Writing Reflections 8 – Nigerian Cinema and the Writing Form

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I often think it’s the inter-parallel equations that silently work to measure and thread varied passions within an individual’s singular destiny. A love for the cultural arts has long helped me banish what might have otherwise proved a stereotyped personality and instead allowed me to embrace one, laden with fascinating complexities.

These days, I am able to easily distinguish the glimpse of new discoveries in my renewed life as a writer.  With a real celebration of this aptitude, I   absorbed an unexpected fruitful lesson just the other day, from world cinema.

On free nights, I do from time to time relish cultural films or documentaries.

Generally, I purchase films that appeal in a certain tantalising manner. I don’t tend like many do, to borrow or rent them. I have a serious burgeoning collection hidden away in my cupboard.

The majority of endearing ones stay the slightly alternative European, Asian, Persian and Middle-Eastern stories, that hinge their  persuasive charms on  generational  family life especially those which highlight the artistry of cuisine, culinary journeys or the romantic moods of tender, rural landscapes, wound into elaborate village tales.   I am bowled over for instance, by gatherings set around a crowded dinner table, breakfasts in the gardens, wine toasts that tiptoe with gentle docility upon the remnants of  an earlier argument in the dining room, picnics that hover close to a wild windy sea…in other words, a creative sumptious menu that may just as well, tempt the mind’s palate with the aesthetic pleasures of taste and this, complete with unforgivable generosity.

I am also a diligent viewer of classic British sleuths, a jolly hobby I’ve pursued from girlhood.  Naturally, my choice of Midsomer Murders and Hetty Wainthropp Investigates episodes are likely to follow suit.  Still, nothing is complete without my carefully packed away boxed set featuring a memorable American tv comedy, Everybody Loves Raymond. I never tire of losing myself with unescapable joy in the re-runs.

When I travel,  I slip my favourite dvds into my luggage.  This  allows me to dissolve my restlessness into the allure of a remembered film, providing of course, that the sandman cooperates and discreetly fails to arrive in a foreign hotel room.  Perhaps too,  if I’ve had a good day lapping up the outdoors or when nostalgia impatiently beckons, I’d happily reward myself with a film. Often, I observe in a silent way, the technical aptitude of how scripts are written…the kaleidoscope of images that make for sharp sorrow or comedy  bending to its wry humour and especially the motley characterisation in film that offer countless ready ideas for the novel.

To me personally, literature and the cinematic arts connect more closely in my life than I dare imagine.

Of late, I have found myself cheerfully devouring Naija films, complete with its enchanting pidgin English lingo. I love African cinema as it often serves the perfect reminder of my Tanzanian friends. An overwhelming nostalgia slyly enthralls before I soon find myself yet again on a flight, halfway around the world.

In modern Nigerian cinema, where so many impressive stories are based on expansive plots locked away in rural villages or  rambling bungalows in Lagos; I have soaked  with delight the eccentric characterisation of say, the over-zealous church goer, the witch doctor, the wicked mother-in-law, the greedy landlord or a jealous sibling. Then there is the roomful of fashionable, flamboyant wives…the hangout of jobless husbands…the rushing footsteps of the noisy inquisitive neighbour….the stingy angry farmer…all sorts.  At first, I found myself engaged in these robust films,  simply for pleasure and as a hallmark for one of my more ideal forms of a vibrant escapism.

Then on a more serious note, I must say that despite the extravagance of intricate plots and numerous characters, I began to recognise the evolvement of the screenplay itself to be very tight.  This,  especially when wound around  the more colourful modern folktales produced  by the local Yoruba people whose communities reside mostly in Western Nigeria. The Yoruba language is one of the Niger-Congo family of languages.

No doubt, the respective film-makers seem to own a high talent for lavish ancient traditions, rituals and profound religious philosophies  in particular…a trait that often inspires and astonishes me. I notice that while a major plot and its accompanying series of sub-plots are all  bound by complicated twists and turns, they finally come together like rivulet ribbons to a welcoming brook and rather seamlessly too, in that tie-up to  a superb finish.

It wasn’t too long before I was happily seduced, caught in rapt attention by these stories and desired to create characters like these for my own tales. Oh…what excitement when I discovered this wanting! I couldn’t understand my bliss following such an encounter but knew the desire to be forthcoming and getting stronger as I studied varied films with real earnestness in a way that I purported to be educational and consistent.

Then to my surprise, I recognised the reason why I myself, was now drawn to create a party of lively boistrous characters, all boastful of skeletons in the cupboard. But do I dare… What exhilaration! What a challenge!

Ironically, this goes against my reclusive self in real time of late. In recent weeks, I have presently, pulled away from the online crowd. I can’t remember when I last left a comment or engaged in superficial banter.  In fact, I shudder at the  lost time.  I have certainly grown far  more reserved about my daily activities.  I am more guarded definitely. Lost in the new luxury of an intoxicating writing world,  I have for  the present moment, left  the  past to fend for itself come what may.  I myself with bowed head prefer to get on with my journey with nary a thought that my voice should add any more clamour to feisty opinions already alive and kicking.  Thus,  I have  returned full circle to once more resembling the shy violet lass, readily apparent when I had turned 20 and some.

For years, some of my best writing steeped from a taut individualistic self which commands a style of its own but could just be rigid in the way of experimentation. I  often observed enthralling pastoral happenings as a fly on the wall, lending its invisible ear to many things while gleaning secrets within my shy, quiet self…  As the owner of varied musings, I subconsciously became concerned never to intrude upon the broken heart of a lover or disturb the melancholic orchestra being strung by the merry herring gulls. I do possess a skill for this guardian angel watchfulness, I admit.

I remembered also that when  in my 20s, I wrote children’s plays for Radio Malaysia and much of these drama, were often extravagant in personality with a host of different voices scattered clumsily  in excitable speech.  A handful of  characters would chatter or yell with  enthusiastic flutter above each other’s heads, all at once.  I recalled that one  of my  early children’s plays lay  in how a devout, secret team of  spiders and lizards worked together throughout the dark night, so as to rescue a tearful picture on a wall from being sold to a dank shop in another town. What a ticklish kerfuffle I had created on the page!  Strange when you think of how I had pictured myself, a bashful introvert in earlier years but  at the same time, an easy extrovert with the representation of my children’s stories.

In later years, the opposite happened. I became nothing short of an extrovert while my career would steadfastly sprout wings with magazine journalism.  To my great surprise, I flourished in assignments that included having to conduct candid interviews with several showbiz personalities.  Again very much unlike my old self, when I travelled – and this followed up from the magazine journalism career – I found myself all the bolder. I was more inclined to chat with strangers in an assortment of settings when called upon to introduce myself and you know, just the public glare of airports says it all.

Around this time, I turned the introvert with my artistic craft. Beautiful words all readily composed if I may dare to describe them myself and slightly distinct too, but my manuscripts represented a form of writing that stayed  attuned to a quieter rhythm.   As a broad example, there lingered, only just the one voice observing, whispering, sketching and reciting thoughts in a poetic demeanour and that one voice was me.

This is what Nigerian cinema unearthed about my personal history  which confirms my theory that every race and heritage has the ability to soar across a boundary, that all of the universal cultural arts are interlinked in some way. And in that, that a culture so foreign as Nigeria, could teach me this surreal quality about myself. Wonderful isn’t it. This is what makes me currently so excited about travel, even if it may be nothing more this time round, than just to familiar locations, so as to research and write my novel.  Still,  the flavours and charms of the orient all beckon, to thoughtfully introduce me to new worlds inter-connected and bathed in light. – susan abraham

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