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A movie with a sit-com feel

28 Oct 2012

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By Toni Kan

The Meeting is the first feature length movie off the stables of the beautifully-named The Audrey Silva Company (TASC) which has Nollywood star Rita Dominic and her business partner, lawyer and filmmaker, Mildred Okwo as head honchos.
The Meeting with original story by Tunde Babalola and directing by Mildred Okwo is an amazing movie which is a worthy representative of the new Nollywood.

It is a movie that sets out with pretty high ambitions and it manages to achieve them all.
When I speak of ambition, we must not confuse this with a movie of epic proportions. The scope of The Meeting is not epic. Not at all. The movie has for the most part, an almost sit com feel with its setting, mostly, in the waiting room of a minister’s office, huge dose of comedy and a cast of stock characters through whom the script writers manage to typify and poke fun at the average Nigerian from different ethnic groups and social stations.

The man from Nembe tells Makinde Esho: “That’s the problem with this country, we sustain this nation with our oil yet you know nothing about us.”

The Meeting is in many ways a reflection of Nigeria. While the minister’s “Waiting Room” redefines the term waiting room, it is on a larger scale symptomatic of Nigeria where red tape and officialdom have left us stuck in stasis.

The film delivers a sucker punch when Ejura says to Makinde: “How did you think you could close a deal in Abuja in one day with a government minister?” and it was amazing to see the large delegation from Aso Rock and the Ministry of Petroleum laughing during the screening at the World Premiere.

The Meeting is the kind of movie that makes us laugh just so it can stop us from crying. In the space of two hours, the movie manages to show us the problems of Nigeria writ large; from the power situation to red-tapism, from abuse of power to corruption.
When Makinde accosts the minister who is dashing off on a tryst with his girlfriend the minister introduces her sheepishly as “my niece.”
The movie features a veritable roll call of stock Nigerian characters: the brash Igbo man played by the diminutive Chinedu Ikedieze of the Aki and Pawpaw fame to the religious and conservative Hausa lady; the highfalutin English speaking Professor Akpan; the prayer warrior dependent business woman; Bolarinwa, the “runs girl” played by Nse Ikpe Etim and the changeable well-heeled woman who will do anything to get ahead played by Kate Henshaw.

The cast of characters is a casting director’s wet dream and Mildred Okwo employs them to devastating effect. But the beauty of it all is that the Director manages to elevate this movie which is touted as a romantic comedy far beyond the normal Nollywood farce which passes for comedy.

Rita Dominic is a revelation and a delight. She steals the show with an astonishing comedic turn that I am not sure had been hitherto explored elsewhere. Her timing is spot on and her “Oyo is your own” is bound to make it into Nigerian street lingo.

When she tells the policemen to shoot Makinde Esho at the tail end of the movie, you can’t help but laugh and yet empathise with her because you are aware that by pulling off his stunt, Makinde has demystified her, removing the very last vestiges of her power.
“Please sir, let them shoot him small. Just small,” she begs the minister.

As Clara, the impenetrable receptionist, she is a formidable presence, deciding who does and doesn’t see the minister. She is brash, mean, solicitous, and suffering from an acute inferiority complex all of which she masks with a show of bravado.

With the minister’s supplicants, she is a goddess who must be appeased with sacrifices that range from recharge cards to soft drinks to cash; with the minister and important visitors, she is a grovelling civil servant making all the right noises and sounds while with Bolarinwa, she becomes a whimpering dog trying to please. The result is amazing and impressive; a true delight.
The premise of The Meeting is almost too simple to be realistic but it is the unravelling of the unusual plot that makes this a worthy experience.

As a romantic comedy, it thrives as most of them do on a chance encounter between two disparate individuals; Makinde Esho played by Femi Jacobs, and Ejura played by the amazing Linda Ejiofor, both of whom finally have a stab at starring roles in a big screen production and it is to the director’s credit that their characters are not completely obliterated by Clara’s larger than life character.

By creating a sub-plot that plays out in the evenings, the film makers create enough space for these two to show off their acting chops. Their characters are well defined and even though Ejura comes off as brash and almost like a “runs girl” at the beginning, we can see that she is a serious-minded young woman looking for a good man and a good life.

Tunde Babalola and Mildred Okwo who wrote the screenplay deserve kudos for the way they keep piling on the humor and teasing out laughter. Every character has a line or two to crack your ribs thus ensuring that the movie does not fall flat or slip into preachiness.
As an aside, the major triumph of The Meeting may not have been intended and it is the validation it gives to MNET’s soap opera Tinsel which features both Linda Ejiofor and Femi Jacobs.

By introducing to the big screen two cast members from the soap, The Meeting has inadvertently underlined the importance of that soap opera as a fertile ground for talent and revival of what used to be a Nigerian staple; the soap opera. Think Checkmate, Mirror in the Sun, Behind The Clouds and Cock Crow at Dawn.

In the soap, Ejiofor’s character, Bimpe is hungry to become a movie star. Mildred Okwo and her casting director have made her fictional dream come true in The Meeting.

There is also the return of Basorge Tariah and Kate Henshaw, two actors who cut their teeth on television in comic roles.
Nollywood often receives flak for pandering towards the atavistic and occultic and it is heartening to see that Ejura does not run to a juju man to help her ensnare the fetching Makinde but there is still that recourse to the supernatural as we find Makinde’s boss in a mid-night session with white garment prayer men at his office. Some things, it seems, are just too Nigerian and if these movies we make are about Nigeria, they must reflect us the way we truly are.

The Meeting is a pretty sedate movie. There are a few scenes with quickening adrenaline rushes but it is on the whole a feel good and well paced movie that will have audiences laughing but this does not mean that it is perfect.

Technique wise, the movie does not rise above the usual fare. There are no cinematographic flourishes or technical savvy like one would find in a Tunde Kelani or Mahmood Ali Balogun movie; the dubbing goes askew in some scenes and it is also surprising to see Bolarinwa develop a thick Yoruba accent when she shows up for the second time; something we did not hear at her first visit

.
On the whole, The Meeting is a beautiful Nollywood movie driven by its story line and well chosen cast of characters and this is one movie that will travel well; far across the Nigerian shores.

It shows us who we are and hints at what we can become if only we can get out of the damned waiting room in which this country has been stuck for ages.
• Toni Kan writes from Lagos

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