BY IFE OLUJUYIGBE
The phenomenon that reincarnation is has roused a lot of discussions, arguments and counterarguments about its reality. Some religions and cultures believe in reincarnation, some with proof as to why this is actually true. For example, the Yorubas believe in the concept of abiku, of children born who keep dying and returning to torment their parents. They also believe in procedures that prevent the children from leaving, some as intense as burning the dead child black so he would be too ashamed to leave when he returns. Most of these children are reborn scarred and never return, and the Yorubas aren’t the only ones with this culture. Even Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe touched on reincarnation with the life of Ezinma.
So when filmmaker, Kunle Afolayan, explores reincarnation in his film Roti, we are easily at home with it. Roti is the story of Kabiru and Diana Shittu, who after ten years of waiting, of miscarriages and tears, finally bear a son, Durotimi. Because Durotimi develops complicated heart issues and dies, the Shittus are tossed back into mourning. Unfortunately, the possibilities of having another biological child are near impossible, and in a bid to pacify Dianna, Kabiru’s mother tells her her son will come back to her.
It’s been four years of moving on when Diana suddenly sees a replica of her son, of just about the same age as he was when he died, but with completely different parents and a totally different life. She becomes obsessed with him as she believes he is her son who has returned, and she would go to any length to have him as the son she lost.
This stirring story of loss is fresh and different. We feel the grief so closely, we understand the tears and even the obsession. It is easy to connect with the idea too as the actors bare themselves in it.
Kunle Afolayan is Kabiru, and it is interesting that he would star in his own film, something we haven’t witnessed since Figurine. As Kabiru, the father, the son and the husband, Kunle is adorable. He reminds us why he was outstanding as Arese Jabata in popular mystery film, Saworoide. Kate Henshaw as Diana is nearly flawless. Faithia Balogun is brilliant as Mama Juwon as she engages her localness, and as soon as Toyin Oshinaike shows up, he brings laughter and life with him, and raises the tempo a notch higher.
The blend of Yoruba and English makes this film realer, but this is what Kunle does, so it is no surprise. While the narration could use a little more life, the choice to narrate rather than act everything out gets the story moving in a way that cuts out the unnecessary.
Roti brings up questions it has no answers to, and this is why one might feel dissatisfied, and even a little cheated after the film. Kunle again uses his characteristic tactic of leaving the audience to complete the film in their heads, the same one in Figurine, The CEO and October 1. Some leave the audience parched and let down, like The CEO, while some others are filling notwithstanding, like October 1. For Roti, it is a blend. We are so much in sorrow for the Shittus that, in spite of our dissatisfaction, we understand that there are no real certainties to this thing. Whether they survive or not, no one can exactly tell. This in itself is depth.
Some of the acting could be better. The woman who plays the doctor is a bad actor. She calls Xray ‘exstray’, ill ‘hill’; is unsympathetic towards the plight of the couple, and quickly gives up on the dying child without so much as an attempt at resuscitation. Generally, the hospital scenes could have done with more believability, as with Omugwo.
It is brilliant when Kabiru is unprecise about the dates of his child’s death as he tries to remember. It gives the movie a lot more credence and thoroughness, as in real life, memories aren’t always so precise.
Roti is sad and full of meaning. It is a path not common but treaded well. With beautiful soundtracks to match, it is a story not easy to forget, and a testament to Kunle Afolayan’s ingenuity. And we have to give props to Darimisire Afolayan, the little boy who plays both Roti and Juwon.
A collaboration between Golden Effects Pictures and Africa Magic Films, Roti is the second of three films to be released in 2017. It is produced and directed by Kunle Afolayan, and written by Sola Dada.