Welcome to Mokalik where Little Things Count – Temitayo Olofinlua

In Mokalik, a middle class father takes his not-so-serious son to a mechanic workshop, to show him what his future will look like, if he does not face his studies.

This boy, Tooni Afolayan (as Ponmile) is welcomed to a multi-layered reality of, not just cars, but life. The entire film, a clinical dissection of the lives of workers at a mechanic yard, as well as the practice itself, can be renamed: “One Day in the Life of a Wannabe Mecho.” Through well-delivered dialogue, properly crafted characters as well as a complementary soundtrack, the film unravels, layer by layer, the mechanic yard as a living vibrant space.

Many Nigerians cannot do without mechanics yet the profession is generally stereotyped as “dirty” thanks to their grease-stained overalls, and faces blackened by the sun. In short, “mechanic” is not a career on the lips of younger Nigerians neither is it a Nigerian parent’s prayer point for their child. This is the first veil that Afolayan lifts in Mokalik; he humanises the profession as he shows the behind-the-scenes operations of a mechanic workshop. We meet the different actors within the space—the “rewires”, the panel beaters, the spray painters—not forgetting other members of the ecosystem, the food sellers, the paraga sellers and the layabouts who do nothing but pass time trading tales.

The film also makes a comment on the  disconnect between education and the work space in Nigeria—where “mechanical engineers” can rarely fix the mechanical faults of their own cars. A sorry tale of square pegs in round holes. Unlike the disconnect between the Nigerian education sector and reality, Mokalik is in touch with the reality of the mechanic yard. A lot of research went into the film and it shows. It is seen in the different sections of the mechanic workshop. It is seen in the knowledge of the entire ecosystem interwoven with the mechanic yard, even though we do not visit Ladipo, it is central to the success of the mechanic’s work, as the source of spare parts.

The research shines through the camera as it focuses on the different parts of a car and a firm knowledge of the apprenticeship system. Just as Ponmile, we the audience, are also forced to learn about the workings of a car, about the importance of a Spanner 12, a brain box, and more. After watching the film, you will likely not crunch up your nose at a Nigerian mechanic again; you will likely accord more respect to the profession.

Drawing from a wealth of characters, especially from the Yoruba film industry—the film is in Yoruba language—each character brings on their A game to the screen. Dayo Akinpelu aka Alabi Yellow (as Ajentina), an actor from my childhood, adds finesse to the mechanic profession and his role. Fathia Balogun (as Iya Mulika) embodies the “drama” of the paraga seller, complete with loud makeup and an equally louder voice. Olayiwola Razaq aka Ojopagogo is not his usual babalawo stock character, he plays a fun-loving spray painter. Simi Ogunleye (as Simi) the singer is a wannabe singer and the love interest of not a few characters. Lateef Oladimeji (as Tiri), the apprentice mechanic brings some laughter through his ignorance, or dramatic irony, if you wish; he harbours the mistaken notion that a Mercedez Benz is the fastest car in the world until he meets Ponmile. Some thinking went into the (nick)naming of each character, as their names were interwoven with their roles and the script. Damilola Ogunsi (as Obama), the returnee Americana who believes that every other person but him is ignorant, spots not only an accent but wears his arrogance on his skin. Samuel Olasehinde (as Erukutu) engages everyone he encounters in a fight, raising dust in the process. Darimisire Afolayan (as Larondo) is the smallest in the yard, not sure I heard his voice, but we all know that tiny lad. Again, it is the tiny things that matter and it is from these characters that dot the film, some appearing only once, that the film gets its life.

How much of a day at a mechanic yard can a good film make? A lot. Afolayan does this by moving beyond the surface, by humanising his characters; we see them beyond the skills they execute with their hands. They have emotions. Erukutu will beat the living daylight out of anyone, if triggered. No Trouble, the assistant spray painter makes and sees trouble when he impregnates Mulika. Simi, a ND Holder tucks her dreams of being a singer into the folds of her wrapper as she assists her mother in cooking at Iya Simi Restaurant.  The spray painter and Ponmile play with water as they wash a car. These actors attempt to show the many sides of the characters.

Another little thing that had a big impact is the creative use of external noise. The director’s ingenuity at using the challenges of the film setting is worthy of applause. You cannot miss the planes flying up in the sky. Spot how Ponmile gradually learns the itinerary of each plane. I imagine that while filming the noise of the planes became a challenge. So, it became important to see it, not as a distraction, but as a part of the film. It worked.

While the film thrives on the clinical examination of this space, of these lives, it also makes one wonder: does the plot suffer? Was the plot sacrificed on the altar of the “mechanical craft” of being a “Mokalik”? Watching it, I felt that the film was a mouthful, that perhaps, could be better enjoyed in small slices, that one nibbled on slowly, allowing one to take in the many flavours, rather than this large meal swallowed at once. Is it possible to have spin-offs of the film, as a series, focusing on different aspects of the lives of each character? I wanted to follow them to their houses, I wanted to know what their family members thought of their jobs. I wanted to know them beyond the mechanic workshop. I will like to see Ponmile as an established Mokalik—a true testament to what the film preaches—that there is dignity in labour. And that many times this dignity has no respect for the garment labour wears, a white collar, blue collar, or a pair of greasy dungarees. Honest work is work, and this much Afolayan proves in Mokalik.

After watching Mokalik, I was not emotional neither did I cry or laugh out loud. I paused and appreciated the little things even as I thought about the film’s potentials to be more. Just as Ponmile faced the big question in his life—to be or not to be?—I wondered about audience engagement: will screening this film to mechanics in their spaces mean anything to them? Will it perhaps imbue some “value” to the profession for future “Larondos” out there? More than that, perhaps, this film is a tiny drop that can become a vast ocean, as it opens up other informal workspaces brimming with stories—hair salons, barbers’ shops, Computer Village, open markets—as potential Nollywood settings.

Even though there were some knotty issues that tampered with the brain box of the film—well, you have to watch the film to get the joke!—like poor Yoruba-English subtitling, hopefully, these will be fixed ahead of the Netflix release.

In Mokalik, it is the little things that count—attention to details, soundtrack, actors that imbue their characters—that make you forgive, that save the film. And yes, it is the little things that really matter, in the mechanic workshop and in life. 

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