WHEN BEING FAITHFUL ISN’T A VIRTUE-
THE ADAPTATION OF FOLKTALES IN CONTEMPORARY MEDIA :
A GLANCE AT THE ADAPTATION OF AN IDOMA FOLKTALE IN THE MUSICAL FILM INALE.
A GLANCE AT THE ADAPTATION OF AN IDOMA FOLKTALE IN THE MUSICAL FILM INALE.
To begin, I must agree with a friend of mine who suggested that the title of this piece might be misleading, for this is not some high academic expose. I will attempt to justify the title.
I grew up, like most others around me, on folktales. Whether they were indigenous or foreign, there was always a good dose of didactic stories which gained notoriety through repetition. So I recall the Hausa folktales (to which every aunt and uncle added some twist of their own) my favourite being the story of Bakin Wake who sacrificed himself to save the village [from which the Hausa word for suicide bomber- dan kunar bakin wake is derived from. I also recall English folktales which I learnt in school. The modern relevance of folktales is seen in the many adaptations of folktales into cartoons and films whether it be Snow White, Cinderella or The Water Horse. I find that one of the advantages of folktales is their simplicity and their timelessness. Folktales lend themselves to easy transmission into different situations and time periods. However one challenge with the adaptation of folktales is that sometimes the reliance on the easy and timeworn symbols and metaphors which characterises many of them, can make the adapted work unforgivably bland, predictable and boring.
Before I discuss INALE, the ambitious new Nigerian movie by Jeta Amata, produced by Keke Bongos let me say a little about adaptation of folktales in film. I found the definition in The Greenwood Encyclopaedia of Folktales and Fairy Tales by Donald Haase quite useful. The author defines adaptation as the process that occurs when folktales and fairytales are changed into new versions or variants in the course of their transmission. The adaptation can take one of two broad forms: duplication, where there is a faithful retelling of old tales intact with core ideologies and predicable moral lessons OR revision, is the critical adaptation where the new version implicitly questions, challenges or subverts the story thereby suggesting a different approach to previously settled notions and ideas.
INALE is according to the movie’s official website, ‘a folklore told in Otukpo, Benue state... a tale about true love, betrayal, family, duty and tradition; the first Nigerian musical ever in celluloid.’
Ok, so let’s go straight into the story, or my summary of it. A white American grandfather tells his granddaughter a tale from one of the many places he has visited- the Idoma tale of a beautiful princess who is in a love affair with Ode. To gain her hand in marriage, Ode must follow the tradition of wrestling all who want to challenge him for her hand in marriage. It is a free for all contest. Ode wrestles and beats all the contestants but one- a stranger from a nearby enemy village. He loses in a fair fight and loses Inale. The King is honourable and lets his daughter follow the prince of a rival village who has won her in a fair fight. Rules are rules. On her way to the village of her husband-to-be the maid with whom she travels drowns her and lies to Inale’s sister that she commited suicide at the thought of being with a man she didn’t love. Inale’s sister falls for it and hatches a plan to let the maid impersonate Inale so that the rival village doesn’t see it as a provocation that Inale isn’t delivered. The maid reaches the village, becomes queen and starts maltreating the princess as her slave. Ode who cant bear to lose his Inale runs to the village to challenge the prince for Inale. On his way Inale appears to him as half human half fish and tells him that if he doesn’t wrestle the prince and beat him by sunset she will become a full fish and will be gone forever. He goes to the village, convinces the prince to wrestle him, loses quite a number of times again, but wins the last time. The crown prince who is honourable lets him take Inale. The only hitch is, Inale isn’t Inale but an ambitious maid turned queen. Ode tells him what he has to do and they both run to save Inale before sunset. They have to smoke the fish part of her to make her human. They try and it seems they have failed. They mourn her through the night. But at sunrise she is suddenly alive. They rejoice.
The movie was shot on celluloid which made the production good to look at, and the songs of the legendary Bongos Ikwue were a beautiful accompaniment to the story. Indeed for the first five minutes it was hard to tell whether it was an American or Nigerian production. The songs were performed beautifully with stellar performances by Dede Mabiaku who played King Oche, Inale’s father.
Inale is an adaptation you could call a duplication. There was an attempt it seems to faithfully retell the Idoma folktale. Now, seeing as there is nothing sacrosanct about a folktale which precludes it from being improved upon or scripted for the best dramatic effect I thought that its being faithful to the folktale didn’t add any dramatic value to the film. In fact it made the adaptation bland, and predictable. I wondered if it was the laziness of the script writer or the deliberate disingenuousness of the production that made it so bland. The culture that the film sought to portray was heavily undermined by, in my opinion, the directors camera which didn’t really give us a feel of the dance, (the camera kept going round the masquerades and dancers instead of showing us the dance itself, as it did during the wrestling match) and what is an African musical without dance! I found this grossly lacking.
Let’s look at the tale itself before we get back to the production. A musical in my opinion is not an excuse for a script lacking drama. Again, I kept wondering if Ode, who was touted as Inale’s saviour was portrayed as having any honour at all. He LOST Inale in a FAIR contest. There was no cheating. To have him run after Inale like a little child whose paper kite has been blown off by the wind made him look more weak than strong. He was a sore loser, that’s it. There was no justification moral or otherwise for him getting Inale after clearly losing fair and square several times over. Now this part of the tale could have been remedied by tweaking the tale a little bit to provide a real justification for Ode deserving Inale. This is the hard job of a script writer who is adapting a folktale for screen- to preserve the core elements of the tale while adding value by way of drama and content, both of which was utterly lacking in the beautifully produced movie.
Another thing I found was that the maid-turned-Inale-impersonator was not handled properly. The maid seemed to come out of nowhere with this ambition of becoming great. There is no background to her and all we see of her before her betrayal is her in the background like any of the other extras in the movie. So her rise to prominence was sudden and without basis. A little background would’ve helped. Now one could argue (as someone did while we were watching the movie) that it was good for suspense. In theory, I agree. But in INALE, no such suspense was achieved. Again i emphasize that it takes more than an ordinary script writer to adapt a known folktale for screen and make it worth 90 minutes of our time.
I said earlier that I liked the rendition of the Bongos Ikwue songs, the most prominent of which was my personal favourite ‘Cockcrow at Dawn’. I thought however that this song should have been edited for the musical which was set in a time in Idomaland where there were not even bicycles. Dede Mabiaku, or King Oche, sang: ‘will he ever get there...where the traffic never jams...’
Surely he wouldn’t be talking about ‘traffic jams’ where people walked barefoot between villages. The song, the singer and the context were clearly incongruous, making a mockery of the entire scene. I thought that since the movie was ambitiously called a musical, more attention should have paid to the songs and have them also adapted for the purpose and the story. Typically, the highlights and most dramatic moments of a musical are done in song. It is very important that the writers make very good use of the lyrics for each song as this will be the vehicle for telling most of the story. In the case of Inale, the songs were already written and what could have been done would have been the harmonisation of the song and the story. Not much attention was paid to this.
One of the crucial points of the movie which were a great cause of concern to me was the wrestling match which I mentioned earlier. Dance and choreography are also important elements of a good musical and the wrestling scene could have been used to introduce the movie as a compelling musical. The director however chose to gloss over the wrestling itself as if it was unimportant. The wrestling scenes, were just embarrassing for a movie that claims to be a musical. I will refer to a classic here. West side Story as a very successful musical made good use of this dance/fight technique. The fight scenes were done entirely in dance and carefully choreographed. I am not by any means comparing INALE with West Side Story, but it seems basic that a key scene (one of the most important for INALE) in a musical which has a fight where the hero loses his lover should be more dramatic. Here were two potentially amazing wrestling scenes, both central to the story, capable of being the high points of INALE, squandered.
I say again that an African musical without dance is no musical! It is not enough for the characters to sing beautiful songs at intervals. At every point the score has to be deliberate and calculated for dramatic effect, not melodramatic as was the case with a lot of the singing in INALE. There seemed to be a forcible thrusting of the songs on the script where there seemed to be any similarity between song and story.
So, why did I begin with all the academic noise in the beginning? Someone insisted that the movie was based on an Idoma folktale and thus they had to be faithful to the tale. My opinion is, not necessarily. The producers could have stayed faithful to the tale without sacrificing the drama. Again they could have stayed faithful to the tale but used the songs for the desired dramatic effect. However, they didn’t have to stick completely to a tale that was bland and predictable. If they insisted they could have improved upon it. No story is so bad that it cannot be improved upon.
My verdict? It is a tremendously ambitious attempt at producing a musical. The effort is commendable and it is good to see Nigerians who aren’t afraid to spend good money to get quality. However its ambitiousness seemed to be its own undoing. More time and resources seemed to be pumped into the production to the detriment of the very basis of the film- the script. Lazy scripting, good production, lack of attention to important detail. And I say important detail because certain unimportant details seemed to get attention, almost as if the producer/director wanted more to impress the Nigerian audience than to make a good film. Case in point, Inale’s fish tail in the water. Impressive. But unimportant.
The acting I considered very good with impressive performances by almost all the characters. Casting is the one aspect I didn’t have any problems with. The songs by Bongos Ikwue are timeless and the renditions were good.
As a musical I wouldn’t rate it very highly, but as a debut project, considering the tremendous constraints Nigerian professionals have to deal with, I would say it is commendable.
elnathan john. 2010
ALL PICTURE CREDITS: www.inalethemovie.com