BY CHARLES NOVIA
By the time the assassin pulled the trigger and the viewers heard a shot as the screen went blank in a defining episode of Africa Magic’s daily serial, ‘Hush’, what came to my mind was a possibility of the writers and Production team being too hooked on the twists and turns template of ‘ Game of Thrones’ and other popular American series which gleefully knock off popular characters for ratings or for the shock value.
If Arinola’s death on ‘Hush’ was done for the shock value, as I suspect, then I could safely hypothesise that it was more of an electrocution for the viewers of the serial. Whether that angle of the sub-plot has achieved its aim is left for conjecture but ever since, I have noticed that two things have simultaneously happened to the series.
First, there has been a flounder in the direction of the story since then, as if the writers in a post-mortem haze (no pun intended) realised that with Arinola gone (played by Thelma Okoduwa) , the next big meat of the serial has to be cooked up and fast but it’s looking like the hide is hard to soften. I will come to why it seems so in a bit when I appraise the writing department.
Secondly, as a couple of new supposedly ‘strong female characters’ are thrown into the mix, obviously to replace Arinola’s influence in the series, what has happened ever since has been a seemingly loss of focus on WHERE these new characters will take the story to and HOW they intend to pull a sit-tight value off for the teeming viewers. I noticed that the simultaneous introduction of two female characters played by Tana Adelana and Michelle Dede has elicited some new curiosity among the viewers but it’s likely to take some more time before viewers get used to them and their traction to the plot.
Now don’t get me wrong; I don’t see anything really wrong in the screen murder of Arinola in ‘Hush’ as it is prerogative of the writers and Producers to carry out regular assessments and decide where the next slant of the story would go. However, from my perspective, I feel the Producers underrated the immense value to the serial Arinola had and in a random creative Russian Roulette, just decided to take her out. ( I’m hatching a personal conspiracy theory here and you may have to forgive my conjecture if it irks you) But in taking her out, they took away a strong, independent character which had a great appeal to the feminist crowd. Arinola was not a perfect character and her back story told us so but her ambitions within the series to be the first female Governor of her state resonated very well with the ‘ women’s equality’ movement and was drawing a growing audience to the serial from women. Many saw in her the portrayal of their alternate lives and many were inspired by her, from my personal research.
So, did she have to die? And why?
I would hazard a guess that may get a few people incensed. My Personal Conspiracy Theory tells me that the Producers of ‘ Hush’ might have felt the plotline of Arinola running for Governor was not plausible and could not be sustained and had to do something. Perhaps there might have been a friendly threat from the EbonyLife TV’s series ‘ The Governor’, which already has thrown up a female Governor in its plot and definitely has taken the wind off the sails of a future Gubernatorial regime of Arinola? I am cross-hypothesising here and I should think one has a little laxity to do so. So, we don’t get the lines blurred, this angle of my theory does not in anyway validate or assume that ‘The Governor’ is a better series than ‘Hush’ or vice versa but it’s for healthy debate. Moreover, I would be reviewing ‘The Governor’ soon on its own merit.
It’s obvious that Arinola is gone and gone for good. I don’t expect the Producers of ‘Hush’ to do a Jon Snow on her character and somewhere along the line bring her back alive. That would be stretching our abilities to suspend our disbelief and encouraging our scorn factor. I think she has done her bit and should be left alone in the grave. It would take time to recalibrate another female character whom the viewers would love but I am sure some points have been noted from this.
Now, to a few more points about ‘Hush’.
I don’t follow the serial dedicatedly everyday as many people do but I watch recorded episodes in my personal omnibus on my Xplora decoder and I have refrained from writing any review till now. I noticed that in the first few weeks of the series, it didn’t kick off with an expected bang. It was limp and laggard. One could feel the pressure of putting out a good serial from the output and it told on the acting and other production requirements, especially in the area of characterisations. I felt (and still feel so sometimes) that the actors were not being adequately directed for each scene and their internalisations were jerky. I couldn’t place my finger on it but I certainly felt then that perhaps a new injection of Acting Coaches in the Directing Team would help the flow. As the serial progressed, I have noticed a bit of improvements as it seems the actors have been getting used to their characters and maybe the writing team found some new mojo too. But it still doesn’t take away from the fact that some actors are not measuring up and need Acting Coaches. There is a whole lot of overacting going on there at times.
The guy who plays Tes, the drug-addicted son of Bem Tsenugo (Mawuli Gavor) , is trying hard to convince us he can play a rabid addict. There is an over- exaggeration in his body scratches and internalisation. He’s good but he could be better. I like his intensity though which shows that he feels challenged and wants to give a good outing which would be remembered but he’s not getting the artistic regulation which a budding actor of his calibre requires.
Ade Laoye, who plays Oye, is giving a good account of her character so far. I think she reinvented her acting skills after the death of Arinola in the series. Before then, she seemed to me like an actress in love with the sound of her voice but I gave her props for having a great screen presence. In fact, I actually think every actor in ‘Hush’ sort of woke up after Arinola’s death, as if afraid that they would be killed off too by the whims of perhaps nerdy and bespectacled writers! Is it possible that what I see as an improvement in acting actually has a cranky factor for the actors? ( *insert evil grin here!)
Meg Otanwa, who plays the role of Koko, is building on her internalisation and could do better. I think her magnum opus in the serial so far is the scene where Bem attempted to rape her and she stood up to him. For the first time, she came so alive in the series, if you ask me.
The antagonist of Arinola and Bem, played by Rotimi Adelagan, oscillates between being a consistent natural bad guy and a player to the gallery. Sometimes, I can’t really place him. He’s got a good screen voice, a deliberately-groomed baritone for the character but he delivers on the melodramatic half of the time. He seems to be a trained and experienced actor but he may not be getting the right directions or something. As a major antagonist, his negative exuberance should be worked on. His character has prospects but should also have a latter comeuppance factor as the serial goes on.
One of the bright young sparks to watch out for in the future of Nollywood is Baaj Adebule, who plays Adze Tsenugo, the other son of Bem. I think he has promise and elicits the right facial reactions and plays the switch from being bewildered to listless very well. I rather think that’s an actor who really works on himself in his private moments and would go far. But he too is possessed by a lack of artistic direction at times.
So far, the other floundering characters are those played by Uche Osotule, Lilian Amah and Lanre Balogun and it makes me wonder. These are experienced actors who add verve to any production but either by a misjudgement in casting or a deliberate inactivity by the writers, they don’t just know what to do. We need to see more of these guys relevance to the plotlines.
Finally on the acting review, let me talk about Richard Mofe-Damijo, who plays Bem Tsenugo. What can I say really? RMD is good and shows why he’s in a class by himself in ‘Hush’. I think he’s the major reason why viewers of all ages watch the series, more for the reason that this is his first major soap opera appearance after a few years of political hiatus. I will not count the wintry feature he did some time back in ‘Tinsel’ as something really tangible as that is a story for another day. As Bem Tsenugo, RMD is a perfect fit and conveniently displays a nefarious Jekyll and Hyde character which builds on his complex characterisation; a popular fashion designer who’s a cult head and married to a Gubernatorial Candidate. That’s a salacious character any actor would die for and RMD is living it.
I still get a feeling that he has not properly defined his flow of that character. Sometimes he extrapolates the Segun Kadiri character he was popular for in ‘Checkmate’ into a Bem and goes Marlon Brando-ish in ‘The GodFather’ unconsciously. Perhaps it’s all in his artistic nous for that character but I think a more streamlined characterisation is necessary for ‘Bros’. I also get the feeling that perhaps the directors are hesistant in actually directing him and just allow him to go on his own whim.
The Writing Department have a long list of names in the end credits and there are a couple of very experienced writers among the lot. That makes me wonder why the series took off with a lull in the first few weeks and why it suddenly jarred itself up later. But they have a long way to go and much work to do and seem to have found a mid-ratings spike these last couple of weeks. We await the consistency in the traction and the unfolding twists and turns as the serial progresses.
I have to commend the Production Team of ‘Hush’ thus far. At least, they have me and many others watching and keep us guessing or amused or just plain indifferent. Whatever it is they are doing amongst these mix of reactions mentioned, they must be doing it right.
However, when one realises that two other well produced serials from South Africa and Angola air immediately after ‘Hush’, talking about ‘Isibaya’ and ‘Jikulumesu’, one can’t help but wonder if willy nilly, the guys at Africa Magic are not succinctly asking the viewers to compare the production values of all three! Because that is what I subconsciously do each time.
And though the difference may be clear, I still have to say that ‘Hush’, shortcomings and promise and all, would have to speak out louder than we presently hear.
*Charles Novia is an award-winning filmmaker, culture critic and media entrepreneur.
This article was first published on CharlesNoviaDaily on Saturday, August 13, 2016.