Film & TV

Anikulapo: A review of Kunle Afolayan’s ‘masterpiece’

Anikulapo: A review of Kunle Afolayan's 'masterpiece'

At first glance, Anikulapo looks like your typical Nigerian Yoruba movie. With its rural setting and slew of starring actors, it looks like something you might stumble upon while surfing Africa Magic channels after a stressful day at work.

However, a few things soon began setting it apart, foremost of which is the director, Kunle Afolayan, who is known to go unapologetically unhinged with his creativity. Folk-themed stories are usually a go-to for Kunle Afolayan, stories that walk a tightrope between reality and fantasy, and Anikulapo jumps into this right off the bat.

The second is its platform. While Anikulapo is available to watch in Nigerian cinemas, it was primarily released to Netflix as a Netflix-branded film, and is Kunle Afolayan’s third in a deal with the streaming service, following Swallow and A Naija Christmas. It is an ambitious project, a period fantasy-drama that mixes mystical forces and human nature in early 1700 Yorubaland.

Oh, and a fair amount of sex and nudity, which is kind of a first for Nollywood movies. Bet that got your attention. Well, let’s get into it.

Anikulapo plot 

Anikulapo begins in a very captivating manner; a dead man being brought back to life by a mythical creature called the Akala bird. According to the narrator, in Yoruba folklore, the Akala bird is said to possess the power of resurrection, and when someone dies prematurely, the bird uses this divine responsibility to resurrect them. However, the Akala bird grants them passage to the great beyond if their time is due.

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The movie’s captivating element here is not so much the premise as much as it is the visuals. Nollywood movies have a reputation for some of the worst CGI ever to grace a media screen, but Anikulapo quickly demonstrates that it will not be lumped into that category. While not particularly Hollywood-level, the rendering of the mystical, shadow-shrouded Akala bird is beautiful enough, and a welcome breath of fresh air from something like this…

Nollywood Witchcraft GIF

The Akala bird then proceeds to ask the newly-revived man the cause of his death, and we transition into the story. The man is introduced as Saro, a travelling aso-ofi weaver from Gbogan, who moves to Oyo in search of greener pastures. At first, it looks like his journey would end at the city gates, but then the guards let him in with open hearts. This is an effort to portray how accommodating, and friendly people of the Yoruba culture are (yeah, right).

Saro has nothing initially but is lucky to meet Awarun, a woman of influence and power who owns a clay pot manufacturing business. He falls into her good graces, and she suggests that instead of Saro looking for a partner in his textile business, he should work for her until he’s buoyant enough to start his own business. Luckily, our guy is not so insecure in his masculinity that he ignores her advice and is even happy to ‘scratch her back’, as she has a thing for younger men.

And before I go on, this is just proof that gigolos and cougars have existed in Yorubaland since pre-colonial times.

Awarun turns out to be the ultimate sugar mama, giving Saro a piece of land and a shack with enough space for him to weave his aso-ofi. However, she also takes other lovers, which Saro initially has a problem with, but she brusquely tells him to deal with it. She’s her own woman and will not answer to him or anybody. Deal with it, or shut the door on your way out. Saro chooses wisely. Go feminism!

Meanwhile, there is unrest in the king’s palace, as his harem bicker amongst each other, all hating on Arolake, the youngest queen, for her inability to bear children and also for her status as the king’s favourite. When Awarun helps Saro broker a deal to sell clothes to the queens, he meets Arolake, and is immediately stricken. The strickenness is mutual, and one night on his way home, Saro is ambushed by Arolake, who eats him alive under the moonlight (if you know what I mean).

Suddenly, the mystery of Saro’s dead ass lying in the forest starts to make sense, because everyone knows that kings do not like to share. Sure, oba le gbese le (a king can take as he wills), but it is a one-way transaction, and while Saro’s illicit tryst with the queen might have practically started off as rape, he goes along with it, and of course, it could only end in one way. He is scooped up by all the king’s men, who beat him past the inch of his life, and then there’s the Akala bird, and we’re back where we started. Literally.

And as it turns out, though, Saro’s resurrection is only the movie’s beginning. He and Arolake make their way to the nearby village of Ojumo with the help of a farmer, and Saro soon finds out that he has the power to raise the dead, hence the name Aníkúlápò, which means “the one who holds death in his purse.” And just like a normal human being who suddenly finds himself with power, Saro starts to misbehave.

He takes multiple wives who go ahead to make Arolake’s life another living hell, since she still finds herself without children, and even goes as far as to tell one of them that she used to be a queen who eloped with him.

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The final slap in the face occurs when the prince dies, and in exchange for resurrecting him, Saro demands the princess’s hand in marriage. Rudely, because why not? He got the power, don’t he? Well, not for long; Arolake packs her belongings and leaves, but she sabotages his resurrection totem before she does.

Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned

Anikulapo cast

Anikulapo boasts a star-studded cast, with Kunle Remi playing the lead role of Saro and Bimbo Ademoye as Queen Arolake. Sola Sobowale is the wise and shrewd Awarun, sugar mama extraordinaire, and Taiwo Hassan plays Alaafin Ademuyiwa, the Alaafin of Oyo and Arolake’s first king-husband. Eyiyemi Afolayan, Kunle Afolayan’s daughter, makes her feature film debut as Omowunmi, the daughter of Alaafin’s first wife.

In the film’s second arc, Yinka Quadri is the hunter who leads them to Ojumo. Hakeem Kae-Kazim plays Oba Aderoju of Ojumo, and Fathia Balogun is his queen.

Anikulapo review

Anikulapo has a simple storyline with moral lessons about greed, pride, lies, and broken trust, among a host of other things. But for something so simple, it clocks in at a whopping 142 minutes. That’s 2 hours, 22 minutes! And I know you’re probably rolling your eyes right now, because don’t certain Hollywood movies run longer than that?

Well, those movies have pacing. They have action. There’s an ebb and flow to them that barely makes you realize that time has gone. Anikulapo is not one of them. It is two+ hours of dialogue, interspaced only at intervals by sex scenes and crowdfunded beatings. Points are belaboured, scenes tend to meander (with many unnecessary ones), and the message here is too simple for such a long runtime.

Anikulapo is one of those movies that suffers from “the second half syndrome”; while the first half is good, it’s not half as intriguing as the second. This is where everything that makes the movie a good watch is: the moral lessons of greed, regretting his decisions, and the lack of contentment which leads to Saro’s doom. The backstory of the first half was definitely important to tee up the second, but it needn’t have been so long. Why is a flashback taking an hour? It should have just been glossed over.

It is ironic that Anikulapo is a film trying to teach that sometimes, you are right where you ought to be, but it then goes ahead to fall right into that same trap by overreaching.

But right, right, I’m coming back to the issue of the sex scenes and nudity, because, as it turns out, this has been the movie’s biggest talking point, and for a good reason. Everyone loves a progressive industry, and while some might see nudity in a Nollywood movie as a sign of progress, there’s the time and place. Anikulapo wasn’t it.

Some scenes are used to further a movie’s plot or set a tone. Bimbo Ademoye baring her breasts did neither; it was simply an unprovoked and ultimately too short scene that isn’t worth the backlash it has caused. I, for one, feel it was simply put there to generate controversy, which, in turn, creates publicity, but it is a huge risk that will no doubt eliminate the interest of many viewers.

Hakeem Effect, has come out on Facebook to announce that the breasts were mere prosthetics

And while the film’s SFX makeup artist, Hakeem Effect, has come out on Facebook to announce that the breasts were mere prosthetics that required hours of intense work, it still doesn’t negate the argument that it was not needed.

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Another flaw I would like to point out is how Saro and Arolake’s relationship starts; she jumps his bones in the forest, and he’s not even worried she might be an evil spirit sent to get his seed for some Dormammu ritual; my guy just drops his pants and goes along. And next thing we know, they’re already dating undercover (pun probably intended). I’m not much of a screenwriter, but that’s some pretty lazy writing there.

Anikulapo might have captured the hearts of viewers, but like many Nollywood movies, it has its flaws — baseless scenes, depthless dialogues and missed details. The movie gives a powerful illustration of the Yorubas in the 17th century — how welcoming they were, their polygamous style of marriage, art skills, and ancient folklore and traditions.

But unfortunately, that’s where it ends, and Afolayan describing it as a “Game of Thrones recreated in Nigeria, but with a better representation of our culture (Yoruba culture)” has me scratching my head in confusion. Because I do not see how one CGI smoke-shrouded crow with glowing eyes and a voice like an agbero holds a candle to a fire-breathing dragon that can dracarys an entire city.

The movie frankly does too little for all its hype, especially with the recent outrage from many Nigerians and Afolayan’s reaction post over the Nigerian Oscar Association rejecting Anikulapo’s nomination. Simplicity might be gold, but sometimes it isn’t good enough, and Anikulapo is an example, and calling it a masterpiece is… well, ridiculous.

I’m not saying it isn’t a good enough watch; it is, if you like talk-heavy movies. But don’t be surprised if you fall asleep halfway, especially when you realize that it practically starts after the hour mark.

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A couple of unexpected turns in life found Jimmy with a metaphorical pen in hand, churning out content and living in his head so much that he knighted himself the Pen Dragon. He is also an avid reader, gamer, drummer, full-blown metalhead, and all-round fun gi
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