Water and Garri: Is Meji Alabi’s Disorganised Film a Reflection of Filmmaking in Nollywood? –  Seyi Lasisi

As a rule, I avoid reading reviews of a film or TV series I intend to write about. It is a way of guarding against external influences and opinions.

But the Meji Alabi directed Water and Garri (ostensibly inspired by Tiwa Savage’s Water and Garri EP from 2021) made me break my rule and for a simple reason: massive social media chatter trailed the premiere of Tiwa Savage’s film. Courtesy of the Afrobeat star’s popularity, the film enjoyed enthusiastic response from eager Nigerians but upon noticing, firsthand, how tremendously disorganised the film is, unsatisfied viewers committed their social media pages toward berating the film. With numerous scathing reviews online, it became nigh impossible not to be tempted to read some of them.

On reading the withering reviews and finally watching the film, an insistent question roiled my mind: Is Meji Alabi’s disorganised film a reflection of filmmaking in Nollywood?

Let us pause for a moment to consider the premise of the film; Water and Garri follows the bewildering story of Aisha (played without verve by Tiwa Savage), Mide (Mike Afolarin), her murdered brother, Kay (Andrew Yaw Bunting), her lover, and Stephany (Jemima Osunde), her cousin.

A decade prior, Aisha left Eastside for Europe after seemingly witnessing violence and death. Aisha’s leaving recalls the famously-quoted Warsan Shire’s “no one leaves home unless home is the mouth of a shark.” In Aisha’s situation, the sharks are the vague limitations towards achieving her tailoring dream and Eastside’s (again supposed) violence.

Upon returning, Aisha discovers that instead of the tooth of the shark dulling from the ravages of time, it has become sharper. Thugs are now more emboldened. And Kay, her soul mate, is the leader of a community-based gang. However, despite the heightened crime rate in Eastside, Aisha convinces herself to stay.

Migration is a Nigerian reality and mainstream Nigerian filmmakers, to varying degrees of failure, have attempted to concentrate attention on the subject matter. Postcards, a recent Nollywood-Bollywood production, Isioma Osaje’s JAPA! and Kunle Afolayan’s Ijogbon are recent titles that attempted clumsy treatments of the subject matter without depth.

Exceptions are the Esiri brothers’ Eyimofe and Dika Ofoma’s A Japa Tale, which provided unique approaches unlike the aforementioned films and series all of which betrayed an inability to understand the complexities that compel Nigerians to migrate.

In those tepid productions, we see the archetypal frustrated Nigerian characters chattering about leaving even though their personal motivation for the move is barely developed making it extremely hard to sympathise with their migration plans.

In mirroring these crudely-developed films and series, Water and Garri commits the same blunders repeatedly. One cannot make sense of Aisha and Mide’s obsession with leaving Eastside. When they talk, we don’t get a sense of the infrastructural or societal hurdles and troubles motivating their plans.

Written by Comfort Emmanuel (who I strongly believe the story was dedicated to), the film appears to make a statement about police brutality. There is a key scene where a power reversal occurs between a police officer and Kay’s gang but thanks to the badly written script , the intention of this scene, and by extension most of the film’s subject matter, becomes muddled

What the film devotes attention to is its cinematography and Tiwa Savage’s face for no justifiable reason.

Shot by Camilo Monsalve Ossa, in mostly extreme close-ups and long shots, the film appears aesthetically pleasing to the eyes. Although deserving of the praise given to his cinematography, in hindsight, much of the praise ought to be extended to King Henry Blackson, the location manager (who handpicked the riverine and muted environment) and also the production designers (Pablo Bruhn Rodriguez and Jennifer Boyd.) The “beauty” of the cinematography is all thanks to the location.

The sound track also deserves kudos but it is after all, Tiwa Savage and friends.

Watching the actors is a chore.

The heft of emotional vulnerability and understanding needed to play Aisha is lacking in Tiwa Savage’s performance. Bunting, who plays Kay, is passable as a lover boy but as a gang leader nothing in his mien or voice exudes fear nor commands respect. The voice expected to communicate the depth of his supposed exposure and experience as leader of a gang is fragile and timid; you’re expecting a roar but get a meow instead.

It’s becoming increasingly the case to watch films and TV series from seasoned Nigerian actors, screenwriters, producers, and directors and end up being frustrated at how trite they are.

When the acting isn’t bland, the script is adrift and marooned on an island of aimlessness.

Thus, as much as I’m tempted to dismiss and excoriate Water and Garri, the realisation that the film, made by a music video director who is pivoting to movies, shares kinship with countless other mainstream Nollywood productions in their mediocrity,  has blunted the trenchant nature of my critique .

The makers of Water and Garri are  familiar with the Nollywood filmmaking play book: choose a topical subject matter, cast a popular and /or beautiful face(s), then spice up the footage with beautiful scenery. Eureka! You have a film.

This is the trajectory that Water and Garri travels, all of which leads us again to the question we posed at the beginning; is Meji Alabi’s disorganised film a reflection of filmmaking in Nollywood?

Let me end with Francis Ford Coppola‘s words hoping that Nollywood filmmakers will take note: “Nothing is so terrible as a pretentious movie. A movie that aspires for something really terrific and doesn’t pull it off is sh!t, it’s scum.”

**Seyi Lasisi is a Nigerian creative with an obsessive interest in Nigerian and African cinema as an art form. He tweets @SeyiVortex.

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