FAME AND INSENSITIVITY…
In her recent movie, The Bling Lagosians, Bolanle Austen-Peters leads the viewers into the superficially glamorous world of the Lagos super rich, who through their influence and immense power, control the megacity. Okechukwu Uwaezuoke reports
Acerbic critics may deem the storyline rather voyeuristic. And so what if it really is? Indeed, if there is one recent movie that is guaranteed to become the toast of the local cinema audiences nationwide, it is The Bling Lagosians. With such a title that proclaims its content from the rooftops, the movie, which is sponsored by Eco Bank and Amstel Malta, took the theatres by storm on Friday, June 28, piquing the curiosity of many an aficionado in its wake. This was after its successful premiere on Sunday, June 16 at the Film House Cinema in Lekki and a special screening for corporate sponsors on Sunday, June 23 at the Terra Kulture in Victoria Island, Lagos.
Somehow, the 1 hour 37-minute movie, which is the directorial first step of the effervescent Terra Kulture’s proprietress Bolanle Austen-Peters, evokes Jackie Collins’ Hollywood Wives, a 1985 television miniseries based on her 1983 novel of the same title. More recently on the local scene, it follows hard on the heels of similarly-themed EbonyLife’s tours de force, Fifty, Chief Daddy, The Royal Hibiscus Hotel as well as The Wedding Party 1 and 2, which are the acclaimed heralds of the new Nollywood.
Indeed, isn’t it about time the Nollywood’s continent-wide, if not worldwide, audience got served with fresher perspectives of the Nigerian story? A movie about the affluent few – the “one percent of the one percent” –, flaunting a cast list that includes names like Gbenga Titiloye, Elvina Ibru, Alex Ekuboh Sharon Ooja, Monalisa Chinda Coker, Jimmy Odukoya, Bisola Aiyola, Bamike Olawunmi (a. k. a. Bambam in Big Brother Niger 3), Denola Grey, Jide Kosoko, Helen Paul, Toyin Abraham, Osas Ighodaro Ajibade and Tana Adelana, ups the ante and should change the narrative of the local film industry.
Through the storyline, Austen-Peters exposes the feet of clay of the Lagos high society, where keeping up appearances has been elevated to an art form. There is, of course, a comical side to this whole scenario. In the movie, the protagonist Akin Holloway (Gbenga Titiloye) cranks up his bid to sustain a fake lifestyle that sharply contrasts with his prevailing economic realities. He is desperate, because his family’s business empire and legacy are hanging precariously on a precipice. Yet, he does not want to subject himself to austerity measures. Neither does his wife, Mopelola Holloway (Elvina Ibru), for whom, meanwhile, it remains business as usual, since her planned ostentatious 51st birthday party just has to go on. His first daughter, Demidun Tade-Smith (Osas Ighodaro) and her pilot husband George (Jimmy Odukoya) are passing through a turbulent period in their marital life while his art-loving second daughter, Tokunbo (Sharon Ooja) remains the only monolith of stability silhouetted against the horizon of the family’s topsy-turvydom. As a screenwriter, she hopes her pitch will help secure funding from an Asaba filmmaker’s investors. This filmmaker, Nnamdi (Alex Ekubor) hires her to develop a movie concept for his theatrical debut but rejects her ideas for the very ones he’s trying to distance himself from.
Viewers are given enough to guffaw at as they watch each member of this embattled family scurry about in a desperate bid to save themselves from an impending ignominy. They have every reason to. After all, the Holloways, one of Lagos’ most influential and powerful families, own the impressive business deluxe high-rise building, St Ives Towers, and live in a palatial home. Akin, the family patriarch, has all the trappings of a successful Lagos “big boy”: choice homes across the globe, a private jet, a yacht, a fleet of posh cars and limited edition wristwatches, among others.
Right from the opening scene, the viewer senses that all is not well with the Holloways, as Akin Holloway’s voice over signals the unravelling of this business empire. He surreptitiously battles to stop the banks from repossessing St. Ives Towers, whose unpaid debts run into billions. For his family, this would mean ruin and, consequently, sound the death knell to their renown in the close-knit circle of Lagos poohbahs. And what a way to sully a bequest made to him by his father!
Viewers owe it to Austen-Peters’ directorial adroitness, that they have more reason to laugh than to cry. As a keen watcher of the society, she got the inspiration to tell a story everyone can relate to and which also mirrors her experience. “It’s about my friends, it’s about me, it’s about the high society Lagos, lifestyle living large, but in this case it’s a lampooning of society; people who pretend to have, but in reality, they don’t have any more and they are struggling to keep up with the Joneses,” she once disclosed recently in an interview.
“In telling this story, it was important that we learnt lessons. In doing the Bling Lagosians, I observed certain things in our society and I decided to tell the story, a relatable story, that people would see and recognise this is the real us. This story is like a mirror, so we can look at ourselves in a mirror and see the flaws. This is a story of deceit, lust, love, greed, passion, it’s a story of excesses but with redeeming qualities.”
Apt is the choice of Niniola’s recent hit song “Designer” as the theme music, while the viewer gawks at the glamorous and lavish the party scenes of guests arriving in flashy cars. This is all about the hollowness of materialism, about people pretending to be what they are not. Austen-Peters indeed hopes that the viewers would look beyond the “very, very beautiful homes, fancy cars, and fancy lifestyle” and absorb the movie’s real message.
Materialism, which is past its climax, will soon leave its devotees confounded like a flock without shepherds. Distrust rears its monstrous head up among its adherents, who are no less haughty than they used to be. Mrs Holloway, for instance, seems more concerned about hosting a party that “must be unrivalled” in the Lagos glitterati circles. “If any party should top mine, then we have failed woefully,” she adds.
Obviously, the unwillingness of the Holloways to engage in a quiet introspection means that they continue to follow old habits. This inevitably herds their business concerns into the waiting arms of the Asset Management Corporation, which edge them out. This was even after the death of Akin’s godfather Baba Eko and despite a lifeline from the state governor.
Kudos to Austen-Peters for her deftness in weaving humour and social commentary into an otherwise tragic tale. Not even touting this movie as her directorial debut effaces her renown in the industry. Her co-production of her first movie, 93 Days, based on how Nigeria successfully combatted the dreaded Ebola virus, earned her plaudits. So did her previous Broadway-style stage productions Saro, Wakaa as well as Fela and the Kalakuta Queens.