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Film Review: In an industry drowning in cliches; Kasala is a breath of fresh air

Kasala

In an interesting twist, one of the most refreshing movies to come out of Nollywood in a long time has no big name leading lady attached, isn’t fronted by a comedian turned actor, wasn’t made by committee and appears to have little marketing spend.

Set over the course of a single day in a Surulere, Lagos suburb, Kasala is a hugely relatable comedy of errors centering on four young men, their wits and a borrowed car. Written, shot and directed by Ema Edosio who describes the project as the first film she has made in her voice, Kasala has an endearing originality and a welcome grittiness that makes it largely authentic even with its flaws. Edosio and her team must be looking to lean in on this authenticity to make Kasala a financial success in a crowded December pool.

Already a Viewer’s Choice winner at the Africa International Film Festival (AFRIFF), Kasala, like the title suggests, benefits from chaos and a certain amount of displacement in plotting the arc of the major characters. The story is simple really. Four friends, Chikaodi (Mike Afolarin), Effiong (Tomiwa Tegbe), Abraham (Chimezie Imo) and TJ (Emeka Nwagbaraocha) who make the silly mistake of taking an uncle’s car out on a spin, must deal with the consequences of involving the car in an accident.

Kasala follows the boys as they race against time, employing every tool at their disposal- and some that aren’t- to make amends and save TJ from the wrath of his crazed relative. The boys aren’t exactly smart, and this observation is apparent as they crash from one harebrained scam into the other, but it is in this foolishness that Kasala finds most of its humor.

The shrewdest of the gang happens to be Tegbe’s Effiong who acts as the de facto leader and decision maker, although he is challenged at every turn by the haplessness of the others. The untenable situation, and the ways that each boy chooses to work around it presents an opportunity for Edosio to not only move her story along but also work in some quick character development at the same time.

The characters aren’t exactly three-dimensional and the time constraint of the story doesn’t give much room for any detailed character development but Edosio is able to in some quick scenes, throw some light into some of their personal situations and challenges, away from the hustle. Edosio reverts to clichés at key moments such as one where she frames a character’s sexuality as a product of ongoing abuse but she does it with as light a touch as possible and almost gets away with it. Almost.

Supported by the terrific musical contribution from IBK Spaceship Boi, Kasala is the rare Nollywood film that knows what it is about and sticks to the program from start to finish with impressive singularity. A road movie, the pacing is brisk and the handheld, docu-feel camera work vibes well with the constant motion of the characters. The characters are not just the only ones calculating, Edosio is also on her feet, throughout the process, engaging her mind and senses in figuring interesting angles to attack from, to keep the story engaging. She succeeds for the most part.

Kasala’s biggest triumph has to be the casting of the central foursome. The chemistry that oozes out of their gathering is pure gold and Edosio is ever present, capturing moments that feel so real and true to life. No one is working to outshine the other but Chimezie Imo rises to the occasion in a fleeting moment where he is required to bring to the surface, his character’s as yet unexpressed demons.

As the lovable superstar wannabe, Nwagbaraocha is a winner but his accent betrays the play that he is Yoruba. Jide Kosoko, Sambassa Nzeribe, Judith Audu-Foght and Gabriel Afolayan in cameo roles, give the picture some support and help elevate it from its modest student project beginnings.

It may not have been Edosio’s intention, but Kasala captures and documents for posterity, the stark beauty and resilience of the Nigerian youth. Wrongly profiled by a president who rode to power on their backs and constantly undercut by a country that takes more than it gives, young Nigerians continue to find legitimate outlets for self-expression.

Behind the scenes drama leading to the film’s big screen release is sufficiently Nigerian too. Kasala’s crowd-pleasing story is considerably more representative of contemporary Nigeria than the shiny romantic dramas with pretty leads set in baroque mansions. Still, Kasala had to go and find some measure of success across the pond, in the international festival circuit, before it was welcome in Nigeran cinemas.

But better late than ever.

Rough as it is- sound, continuity gaps, flat structure- Kasala pulls through on its charms. Edosio’s film shows us a bit of ourselves and deserves to be preserved somewhere for its cultural significance.

If only we valued our own.

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