BY IFE OLUJUYIGBE
Biodun Stephen‘s films have conveniently fallen into the rom-com genre (think The Visit, think Ovy’s Voice), and remained there. In an industry with many directors who are so diverse, even while not perfecting their different genres, it is commendable that Biodun has chosen one and stayed true to it so much so that she has become a chief at it. If what you’re looking for is a film that would make your day, get you all mushy and probably a little teary while still making you laugh so loud, don’t even look too far: Biodun is your woman.
Like Ovy’s Voice, Tiwa’s Baggage focuses basically on the lives of two people. Tiwa is heavily pregnant and abandoned by her lover Oly. She is sent out by her aunt too and is left at the mercy of her childhood friend Nana, who gives her a place to stay. It’s a compound of two flats and the other flat is occupied by a single young man called Lolu. Lolu helps Tiwa out through the difficulties of her pregnancy and childbirth, heartbreak and newness to the neighbourhood, and then they fall in love, but not for very long as Oly suddenly shows up and messes with her head. She must now choose who to be with, the knight in shining armour or the repentant father of her child.
The story, while not being extraordinary, is simple and pure. Yes, pure is the word. It doesn’t just dwell on a cliché kind of dilemma, it focuses on where some of the issues common to this kind of dilemma originate from. In Tiwa’s Baggage, Tiwa’s mindset of being a second hand (because she is an unmarried mother) comes from her aunt, who is a negative never-do-well. This notion follows her to the end of the film and informs the decisions she makes. The film also passes a strong uncommon message, especially to single mothers without being unnecessarily preachy.
Tiwa’s Baggage works! The story, the cast, the music, the makeup, the lines; they work together. When Tiwa is pregnant, she looks pregnant, down to the size of her hands and the swelling of her face. When Oly shows up on the scene, he looks like a typical player or as many Nigerians would say, a ‘fuckboy’ or ‘Yoruba demon’. From their entrance through the gate, the aunties are an embodiment of derisiveness, down to the dresses they have on. And of course, there’s all the emotion this film would make you feel, from laughter to love to anger to confusion and to disappointment.
Tiwa is played very brilliantly by Bayray McNwizu. Lolu is played by Kunle Remi. Together, they are magic. Their chemistry is seamless, and the awkwardness and attraction between them is utterly believable (many thanks to the director who knows how to properly help these two achieve the picture she has in her head). In a scene where their shadows are shown intermittently, it is both artistic and sad. They do not hold back on the lovey-dovey, and if a little bird suddenly whispered that these two were an item in real life, we would hardly doubt it for a second. Because Kunle Remi was equally marvellous in the movie Falling as Adesua Etomi’s costar, it is concluded that he is most likely more than just another fine face.
Bolanle Ninalowo plays Oly, which seems right within his comfort zone. And Biodun Stephen plays Nana and does it well, increasing her roles as writer, producer and director of the film to four. It should normally not work with these many hats, but it does. Ronke Ojo plays Tiwa’s aunt, and she is fantastic in her one-scene role, alongside Princess Allwell Ademola who is her mischievous subordinate. The lines, “Jedi da? Jedi re!” are so hilarious, they would not be easily forgotten.
It is beautiful how the scenes flow into one other like a soothing rhythm, sometimes not totally finishing and leaving the viewer imagining the rest in his head. There’s that scene where Lolu agrees to follow Tiwa to the hospital. Tiwa’s expression shows so much gratitude she is almost going to burst with it, but she doesn’t say anything before the scene moves to the next. Biodun Stephen pays attention more to the showing than the telling, and this is why Tiwa’s Baggage is easy to connect to; because we don’t just see people acting, we watch them being like it was their everyday life. For once, the ‘friend’ to the lead character isn’t all-knowing and always right.
Even though Tiwa’s pregnancy looks more like a basketball than a baby bump, and her “the devil you know…” argument doesn’t particularly hold water considering that at the time she said this, she had known both men for equal durations, Tiwa’s Baggage is nearly flawless. It is refreshing and well-put-together. And oh, it would certainly make you love love.