Malaika, directed by Steve Sodiya, blends traditional Yoruba theatre and New Nollywood to deliver an average movie with social commentary. The movie revolves around Tutu (Toyin Abraham Ajeyemi), a successful yet hot-headed woman grappling with infertility after five years of marriage to Dr. Ebuka Njoku (Emeka Ike). The opening scenes vividly capture Tutu and her husband’s successful life before leaping into Tutu’s miscarriage and anger issues. The narrative unfolds with montages depicting Tutu’s heart-wrenching multiple miscarriages, leading to an emotional moment where she angrily scatters the once joyfully prepared baby room. This emotional journey lays the foundation for the film’s exploration of the couple’s quest for parenthood.
The brunt of the stigma of not having a child in a Nigerian society is mostly borne by the wife. Malaika establishes Tutu’s personality by showcasing her tumultuous relationships with her stepdaughter Chichi (Oluwapelu Olawumi) and her employees at her reputable fashion company, Tutu’s Couture, which she occasionally visits. However, the film’s premise, which centers on Tutu’s struggle with barrenness, takes a backseat to focus on her anger issue: constant bickering with her stepdaughter, and the lambasting of her employees for minor offences.
Despite the focus on Tutu’s sour nature, Malaika slightly succeeds in portraying the emotional toll of infertility on a woman’s life. The performances, especially by Toyin Abraham and Emeka Ike, though occasionally melodramatic, contribute little to the film’s emotional depth. Our protagonists, like other minor characters in the movie, are thinly developed. In the opening scene, we see Dr. Ebuka winning an award for his work as a fertility expert (reproductive endocrinologist), later we are told he is one of the medical experts invited to a conference in India, and he is trending on X (Twitter) for being at the top of his field, but we never see him and his wife seeking a medical solution for her infertility. As a reputable fertility expert, we expect to see Dr. Ebuka seeking medical support for his wife’s infertility problem or both of them visiting religious houses, typical of people seeking “the fruit of the womb”. Instead, we are still left with the constant clashes with her undisciplined stepdaughter.
With its underdeveloped characters and thinly designed roles, Malaika faces challenges in its acting department. The constant introduction of new, poorly developed characters contributes more to humour than substantive plot development, resulting in average acting as the ensemble grapples with shallow roles. While humour infusion could be positive, in Malaika, it distracts from the film’s overarching issues. The reliance on poorly-crafted characters dilutes narrative impact, leaving us yearning for substance and meaningful character arcs. The film struggles to elevate acting quality due to inherent limitations imposed by underdeveloped characters and their peripheral roles.
The inclusion of Odunlade Adekola as a shady driver seems more for plot convenience than meaningful contribution. The character’s purpose appears solely to test Tutu’s behaviour. But it lacks the depth needed to evoke genuine laughter or advance the storyline. Instead of enriching the narrative, such characters become mere caricatures, leaving us with a sense of missed opportunities for character development.
To solve Tutu’s infertility struggle, Malaika avoids conventional routes, neglecting hospital visits, and embracing spirituality. A pivotal moment occurs unexpectedly in a bar, as a folk artist-cum-Babalawo (Ibrahim Chatta) reveals profound truths during a performance, which throws Tutu into a trance or epiphany. While seemingly coincidental, this revelation, which is supposed to serve as a turning point for the film, delves into a spiritual realm and sheds light on Tutu’s anger as the reason for her infertility. The film’s treatment of infertility remains a stumbling block, with the premise awkwardly attributing the issue to moral flaws rather than exploring its complex medical/biological dimensions. This film’s dependence on deus ex machina —Tutu having a sudden revelation and her visits to a diviner (Babalawo) for a solution, attributing her fertility issues to moral quality and virtue, rather than medical or biological factors—raises questions about creative depth in the storytelling. This leaves us with further questions about its portrayal of infertility, which is a relevant real-life challenge in our society. This reliance on the uninspired technique of revelation as problem-solving echoes the traditional Yoruba cinema, where the solution to a problem is often provided by a diviner (Babalawo) or revealed through dreams and visions. This hinders its potential for nuanced and engaging storytelling.
The first and second acts of Malaika interweave humour with the traditional Yoruba theatre’s didactic teachings, emphasizing the importance of good behaviour in overcoming life’s challenges. Despite these narrative choices, the film takes a surprising turn in its third act, embracing a kick-ass style characteristic of New Nollywood. While this shift, a by-product of a muddled story, injects energy into the film and adds a contemporary flair to the otherwise flawed traditional narrative structure, it once again relegates the significance of the main theme of infertility to the background.
It is very clear to see how Malaika grapples with an identity crisis, and inability to commit to a singular narrative thread amidst a tangle of interconnected themes. The screenplay juggles Tutu’s struggle with infertility, her fiery temperament in managing an unruly stepdaughter, Dr. Ebuka Njoku’s desire to bring joy to his wife through parenthood, and commentaries on poverty and the spate of kidnapping in the country. While the themes hold potential, the execution falls short. This results in a film that, despite noble intentions, struggles with a lack of precision, thereby undermining its impact. Adding to the convolution, the screenplay introduces an unexpected twist involving the unruly stepdaughter finding friends in an unconventional setting. This subplot, while potentially intriguing, further fragments the film’s identity, leaving us unsure of its thematic direction.
Malaika starts with a promising opening period, showcasing some brilliance, but unfortunately loses its way, venturing into near-farce territory. The film lacks the poise and essential thematic attributes needed to sustain its initial brilliance. This tonal inconsistency undermines the overall impact, leaving us with a sense of disappointment as the movie fails to maintain its early promise.
Malaika premiered on December 22, 2023, in cinemas.
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- The decision to call on Chichi’s martial arts classmates, teacher, and parents to rescue her from the lair of the kidnapper is inept. I know that the Nigerian Police Force “is not our friend” but hiring martial arts students and teachers (or hoodlums, in the case of Bank Alerts) is an outlandish attempt to patch up an ineffective story.
- The on-the-nose and overt approach in its incorporation of the Fuji act Sule Adio Malaika during the Omoluabi Day Carnival, serves as a conspicuous avenue for advertising Goldberg Lager Beer. The film’s decision to seamlessly integrate a real-life musical performer into a fictional event raises questions about subtlety and the balance between storytelling and commercial promotion. Striking a balance between creative storytelling and brand promotion is essential, ensuring that the latter does not overshadow the cinematic experience or compromise the film’s integrity.
- Abeg, na wetin Carter Efe dey do? Skit?