When we think of Kayode Kasum (Ponzi, Quam’s Money, Dwindle, The Therapist), it will most likely be in light of his 2019 film, Sugar Rush, a decent action comedy that put him in place as one of the new wave of Nollywood directors. However, in 2018, Kayode Kasum directed a film that feels like a hybrid between his 2020 This Lady Called Life and Sugar Rush. Oga Bolaji is one of Kayode Kasum’s efforts at a serious film. A film yearning for the grittiness of Confusion Na Wa but held back by Kasum’s affinity for the light-hearted.
Oga Bolaji opens with Gold Ikponmwosa (One Lagos Night) as the titular character who is wallowing in poverty; a 40-year-old man living in his controlling mother’s home. She (Idowu Philips aka Iya Rainbow) dominates the start of his daily routine, but something feels unfulfilled about that relationship; even after the third act when she acknowledges his adulthood before she dies. Bolaji’s existence revolves around survival—work, eat, sleep—and has little meaning beyond that; nothing but hopes and aspirations—basically the average Nigerian. On his daily path are his friends, Omoh (Gregory Ojefua) and Osas (Delroy Nomamiukor), comic reliefs to ‘soften’ the grittiness that is Bolaji’s life. A young hawker, Ajua, played by the talented child actress, Jasmine Fakunle, crosses Bolaji’s path. She is the daughter of Victoria (Omowunmi Dada), a single mother struggling in the slums of Lagos. The story begins when the little girl dies inadvertently by Bolaji’s doing. Her death changes him as he tries to atone—gets close to the girl’s mother, finds her a job—for what he sees as his fault.
In its spare time, Oga Bolaji highlights the problems in Nigeria and proffers solutions. Here is why the country isn’t working, Oga Bolaji says early in the film, the rich don’t patronize Nigerian products. His friend, Osas, presents a clever response that perhaps it is because those goods are of bad quality. The film understands that the Nigerian problem is created and compounded by the average Nigerian individual. Oga Bolaji epitomizes this Nigerian problem through the M-officials who arrest hawkers, and who led the little girl, Ajua, to her death. And the second act rolls into a series of mourning scenes. From here, Oga Bolaji wobbles.
Although not as prevalent here as in other Nollywood movies, the thematic inconsistencies of establishing shots return. Pretty metropolitan establishing locations for mainland characters. And the film itself goes on at a quick pacing, like a comedy, refusing the audience quiet or an extensive breather to properly take in what has really happened—a little girl has just died. While the mother wails and Bolaji himself mourns quietly, we do not think of the girl herself, just the consequence of her death on the living characters. And the same problem affects her mother’s character, particularly in relation to Oga Bolaji.
The discerning will find that there is that jumpy assertiveness of melodrama found in Kayode Kasum’s comedies that show up in the third act even though he did well to keep it under control until that point in the film. Quietude would have helped the film, really. A lot more willingness to show the ugliness of poverty, not just the façade of it. The film is reluctant. See the scenes with idyll establishing shots that have nothing to do with those shots or the film. Scenes of beaches; serene but majestic island buildings; the setting sun behind old houses; and aerial shots of symmetrical ghetto rooftops. For its closer, in spite of its deaths, Oga Bolaji opts for the happy ending even though we all know the stories of those it depicts don’t end that way.
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- The character’s dislike for religion is never thoroughly explored and a fine arc could have been arrived at through that strain.
- Oga Bolaji loves music, but for an aspiring musician, he never sings throughout the film. Not once.
- See Eyimofe for a better reflection of the poor in Lagos.
Oga Bolaji is currently on Netflix.