Love them or loathe them, you’ll watch them! “What are you on about, oh?” I can hear you ask. But what else could I be talking about that attracts mixed reactions except Nigerian cinema, oh?
Grapevine talk titbits doing the rounds of the capital cities and rural towns of Africa have it that these movies have divided homes. It’s said that some house wives have abandoned their conjugal commitments. Their night-time is said to be totally taken up by these films. And that, owing to that, some husbands have rescheduled their attention towards the bottle. The validity of that opinion, search me, but its likelihood is compelling.
What I’m sure of is that the Nigerian film industry has confounded business-speculation pundits. It is said to be the largest in the world after the……no, not on your life! I know the answer you were going to provide. But even if the American film industry is big, it’s not in record breaking confederacy. That privileged position is firmly in the hands of India. And, remember, as in India that industry is known as Bollywood, so is it known as Nollywood in Nigeria. How ironic, then, that the two industries beat Hollywood in size when they are both its surrogates! It means that they’ve outgrown their surrogate mother.
In spite of sharing a big chunk of the name, however, I doubt any of them knows how this “-ollywood” they are crowding over came to be. Before knowing which, we must remember that there is a fourth contender struggling to join the fray: Hillywood of the land of a thousand hills. And there’re probably many others intending to join the contest that may not have come to our attention.
Still, all of them are oblivious to the fact that, in adopting that name, they’re answering to the whims of an old lady. Old Daeida Wilcox once happened to seat next to an equally old lady in a train in California, USA, in1887. And that’s how she got this Hollywood name for world consumption. The lady next to Wilcox had an estate called Hollywood, a name that she took fancy to and took on for her own estate also. The name thus won world fame.
Which means that in India, Nigeria and Rwanda, Bollywood, Nollywood and Hillywood, consecutively, take their names after a misnomer. But, worse than the others, Bollywood is a double, if not triple, misnomer. Bollywood is called so after Bombay, which today is no longer existent, having changed to be known as Mumbai. And the original centre of Hindi cinema is actually Tollygunge, in West Bengal, not ex-Bomay. So, if that industry insisted on “carrying any wood”, it should’ve called itself Tollywood or Hillywood (for Tollygunge and Hindi)!
But what’s in a name? If an industry’s aim is to entertain, educate or both and, in the process, make money, then what counts is the entertainment, education and money. And the Indian and Nigerian film industries are making bundles. Where Hollywood may make a single feature film in five years, Bollywood makes dozens.
And Nollywood churns out an average of 200 videos for the home video market every month. Now I’m reliably informed that the Nollywood film industry wrecks in more than $250 million a year and is among the biggest employers in Nigeria. By all accounts, a feat that calls for applause, even by cynics who prefer to dismiss them as copycats or scavengers of witchcraft.
Cynics apart, if you’ve watched any of these videos, you can’t help but admire the Nigerians. Even with their favourite witchcraft subject, they do not fail to inject in some suspense that dares you to stop watching! But when it comes to playing mafia gangster characters, à la Hollywood, you can’t but hand it to them. Imagine a black, bulky John Travolta, complete with the cigar and goons hanging on every command he makes! You’ll not stop watching till the end.
That Al Capone mystery figure that has lived in your mind, from American movies, comes alive before your eyes. And the fright from that threatening voice, you’re spellbound! No, few African countries can match that. Plausible efforts have been made in South Africa, Kenya and Tanzania but I think that, on this continent, Nigeria is in a league of its own.
So, what bedevils Hillywood? If Nollywood thrives on the rich traditions of the Nigerian tribes or copying American storylines and placing them in the African context, is that impossible for Rwandans? In Rwanda there is young acting talent galore and there are innovators, no doubt about it. Rwandans share a tradition that’s richer than many African traditions. Digital filming and editing technologies are equally readily available on the cheap.
What’s lacking then, if not simply the effort? Surely, even with the tempting possibility of becoming a small Rwandan movie mogul worth a tiny fortune of $200 million?
Igwe, where’s our young talent oh? If it requires being able to speak English in Kinyarwanda, young Rwandans can pick from their elder brothers and sisters. Zeni Zeeze cani supeaki zeir Engrwanda andi ze dorras cani sitarti to loll ini (read: to ‘roll’ in)!