Nollywood and the evolution of its comedy films – Festus Obehi Destiny

Many of us had that particular neighbour who always had a full stacked CD plate of old Nollywood movies close to the large Panasonic television and loud bass video player as well as cupboard papered with the faces of our favorite actors with comical expressions right beside the  cassette player.

The list would have included Nkem Owoh, to John Okafor, Charles Avurum, Patience Ozokwor, Sam Loco, Okey Bakassi, and Charles Inojie. And every afternoon after school, and on weekends, we would flock to the living room, sit down in shapeless forms, cackle, throw our heads back and roll on the floor, watching a scene we had seen a hundred times and laughing at it for the thousandth time.

We have come a long way since then from standing in queues to record our favorite movies  to this era of streaming platforms and IMAX cinema theatres..

I remember Aki na Ukwa of 2002 where stock characters were the highlights of movies. Aki (Chinedu Ikedezie) and Pawpaw (Osita Iheme) would resurface often on our screens bearing different names and playing the same roles as mischievous truants or adults, wreaking havoc in the community and upsetting the peace. It didn’t matter whether the father was Sam Loco or John Okafor, the trouble still thrived. Their disastrous end would often stand as the premise of the movie, exposing didactic notions that were always warning about acting against convention and the consequences of such actions.

Popular attributes of comedy that was a trend back in the 2000’s apart from the stock characters were the exaggerated responses in terms of the English language and action. The ridiculousness of the English language and how it often sounded to the ignorant individual or the illiterate was a popular technique in bringing humor to the audience. These movies were so morally and culturally delicate that modern audiences would  take issues with the level of patriarchy and objectification represented in the movies.

But we laughed to them as much as we reacted to the gullible characters. The endings were predictable quite different from the evolution of plot twists and concluding scenes we have today. We have since, also, evolved in technology, camera, fashion, diction, and slangs. We also have a shift from cultural discourse

In old Nollywood comedies, we were a little bit bothered about the struggle to emphasise the invisible class struggle and the unprofessional acting of some of the cast and  “waka pass”. Social disparities were rarely audible on screen and police brutality was deemphasized with the comedy just as we were distracted by the grammatical gift of the gab of Sam Loco-Efe.

In Mr. Trouble (2003), we see how emphasis was placed on insults and sometimes, we could tell from the character’s names how mischievous they would be.

Stanley Okorie always brought symphony to the long ritual of introducing the names of the entire cast. This was one of the flaws as in the use of time in showcasing trivial activities during weddings, cooking, and even sleeping. Many times, we, as the audience were not even clear about the progression of the plot.  These characters were always quick to throw body shaming, and homophobic comments that modern comedy movies would avoid. And back then, before we all became self-righteous woke people, we laughed hard at this.

In the Nollywood movie, Seven, directed by Tosin Igho, we see an adverse complex plot, almost western-like about a man Mr. Tayo, (Bimbo Manuel) who decides to teach his son, Kolade (Efe Iwara) the travails of adulthood as he imposes on him a mission to Ajegunle after his death. We see Kolade battle social and political realities, face cultural diversity while engaging with the vagaries of life as he coped with bullies, bruises, and a bounty on his life. Every scene may not be defined by a comedic experience Like A.Y Makun’s 30 days in Atlanta, but the plot had suspense filled activities preparing the audience for the plot progression and the bildungsroman that was about to explode.

In Seven, we see Ajegunle just as it is, a ghetto where the dice of survival is constantly rolling. The characters are not awkward with exaggerated English but show comfort with pidgin. Brand advertisement, use of music tracks, afrobeat to the world, and an evolution in dressing is noticed. There is the also the frequent presence of a hero and a villain just like Sugar rush. Both movies expose the criminalities in Lagos state just like One Lagos Night, but Sugar rush has Banky W, walking and chewing bullets unscathed. Banky 1- Bullets 0

My first experience of a movie where each scene was defined with me rolling on the floor was 30 Days in Atlanta. 10 days in Sun City also hit the same spot where we had an immeasurable adventure experience with RMD playing the badass villain. Shockingly he still had strength left in him to play the brilliant fighter he was in Seven.

Comedies these days are not too busy with exaggeration that they fail to reflect social realities in a comical and bitter light.

EFCC operatives stole in Sugar Rush while Police men aided a robbery in A Lagos Night. The scene where  the Suga sisters found the money that triggered their adventure coupled with the scene where they left Andy’s dead body, was a clear reference to the lack of brilliant investigative work handled by the Police.

There is also the seductive life of the rich that is resplendent at the expense of the space between the rich and the poor in Lagos, Nigeria. That is why Chief Daddy’s wealth is reiterated in every scene with the décor of his house and the wealth shared in his will. Your Excellency shows how wealth can be a source of toxic motivation and social media bullying through the blogger who was living a fake life.

The presence of a narrator is becoming popular as a means of making the movie unfold before the audience’s eye scene by scene.

***Festus Obehi Destiny is a creative writer from Lagos, Nigeria.


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