By Ibrahim Sheme
I have just watched the Nollywood movie, ‘Up North’, which was released two weeks ago on September 28. It is a movie in which the North and the South (read: Kannywood and Nollywood) meet in a marriage of convenience ending in tantalising results. As comedies go, ‘Up North’ comes with twists and turns that make it too serious to be regarded as one. Bassey Etuokong (Bankey W) is the foreign-trained son of a construction magnate who wishes to carve out his own life away from the one designed for him by his father. An opportunity for him to break away and make his life meaningful comes in the mandatory NYSC posting to the northern state of Bauchi, where, after an egregious one-month stint at an orientation camp, he is posted to a girls’ secondary school in rural Kafin Madaki.
He and his boon-companion Sadiq (Ibrahim Suleiman) are drafted to teach the students the P.E. class. They also meet Maryam (Rahama Sadau), a widow teaching in the school. After a redoubtable brush with each other, Maryam and Bassey soon hit it off as they prepare the girls for a state-wide racing competition.
As they train the girls, an amorous relationship seems to develop between them. Largely undefined, the relationship serves as the fire which goads them on. But Bassey has since discovered his humanness and works hard to achieve. To accomplish his desire, he must surmount the difficulties presented by culture shock, his sentimental attachment to an overseas girlfriend, and the interruptions of his censorious father. There is also the problem of persuading Malam Usman, the overprotective father of one of the students, the asthmatic Aisha (Amal Umar), who has the magical speed needed to win the contest.
All’s well that ends well as the school wins the competition, Aisha triumps over her illness to pursue her dream, Sadiq weds his ever-smiling, shy heartthrob Zainab (Adesua Etomi Wellington) and Bassey returns to Lagos where he and his father strike a deal that appears to work well for them. Maryam is, however, left in the lurch without any visible alternative that will give her hope.
I enjoyed the movie. It reflects so much about life in the North even if overdramatised. The panoramic views taken by the drone camera, the many laughters, etc., are appealing. Some of the best scenes are also the biggest – the Sallah durbar, the holiday at the Yankari game reserve and the SheRunsBauchi sports finals where, interestingly, the actual Governor of Bauchi state, Mohammed Abubakar, makes an appearance as himself.
However, there is the usual stereotyping of the North by a southern filmmaker, writer or journalist. The scene showing Bassey traveling together with a man holding a goat in an overloaded taxi is the worst in this regard. So also the clear attempt to portray the region as backward and gutter-poor. This is in contrast to the Southerners who are portrayed as rich and capable of speaking polished English (even university-educated Northerners like Sadiq have to combine their English with Hausa words in order to prove their “northernness” in the movie; in contrast, there was no single Igbo, Efik or Yoruba word uttered in the film).
Nevertheless, the actors have put in their best. I doff my hat to Banky, Kanayo O. Kanayo, Rahama Sadau, Ibrahim Suleiman, Adesua Etomi Wellington and Amal Umar.
The story-telling is superb, though it fails to meet up in several places. For example, no one (not even Sani Mu’azu who plays the role of a Muslim jurist) bothered to indicate that the idea of a marriage between Maryam and Bassey is an anathema considering the fact that Islam forbids such a union between a Muslim woman and a Christian man. Also, Rahama appearing in many places with her head uncovered and resting her body on Banky’s would be unacceptable in a Muslim town like Kafin Madaki. The cinematography is also great.
I will give the director, Tope Oshin Ogun, and her crew more than a pass mark. ‘Up North’ is the type of flicks one expects to see in this era when we hope to bridge the yawning gap between our multicultural peoples. After ‘Up North’, the producers, Anakle Films and Inkblot Productions, should now give us ‘Down South’!