertainty and confusion of the darkly colored hyenas.
Provoking? Yes. An Overreach? perhaps.
This extended sequence of dialogue gives credence to the film’s themes and influences – a post-colonial city and people in chaos and disorder. Our characters and protagonists merely wade through its temptations desperately trying to make meaning and sense of what is and isn’t. All while putting on a show in humour, morality, tragedy, lust, and infidelity. As Charles calls it, still taking inspiration from The Lion King, it’s the “circle of life.”
His actions become the dot that begins to entrap our various protagonists.
O.C Ukeje is the standout performer in a sea of excellent performances. He combines charisma and nuance to wrestle away relevance from whoever he shares the screen with. Gold Ikponmwosa’s ChiChi serves as a worthy understudy to Ukeje’s cheap playboy. Although, I found Ali Nuhu’s caricatured mannerisms as the socially awkward and perennial loser, Bello, to be more suited to the stage than the screen.
As the lives of our characters begin to converge, their complexity and shared chemistry elevate the film beyond its slow-burning and unconventional plotting. Even while the film melds elements of crime and thriller, the looming threat that our protagonists must rise to aren’t merely bound in guns or physical confrontation.
Babajide (played by Tony Goodman) is the supposedly model citizen. Routinely alarmed at the growing decline of morality in the country and the lack of manly verve in his son, Kola, he runs a newspaper called “The Gospel Trumpet” that’s intent on provoking moral similitudes amongst the nation’s youth. He also decides the best way to teach Kola a lesson in manliness is by getting him involved in the workings of his job. Poor Kola couldn’t be any less interested. As the day goes on, however, Babajide begins to give into fearing “the worst” about his son. The faint possibility that his son could be homosexual sends him somewhat over the edge and he garbles and ponders over what he must do. In righteous indignation, he decides to send Kola to a brothel to be “cured”.
The paradoxes of our characters’ motivations and the confusion of the eventual meaninglessness of their existence sees them unwittingly become antagonists in their own stories. They become trapped by the things they’ve chosen to ignore and must make decisions that will inevitably change them forever.
As a character muses on his shocking death – ”At the end, the coolest, and most good looking character gets shot for the indiscretions of his less charismatic friend. If it doesn’t make sense, it’s not supposed to.” Suddenly, the dread of such injustice and tragedy only moments ago gripping our hearts quickly gives way to a wry chuckle.
Nothing serious, just another day in Nigeria.
Confusion Na Wa is currently showing on Netflix. Check out trailer here: