by Wilfred Okiche
Director Asurf Oluseyi has made two shorts,- the AMVCA winning A Day with Death and Hell or Highwater, a sensitive portrayal of being male and gay in Nigeria – but he has a lot of industry goodwill to go round. Goodwill generated the hard way, by his skill with a camera and his continued commitment to excellent standards.
His debut feature length Hakkunde is a product of this goodwill – those of industry players and people he has come in contact with sure, but also of perfect strangers. When Hakkunde was stuck in production limbo, unable to move forward on account of paucity of funds, it was the kindness and generosity of these people that bailed Oluseyi and his team out and helped power the film to its winning conclusion.
In many respects, Hakkunde is the story of contemporary Nigeria, a witty, emotional exploration of what it means to be young and Nigerian. Set in Lagos and Kaduna, Hakkunde places one young graduate’s quest for dignity at the centre of a larger, more encompassing story of resourcefulness, doggedness and the importance of community.
The screenplay, credited to Tomi Adesina is chock-full of weighty themes that could easily have given the film some leaden weight. Instead, it floats like a butterfly and stings with precision, managing to fight the system yet endorse the ruggedness and beauty of same.
There are many times Hakkunde could have headed in the wrong directions in the quest for quick fixes but the team appear to understand their story completely and manage to stay the course. Even when Hakkunde is entirely predictable, it still retains a freshness and a zippiness that ensures viewers will remain engaged for the entire length of the running time.
Hakkunde is really Akande, a jobless graduate of Animal Science from a Nigerian University. Embodied capably, physically, mentally and spiritually by Kunle Idowu who found fame playing a similar character in the NdaniTV hit web comic series, The Interview. Hakkunde is every Nigerian youth who has had to find out the hard way that the land of their birth is far from a bastion of opportunity.
We first meet Akande making a mad dash for life after he accidentally upends the wares on a street hawker. Akande barely has two shillings to rub together. He does the less than noble thing. Folks around here would call him a sharp guy. Truth is Akande merely represents the truth about society. Poverty is neither noble nor honest and the individual is the system. The average person on the street is merely waiting in line to screw over the next person just as hard as he’s been screwed by the system. It isn’t really a government vs. the people picture, it is the people vs the people and the ruling class are merely more successful than most at taking what they need without recourse.
Tired of living with his overbearing sister, Yewande (Toyin Abraham dishing out punchlines with aplomb) as a glorified houseboy, Akande steals from her and hightails it to Kaduna where he hopes to benefit from a government program involving cows. When the program collapses like many government efforts before it, Akande (now Hakkunde to his Northern hosts) must decide whether to go back to Lagos, cap in hand, completely disgraced or make lemonades out of lemons.
Thanks to an amazing cast of characters, including a love interest Aisha played by Rahama Sadau, Akande chooses to stay and fight. Oluseyi takes this time to do a gentle appreciation of Kaduna. Rural life is hard, but easy going and the director uses his lens to find the beauty and the pain.
The welcoming people are represented in the array of Kannywood performers. Apart from Sadau who for the first time since her crossover career, delivers a performance that is commensurate with the hype, Maryam Booth, Aminu Isa Bello and Ali Nuhu make startling impressions.
Oluseyi prefers aerial establishment shots and while they highlight the prettiness he seeks to capture effectively, the frequency with which he applies it sometimes gives him away as a one trick pony. He takes a romantic detour to the famed Kajuru Castle and makes a case for the state as a tourist destination.
The ugliness isn’t glossed over either.
Hakkunde tackles the patriarchy system that encourages cruelty to women and other vulnerables. The film also finds the space to comment on sickle cell anaemia, the abysmal education system and the drug addiction problem crippling the North’s productive age group. It all feels like a little too much but the screenplay has a certain confidence interval that is catching and the director and his actors simply key into it. Adesina’s ear for breezy dialogue is a joy to interact with
It is an interesting challenge asking Kunle Idowu to carry this film. The similarities to his near iconic Frank Donga character are unmistakable, but this is a heavier kettle of fish requiring more nuance and dramatic heft. Idowu rises to the challenge and shows his proficiency. He isn’t as polished an actor as he could be but a director willing to work can yet bring out more from him.
Hakkunde has almost equal amounts of comedy and emotion and a cameo by the late Bukky Ajayi is sure to invoke all kinds of emoticons. The film stumbles at the end when it attempts to manipulate this gesture and adds an extra scene set in a cemetery that is purely an act of overkill, and not the good kind. It is only because the rest of the film is so strong that Hakkunde manages to survive this.
Ideas and talent never made a smoother mix.