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(80): Kannywood Movie Review: HIJIRA

Director:         Iliyasu Abdulmumini Tantiri
Producer:       Naziru Dan Hajiya
Story:              Iliyasu Abdulmumini Tantiri
Language:      Hausa
Year:               2016
Company:      Kumo Production


The Hijra (migration/exodus) of the Prophet Muhammad (SAW) and his companions from Makkah to Madinah is an epoch in the history of Islam. It is featured notably in the Qur’an and the Sunnah of the Prophet. Although the Prophet was born and raised in Makkah and had preached there for many years, persecution forced him and the few who believed him to migrate. The Islamic Hijri calendar began at that time. The choice of the title for the film cannot be unconnected to the Prophet’s Hijra.

The bond between cinema and orthodox religious and cultural institutions is often marked by disquiet. Many people reject the film, seeing it as a subtle way to debase their religion and culture. Presentations of bedroom scenes, or virtually anything denoting sex or other tabooed subjects, for instance, are still frowned upon in Kannywood. Several filmmakers are, therefore, relentless in their efforts to counter this argument to correct the (mis)conception. Some have gone far and recently adapted the famous story of As-Habul Kahfi (The Seven Sleepers) from the Qur’an. There are several other films meant for Islamic evangelism. The epic drama Hijira is arguably one of such.

Plot Summary
The film is a mixture of romantic comedy and adventure. It begins with a scene of mass burial of the victims of an infectious plague that ravages the village of Madaci. As they bury some corpses, more are brought forward. The King calls for an emergency meeting. There is disagreement as to whether to stay in the town or leave. The Chief Imam thinks that everyone should remain, basing his point on the Islamic injunction that says when there is an outbreak of plague in a land, nobody should enter it, and if the plague breaks out in a place one lives in, do not leave. The King accepts this and thus goes to address the townspeople along with other chiefs. 

While addressing the townspeople, a village member, Bala, comes up with a sad story that the plague has finished ravaging the neighbouring villages and has spread to Madaci. Asked how he learned about that, he said he is from there and has seen corpses all around. He is thus instructed to stay back; he refuses. The Sarkin Yaki (i.e. Chief Guard) kills him. The remains of Bala is said to be very deadly as they should not be touched by anyone, and their decomposition will equally harm all. The King, therefore, had a quick change of mind and, there and then, declared the start of the exodus.

The execution of Bala is a can of worms. His mother vows to avenge him by imploring his choleric brother, Zubabu, to slay Sarkin Yaki whenever and however he gets a chance. Other conflicts include the thievish and snobbish nature of the Prince and the love triangle between Rabo and Chiko, where both love Saratu, a beautiful girl betrothed to the latter. On the other side, an acerbic old man called Baba Manga openly objects to the exodus and fearlessly criticizes the King.

As the migration begins, mistrust, rancour, conflict, and artificial and natural disasters envelop the migrants. A group of bandits launches a fatal attack on them. Chiko murders Rabo. Saratu avenges her heartthrob by getting married to Chiko, only to stab him to death on their first night. The Prince poisons the King, takes charge and sacks Sarkin Yaki. Zubabu challenges Sarkin Yaki in physical combat and loses. Terrible epidemics and deadly spirits descend on the other migrants and kill many. Gambo, the town’s physician, tries his best but to no avail. Finally, the remaining few reach a town, but its border guards deny them entry. Famine and wild animals devour them, including the Sarkin Yaki. Only a single child, the narrator of the story, survived.

The star-studded film Hijira was a big project, planned in months or more, and carefully directed and produced. The casting broadly fits, the narrative is sequentially connected, the mise en scene is presented well, and so on. The filmmakers and the actors of Hijira can’t be easily forgotten in the film industry. As with any film, nay, everything else, Hijira has some imperfections.

For instance, the story is told from an omniscient point of view, but in the end, a narrator (a different point of view called restricted) is introduced. The narrator should have said at least a line from the beginning to tell spectators that the film is a narration. Likewise, the makeup and the special effects leave much to be desired. First, you cannot have all the victims of a war with wounds on their neck or head only and not any other part of their bodies. Second, the scene where some spirits descend on the migrants looks so much artificial.

Other contextual mistakes include the mass grave scene. The people burying the dead use their bare hands. The least experienced person knows that the remains of the victims of any contagious disease are not touched with uncovered hands. Even in the film, this is soon contradicted as the Madaci townspeople are cautioned not to have any bodily contact with anyone infected with the disease. This is, in fact, the reason why they had to migrate, to run as far away as they could from the dead body of Bala.

From the religious perspective, the character of Gambo betrays the possible idea of the film. Doubtless, it is a common practice among traditional doctors to use incantation and invocation, showing Gambo doing the same is incongruous. His medicine should be Islamic-compliant to corroborate the points already highlighted by the character of the chief imam, who upholds the virtues of Muslims.

The trio of forced marriage, gender rivalry, and singing and dancing are the usual elements of Kannywood films. Hijira, however, defies this straitjacketing by avoiding all three, for the aim is to proselytize Islam and to caution the faithful on the adherence to the Prophet’s sayings. There have been similar films before it, such as Ga Duhu Ga Haske (dir. Aminu Saira, 2011), Yankin Imani (dir. Imran S.I Ashir, 2013), Ana Muslim (dir. Abubakar S. Shehu, 2014), and, above all, As-Habul Kahf (dir. Aminu Saira, 2013). Yet, none is without song and dance – the practice generally condemned as caricaturing Hindi cinema – as Hijira is. Apparently, both the precepts of Hausa culture and Islam are considered and safeguarded in addition to the film’s being very likely original. Therefore, the few content and technical lapses cannot take away all its other credits. The film is, by and large, worth your naira. I give it 3.5 out of 5 stars.

Reviewed by:
Muhammad Muhsin Ibrahim,
Dept. of Theatre and Performing Arts
Bayero University, Kano;


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