1st of September was the day Nigerians in diaspora who love their Nollywood stuffs looked forward to, as new Nollywood movies arrived on Netflix. Most being movies from popular movimaker, Kunle Afolayan. Although, I already own a number of his movies already on DVD, I still had something to look forward to, talking about his newest work, Mokalik.
Mokalik is the pronunciation form for ‘mechanic’ adopted by old Yoruba speakers, especially those who live or grew up in the deeper parts of the land. Nevertheless, it makes a fun title for this movie. It gives us an idea of what to expect mood-wise. It is a comedy movie with the most parts driven in yoruba language- the dialogue and humour. It would take a very good Yoruba speaker to understand the jokes in the movie, which includes insults, witty dialogue and puns that subtitle would not do justice for non-speakers.
Mokalik is a movie about a day in the life of a young boy, Ponmile, who has to navigate his way through the drama and humour-filled setting of a mechanic village as a first-time apprentice. A typical mechanic village includes the car mechanic, car electrician known as ‘rewire’, vulcanizer, painter, food sellers, and in this particular village, hourly flying aircraft. The young boy experiences a full typical dramatic day in a mechanic village. From physical and oral attacks, canteen ‘buka’ vibes, baby daddy search, meeting various crazies (who call themselves car owners), down to the graduation of another apprentice, played by Tobi Bakre (BBNaija).
Ponmile’s parents want him to see life from another perspective. As the various factions of the workshop get introduced to him, I would have loved to see a ‘Mean Girls’ type of edit, where the various car professionals get introduced as different groups with quick cuts. It would serve both Ponmile, the newbie and audience as well who would like to get to know the mechanic village much better as we got to know the various cliques of a high school in Mean Girls. As he wanders in this new world with questions, Ponmile would serve as our proxy.
Comedy movies in Nigeria are mostly restricted to stories of illiteracy and poverty. I enjoyed this change in setting and storyline from what we often see on screen. A mechanic’s workshop in Nigeria is one of the untapped setings to get undiluted, full flowing humour for a comedy movie. The writer barely has anything to do. With a mechanic workshop, the script should write itself. I am glad Kunle Afolayan took a new path in revisiting this genre, which I also enjoyed in his movie, Phone Swap.
I understood the message Kunle Afolayan was trying to pass while I also enjoyed the movie. Still, the movie doesn’t enter my Afolayan top 5. It felt like a life project which he had promised his son (who plays the lead actor) a role in. Nollywood filmmakers need to learn from this: Cos you’re related does not mean he/she fits the role. Let that relation start out as an extra in other movies, while growing, in order not to be a laughing stock when he decides to play lead. I laughed at almost every scene featuring Ponmile, where he gives this blank face with no emotion (Lion King CGI style). He acted the whole movie with a countable number of emotions- his blank face which we see most of the time and the other face he manages to squeeze out anytime his love interest, Simi approaches. This brings me to Simi, acted by popular same name singer-songwriter. It was a decent debut for her, where she did not have to do much. Saying I generally find her voice annoying would be a personal attack, as there is little to distinguish her singing voice to her normal talking voice. She possesses that unique voice that does not fit acting for me. Giving her a new accent/dialect would have been a whole distraction from the character, which would have been more of a mess.
Mokalik’s funny moments can be attributed to some familiar yoruba comic actors (whose names I can not remember, but faces I know very well), one or two new faces and one former child actor, who plays Erukutu (not sure anyone would remember him). These new faces execute an awesome job in controlling the dialogue, which immerses the audience into the world the movie has created feeling like you are right there waiting for your car to be repaired. A mechanic workshop is like a God given setting for comedy movies. We have all been there. We have all witnessed the craziness and absurdity that happens there. I am glad somebody in Kunle Afolayan sees that.
Comedy as a genre in Nollywood needs to take new path and Kunle Afolayan with this movie, has shown people that it is possible. It is not everytime Village-girl-moves-to-Lagos kind of comedy. Nigeria has ready made settings for much more than lazy comedy movies. In a twist of tale, the young boy from the higher class is the subject of a number of jokes and taunts, not the uneducated or half-educated mechanics, like it always is in mainstream Nollywood movies. There are other naturally given settings that would serve a comedy story well, box-office wise also, just like with Mokalik in a mechanic village. Playing it less safe with repetitions, and putting more hard work (smart work and ‘eye shining’) to find unexplored areas.