A FILM REVIEW BY
M. A. SALIHU
HAFSAH: Zainab Idris
FAISAL: Ali Nuhu
JANGWADA: Nura Husseini
LINDA: Hauwa Ali Dodo
MANAGER: Tanimu Akawu
SCREENPLAY: Sani Mu’azu
PRODUCER/DIRECTOR: Sani Mu’azu
DURATION: 90 Minutes
A film company, Lenscope Media, with support from the BBC World service Trust, produced a feature film in Hausa, about ninety minutes in length with English subtitles, which attempted to illustrate the interrelated nature of cultural discrimination against some members of our society, specifically lepers, with contemporary issues on discrimination against people living with HIV/AIDS. This simple technique of story presentation is imbedded in a technically deep ambitious film called ‘HAFSAH’. Opening with a young woman being chased by hoodlums into the ghetto side of town, it ultimately ends with the same woman staging a successful concert on HIV amidst thunderous applause by the crowd. The story is a sort of lift from the age-old rags to riches template.
Hafsah and Hausa Film Culture
‘HAFSAH’ is an object lesson in African filmmaking and to Hausa filmmaking genre, a re-definition to give it proper perspective. Tightly produced, it sucks the viewer to consider the power of the narrative to express a way of thinking about discrimination and society. It encapsulates Hausa literature, history, sociology, psychology, music and stagecraft and considers how scale operates in the world of northern Nigerian cultures, how seeing and understanding our norms and values from the next largest or next smallest vintage point broadens our perspective and deepens our understanding.
The idea of social growth, or the effect of comparison by ‘showing how it was’ metaphorically ebbs and flows through shifts in culture, the politic of each generation subtly altering as a generation rally against the beliefs and ideals held by those immediately preceding them. ‘HAFSAH’ is a portrait of filmmaking to the extent that it reflects certain shifts within broader Hausa culture, from the rise of the Late Bala Miller highlife’s pop music ‘zo muje garin kano, harka Alhazai’ to the renewed Hip hop pop format ‘Daya, biyu ukulle’. The story equally reflects the accelerated blurring of the Hausa stagecraft values and social boundaries by urban pop culture. The investigative spirit of the film collides with this contemporary music development, while its non-linear film technique utilizes the giddy pace of modernity as a comparative tool. Unraveling the multitude of images that slide through our consciousness on a daily basis, the filmmaker chose to adapt existing traditional forms of Hausa entertainment like ‘kidan duma and kalangu’ now found only in remote areas as means for intellectual and emotional exchange. It is an activity that gives regard to the philosophy of ‘knowing where one came from’ against the bankrupt notion of ‘moving with the trend and time’. Rather than drown under the sea of manufactured ideas, it is perhaps an attempt to re-order the fit of the world, a brilliant attempt to muddy the waters of changing times through backward integration.
Removed from ‘the need to sell product’ making Hausa filmmakers of Kannywood parody Indian/Bollywood films, HAFSAH is a story reconfigured as a contemporary narrative device. Singing and dance are employed long before the visual settles on the retina, cutting through the red tape of communication to show an expansive and rich film in Hausa that can be as referential and descriptive of the world as visual imagery. It is a recent feat by the famous producers’ (Sani Mu’azu) diffident style, which exploded the fragile construct of the traditional Hausa film genre. The influence of the experience of the filmmaker is also evident in the encyclopaediacal desire to make connections between people, places and practices. Rather than didactic bound performance to camera, the artist chose to present past cultures as panacea for real life challenges on-screen. Yet, perceived reality is constantly checked by bombardment from plastic pop youth culture and European football to the kind of twisted life styles that challenge psychoanalysts. Removed from the need for objective truth, lives are complicated and skewed in an attempt to define new relations to given situations. Film in this sense is never straightforward. Many of the works in Hausa films re-sample other works as copycats, a technique that finds its parallel in HAFSAH, which views Hausa culture as original and thematically purposeful. This film jumps directly to root influence and stretch in content originality, connecting solutions from echoes of the past with the conversation of today. Simply brilliant!
The technical production style is that of a generation at ease with the flick of the remote control, fast and mobile. In this sense HAFSAH reflects the role of the movie as a mediator for the visual imagery of the past and existing visual signs. Simply put, this film symbolize a desire to shift the focus of discussion on the use of technology in Hausa film culture one foot to the left or right of the main picture in the international art-space.
Moving from the momentary high energy of the mundane macossa dance steps of the Ali Nuhu that we used to know, HAFSAH reveals the twilight existence of deeper latent talent in the actor. As fluorescent lights flicker into life, we are privy to a new world of this highly creative and versatile actor with coordinated choreographed chain-swilled traditional dance steps by a freshly new Ali Nuhu, making the viewer to do nothing but get impressed.
Zainab Idris on the other hand emerges from a first-class acting-class recounts in songs, with her alternating roles as both agony wife and zip fixer to a group of lepers. In HAFSAH, Zainab presents the lonely life of the mind invigilator with so much to hide. Contradicting suspense and endless corridors provide a backdrop for a vocal tale of barely concealed boredom and unsettling paranoia. Wistful close-up shots suggest dreams of escape. Eschewing glamour for ordinariness, Zainab presents centre stage the thoughts and deeds of people living with HIV with no peripheral cultural support.
The narrative-driven movie exposes the new discovery of Nura Husseini. Filmed in real time, Nura punctuate the calm still of the sober template of this moving movie. His character is that of denial and unimaginative desire, or a dark satire on the dead end job. He portrays a beguiling take upon the ordinariness of the rural man with descriptive defiance and hopelessness.
Sani Mu’azu combines the heritage of social realist film with the brooding lyrics of a Nigerian filmmaker from the north to create a thoroughly modern broad-way flick for the movie enthusiast. Mu’azu makes HAFSAH buzz with the malevolent energy from an Alfred Hitchcock movie – imagine ‘bird on a wire’ to Kwa Ansah’s African symbolisms – ‘Love brewed in an African Pot’. Shot mainly on a stage with a dance troupe, the film is predicated with a sense of desperate isolation from the run-of-the-mill to stand alone and tall among African film works. Mu’azu’s vision is of an unsettling automated world that awaits human inhabitation, silent monoliths created to fulfil the inherent desire to excel.
The Director of HAFSAH makes an attempt to decode the hidden order on the pulse of filmmaking, a journey that reflects the mix of modernity and tradition in contemporary Nigeria. As the camera skims the surface of the subject matter, it settles upon the other pavement, searching the cracks for messages and their hidden meanings. Sani Mu’azu, the film Director is a man alone – a tourist fighting to make sense of his Hausaness and his environment as a filmmaker anew.
Make-up and design – excellent. Sets – realistically appropriate. Costumes – simply reflective. Casting – so believable almost to the realm of documentary exposition.
Hafsah is a young woman who finds shelter in a roadside hut with three women lepers who are outcasts like her, abandoned by their communities. This is very typical of the north. As the story develops, we find out that Hafsah has a talent for singing ‘maula’ and is eventually spotted by Faisal, a bandleader (a-la Bala Miller) in desperate need of a female vocalist. Hafsah joins the band, whose members don’t know where she’s from and what brought her into the city. The environment is now urban city like Kano, Kaduna or Jos. Linda (Hauwa Ali Dodo) used to be the lead singer of the band, and being jealous of Hafsah’s talent, she looks for ‘bad news’ about her… She discovers Hafsah’s HIV positive status, spills the information to an unprepared band and thus creates rejection and stigma towards Hafsah who leaves the band in anger. Faisal – already in love with her - follows her and tries to hear her story. She reluctantly tells him the story of her HIV status and husband… he was the most attractive young man in her village, she married him without knowing that he was HIV positive. (This is currently happening everyday in our communities. I have an instance to share on this, but in some other write-ups.) Denying his status, the husband and the mother-in-law kicked her out and had thugs drive her as far away from the village as possible. It seemed that only the lepers would accept her, and so to them she went and with them she dwelt.
Having left the band in anger, Hafsah decides to deal with her past. She realizes the need to reconcile with her estranged husband and her own family who also chased her away. The husband is now beginning to suffer from full blown AIDS. Having grown wiser with the increasing suffering, he finally agrees to Hafsah’s advice to get counseling and treatment. They find peace in separating. Faisal is waiting outside the compound… After a visit to her family, Hafsah has freed herself from stigma and rejection and is able to go back to her music career. The film ends in a moving portrayal of Hafsah giving a live performance of a song about her own life, with Linda as her supporting singer.
Hafsah is the story of a young woman’s resolve to succeed in her chosen career in spite of the rejection and contempt directed at her on the basis of her HIV status. It is about strengthening traditional family ties, a clarion call to the youths to re-sharpen their focus on culture as an industry, to believe in self worth in whatever one does and have self esteem, and how knowledge can remedy an equation of ignorance among communities. To the Hausaman worldwide, Hafsah is an ambassadorial pride as it is a sturdy study. Well done.
M. A. Salihu works with the National Broadcasting Commission Headquarters in Abuja. He is the coordinator of the premier biennial conference of African broadcasters, AFRICAST.