How ‘Omo Ghetto: The Saga’ Upends the Standard Narrative

Posted on January 24, 2021


The standard narrative of the fast-paced action movie featuring bad men versus the larger society, from Hollywood to Bollywood, is that the bad guys win consistently for most of the tenure of the picture, and lose their luck in the end, when, as the novelist says, “everything good” overcomes.

In Omo Ghetto: The Saga, released last Christmas and still running in cinemas all over Lagos, Nigeria’s culture hub, director Funke Akindele upends the accepted plot making norm.

Time after time, the really evil boys come close to winning the grand ticket to fortune through several of their dastardly ways, and then lose everything, each in a manner that sets off an uproar of laughter in the hall.

This is a very funny movie, but Ms. Akindele’s creation saddles itself with a much larger responsibility than the gangster comedy that it is: dishing out subtle life lessons as subtext even as the shootings, the kicks and groans and the menacing street language, come through every minute of the flick.

As a comedy, Omo Ghetto: The Saga should be an unlikely film to compare with Kemi Adetiba’s King of Boys, a serious, crime-in-the-politics movie which follows the money from the muscle to the ballot box, or Ramsey Nuoah’s Living in Bondage: Breaking Free, where the cult wins and wins until the end. But it’s not an unlikely comparison, because this new film takes on very big issues and sorts them out big, in its own way.

The story of a young lady who chooses ‘area girl lifestyle’ in Askamaya ghetto, over her access to opulent living in Lekki’s upmarket Amen Estate, Omo Ghetto: The Saga vividly mirrors Nigeria’s fault lines: inequality, life-degrading poverty in the midst of plenty and a desperate wish to escape the oppressive squalor, which pushes many over the hill.

The bad boys are yahoo boys, who contract prostitutes to steal a laptop from a rival gang, on a night that ends with murder in their hands. But there are lanes in the ghetto you shouldn’t cross; Mutambo, (played by the singer Yemi Alade), a gun wielding drug peddler, warns everyone early: “Dey your Lane.”

It should be the best outing for Akindele, who has spent her entire career crafting for herself the stool of Nollywood’s top funnyman. She stretches it thin here; playing two separate individuals with extremely different character traits–the streetwise Lefty, living with her adoptive mother in Lekki but spending most time playing Robbin Hood in the ghetto and Ayomide, a happily married, career woman with two kids, who also mentors young people. They are twins and Akindele plays them in a way that references some of the work of Eddie Murphy.

With heavy make-up work and effective role playing, Akindele eases commendably into these two characters.

It a superb day too for Chioma Akpotha, playing Madam Choko, the bukka owner who readily brandishes a screw driver as her own ‘gun’ in the crime infested ghetto. It is the way Ms. Akpotha, a Nollywood veteran, speaks and demonstrates the Ibo slangs of the street, a sort of harder edged, movie counterpart to the lyrics of the singer Phyno, that recommends her most for a supporting actor’s award.

Brand name recognition is not enough reason why Omo Ghetto:The Saga, could have grossed more at the box office, in a virus infected season, than the highest grossing movies in relatively normal times.

It is also not enough that the audience was keen on going out in the November-December 2020 period, after a long period of restraint. No. This is a movie which you watch and tell everyone else around to go and see.

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