by Wilfred Okiche
Ayamma, the latest from Emem Isong-Misodi and her Royal Arts Academy is a movie musical with the plot revolving around Prince Daraima, the groovy heir to the throne of an Ibibio kingdom blessed with grassy plains, docile citizens and a fair (skinned) maiden Ihuoma (Adesua Etomi) who always has a song brewing in her heart, bursting forth and letting loose at a moment’s notice.
Daraima is betrothed to Ama (Theresa Edem), a princess from a neighbouring village with a habit of using her feminine wiles to get her way and the young couple is all but set to seal the union. On one of his routine communes with nature, Daraima is entranced by Ihuoma’s voice and is determined to seek out this maiden who has succeeded in gladdening his heart so.
At this point it is important to state that in order to enjoy Ayamma appropriately, it is important to suspend belief, not take the script (credited to Vivian Chiji) seriously and abandon any expectations of logical processes. According to the story, Ihuoma’s voice is supposed to be the factor that makes Daraima nearly abandon his sense of responsibility but it must be her beauty that does the trick instead as the music and sound of Ayamma is easily the film’s weakest department.
The songs are mediocre, pseudo-traditional fare that may well be catchy, but are dubbed so egregiously on top of the actors’ performances that anytime Ihuoma or Daraima opens their mouth to sing, the only emotion that is elicited is pity; for the fine actors who in search of daily bread have found themselves drowning in this charade of a musical. The lip synching is done so clumsily and the generous use of autotune is grating. A musical that fails to get the music right is akin to a Nigerian wedding without party jollof.
This development is as expected, much to the chagrin of Ama who in typical hell-hath-no-fury scorn, sees to it that the threat of Ihuoma is nipped in the bud. Permanently too, in a particular scene that jolts some shock and genuine thrills into the entire maudlin affair. She conspires with her brother in law Ekong (Majid Michel) to perfect her scandalous plans and Daraima falls right into this trap.
After suffering some personal tragedy, Daraima inexplicably prohibits further expression of melodies and seals the royal decree with a promise of death. This obviously is at odds with the very nature of chanteuse Ihuoma and it isn’t long before she finds herself in a life and death situation.
Directed in a by the books manner by Chris Eneaji, Ayamma has an interesting enough story going for it but the problem is in the execution, and in the team’s lack of capacity to deliver. Chiji’s screenplay is better suited to the stage than to the structures of the big scene and so the dialogue is closed off, high sounding and overly dramatic.
The actors, especially Theresa Edem and Wale Ojo are game and put in quite the effort but there is only so much they can do with material like this. They inevitably fumble and stumble while groping in the dark. The whole thing dawdles to a climax that is LOL funny in its preposterousness. Everything is reduced to a few lines of dialogue, some not-so-surprising revelations and some forced jubilation.
If you like the late nineties/early noughties kind of Nollywood dramas with their simplistic plotlines and straightforward, relatable narratives, Ayamma may yet be your thing. Expect it to have a longer shelf life on Africa Magic than it will at the cineplexes.