(109): Kannywood Movie Review: Wata Malama

Director:      Falalu A. Dorayi
Producer:     Tijjani Asase
Language:    Hausa
Year:            2019
Company:    Dorayi Film & Distributions Nig. Ltd.
Cast:            Halima Atete, Adam A. Zango, Umar Malumfashi, Hadiza Muhammad, etc.

The widely advertised film, Wata Malama is finally out, more than a couple of years since the release of its trailer. It was earlier rumoured that the film was banned by the Kano State Censorship Board allegedly due to its explicit content. However, the film director, Falalu A. Dorayi debunked it and told me that it was only undergoing careful postproduction work. Although he didn’t say further, I think it’s for the same reason: the content. All that is over now.

The film opens with tensed sequences of a hot-tempered police officer (Tijjani Asase) whose wife, a nurse, abandons their baby and goes to work for the night shift. She asks his ailing niece to tell him to prepare food for the baby in the morning. As he and the baby sit down for breakfast the following morning, the wife comes back. He welcomes her with a thrashing, and she responds in kind. Their neighbours hear their commotion and rush into the house to rescue her. To calm them down, one of the neighbours narrates a similar case to the fighting couple, which turns out as the film’s main story.

The story revolves around the life of a married (female) teacher who is addicted to codeine-syrup. She comes to teach while high on the syrup. Therefore, she subjects the pupils to awkward exercises such as singing and dancing as class instructional activities. Domestic conflict is presumably blamed for her waywardness, hence the relevance of the story to the couple. However, as I will point out below, the narrative structure and the execution of the story leaves much to be desired.

Undoubtedly, the film is very topical. Many people can recall how in early 2018 the BBC’s Africa Eye investigative documentary, entitled Sweet Sweet Codeine: Nigeria’s Cough Syrup Crisis, sparked debate and, ultimately, action in Nigeria. The documentary unveils the threat of over-the-counter sales of codeine cough syrups and other unprescribed, illicit drugs in the country. The government banned the production and importation of codeine-based cough syrups. Therefore, Wata Malama is one of Kannywood’s contributions to combatting the situation.

From the film’s title and teaser, I, as well as many others following the Hausa film industry, expected the topic of drug addiction to be its priority. It is not. The plot focuses more on issues husbands have with working wives, with a focus on the marital conflict of Malama Zulaiha (acted by Halima Atete) and her husband, Hamza (performed by Adam A. Zango). Their fight deserves some highlight as the probable cause of her drug misuse, but not to that extent. Again, the audience could easily miss the plotline because of excessive flashbacks and, thus, may fail to follow whose point of view he or she is seeing. Moreover, from the narration, her father is more responsible for her codeine-syrup consumption than her husband, for she started it before the marriage. So, there is less need to concentrate on her love relationship in greater details.

In sum, the directorial work, as well as the action, is generally superb. Likewise, the cinematography is not bad. Nevertheless, the issue the film supposedly exposes is given little prominence. Also, the plot is jumbled – from a story to multiple flashbacks. One wonders how the headmaster knows the nitty-gritty of the events leading to Zulaiha’s marriage with Hamza. It could and should have been arranged differently. I, therefore, give it 2.5/5 stars.

Reviewed by:
Muhsin Ibrahim
University of Cologne


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