By Adegbenro Adebanjo
In the seventies and eighties before the advent of Nollywood, Indian films had a cult like following in Nigeria. Its outlandish scenes and sometimes magical and surreal themes and weird characters never bothered its many patrons who were enthralled by its simple entertainment and riveting love songs. And since there was no homemade alternative the film houses which daily showed the Indian films, the precursor of today’s Bollywood, smiled to the Bank. That was until the coming of Nollywood in the Mid-Eighties which gained a foothold within a short time and signaled the arrival of the Nigerian film industry. And with the popularity of Video Cassette Player and its availability in many homes across the country, the Nigerian film industry came into its own and Nollywood by the Nineties became, arguably, the fastest growing film industry in the world spinning billions of Naira for different layers of participants.
Nollywood simply displaced Bollywood in the hearts and homes of many Nigerians. And some incurable optimists infused with nationalistic fervor began to equate it with Hollywood.
However there is a dangerous reversal in favour of Bollywood. Nollywood is in decline and Bollywood is on the rise again in Nigeria. I got to know about the return of Bollywood to the hearts and homes of Nigerians from the home front. My daughter had for the past six months been persistently insisting that I sit with her through a one hour offering of Indian film on a paid channel. She would extol the virtue of the actors, the dexterity of the script writer and of course their inimitable style and setting. To her the best thing in home entertainment in the last one year or so is the various Bollywood offerings, now the main stay of the leading pay channels in Nigeria. Gradually and robustly the Indian films have made a return and have taken over the Nigerian film market pushing the Nollywood to the background.
And there are a plethora of reasons why Nollywood is in decline. The major one is that it has failed to adapt to the changing times and cater to the taste and predilections of its patrons. The operators of Nollywood are serving what they think the people want rather than what they actually want in terms of entertainment. Nollywood across genres is stuck with the old ways of filming and storytelling. There is no innovation, no new style just a concatenation of boring stuff with very few exceptions. The Yoruba genre is the worst in this regard. It is still trapped with tired and old actors with stereotypical nuances who can no longer connect with the audience. Its tragic film is melodramatic, its comedy farcical and its romantic offerings very banal. The themes are repetitive and often times thoughtless with a bundle of offensive contraptions and contradictions. And its attempt at sub titling would have been hilarious but for the aspersion it casts on the intellectual capacity of its drivers and the race from where it takes its bearing.
The Nigerian Nollywood industry will continue its downward trend for there is no attempt by its leading lights and regulators to halt the slide. By the day they continue to break with impunity all the known rules of drama and treating viewers as those who will settle for anything however mediocre. My daughter’s reason for not watching Nollywood is that all the films are the same. When you have watched one you have watched all, no innovation, no ingenuity just the same story line. She recounted a Nollywood film where the main actor was shot in the head with blood oozing out only for his legs to be bandaged and dripping with blood in the subsequent hospital scene. The gunshot wound in the head in the preceding scene had miraculously vanished. The director had apparently forgotten to tie the loose end. Of course may be there was even no script, a regular practice in Nollywood where stories are the product of whims and caprices of Producer/director. Such absurdity would not occur in a Bollywood film.
After a lot of persuasion I sat with her through one of the offering from India and I was almost converted. The acting was near perfect and the storyline very similitude with the event of actual life. What more all the ingredients of drama were present. Good dialogue, suspense, hero, song and more that made you sat glued to the screen. The rise of Bollywood especially at this time of economic meltdown is double jeopardy for Nigeria. Nollywood that should provide some cushion to the ailing economy through rise in its sale and perhaps export earning is itself on the canvass. I am sure more and more actors are getting less and less from their trade and some may even be out of business by now.
Let nobody plead lack of patriotism here. People go for the best and a good advertisement cannot sell a bad product twice. The Nigerian Film Corporation and the Censors Board, Actors Guild of Nigeria and other stakeholders should be aware of the clear and present danger posed to their trade by Bollywood. They should come together and rescue this once vibrant industry from its steady decline into the abyss of irrelevance.
The first step is to prescribe minimum standard for all films that will bear the Nollywood imprimatur. There is also a need for retraining of all persons involved in the film industry for if you continue to do something the same way you will continue to get the same old result. And the era of a single man as director, producer, editor and lead actor cum costumier belongs to the past.
If local consumers are rejecting Nollywood offerings, its fate outside the shores of Nigeria is better imagined. Outright repudiation of course. Nollywood must reinvent itself in order for it to bounce back and return to winning ways.