BY IFE OLUJUYIGBE
Away from traditional movies set in major tribes of Nigeria, and the recent and nearly predominant inclusion of Benin, Emem Isong takes her movie, Ayamma, to a small village in Ibibio. The movie explores the life of a King who has two sons. He dies of a mysterious illness, and while his heir is grieving, he makes a decree that there must be no sound of music. Then his heir runs mad, and only the sound of music can save him, except, the music has to come from the right person.
Ihuoma attempts to save him, after a fortuitous meeting. She is beheaded by his wife who colludes with Daraima’s brother, Ekon, the only remaining heir to the throne. But nothing prepares anyone of them for what happens next.
The story isn’t out-of-the-world, especially because it is based on the same premise many other movies of its kind are based on: a palace prince who falls for a lowly village girl (preferably an orphan). Of course, there’s always the jealous betrothed/wife who tries to tear them apart. And there could also be the envious brother who manages to fool everyone but wants the throne for himself. Ayamma combines all the elements of a typical village story, but adds a lot of singing and a twist of a twin. This is what makes it any different, until you remember all the village-set movies you have seen that include singing. Then you realize it really isn’t special.
What makes Ayamma a delight to watch, however, is Adesua Etomi, who takes on the roles Ihuoma and Ayamma. 2016 was a confirmation of Adesua’s brilliance, from The Arbitration to The Wedding Party. For Ayamma, her performance carries the entire film on its wings, making it beautiful. She is graceful when she sings and believable when she cries. All round, Adesuwa shows us why she’s to be taken seriously. The choice of Wale Ojo as Prince Darima makes one wonder, considering that the man who acts as his father looks about his own age. His performance doesn’t wow you, and neither does Majid Michel‘s as Prince Ekon. Theresa Edom plays Princess Ama, the vindictive betrothed of Daraima, and her performance comes off a tad too dramatic. Ime Bishop Umoh brings humor to the party as a drunken seer. It is the first time I find him cast in a role that bears an importance in the grand scheme of things, and not just a hilarious side attraction.
The picture quality of this film and its music and dances are noteworthy. The singing works alright; it isn’t cheesy as many such films are wont to be. Where it gets cheesy, it is excused as a dream; dreams can be extremely cheesy, so it works. In truth, many happenings in this film can be excused especially as the making of ‘the gods’. Still, this excuse isn’t enough to explain why the men who should behead Ihuoma hesitate so long to do a job they’re already used to. It doesn’t explain why Ihuoma’s friend betrays her, as we do not see good enough need for the money she betrays her friend for. It doesn’t even explain how Prince Ekong is suddenly attached to Ama and then isn’t. Because Ayamma is set in a village that believes in the mystery of a powerful body of gods, you might need to make many excuses to be entertained by it.
Produced by Emem Isong and directed by Chris Eneaji, Ayamma passes as a feel-good movie with its fairytale ending. It isn’t a movie that stands out, but it works okay.