As more and more audiences are losing confidence in Play Network’s ability to deliver a stellar homage-paying film, a question film journalist, Anita Eboigbe, asked comes to mind: “Has Play Network Studios fallen from grace?”…
By Seyi Lasisi
Archivists have one unifying trait: they try to grapple with the past. Their often solitary attempt to preserve records of archaic materials gets rewarded when people beam searchlights seeking their lost history. Motion pictures, as much as stacked documents, are a depository of the past. They bear testament and witness to a receding era. Charles Okpaleke has somewhat embroidered the word “archivist” around his name. It is an appellation his filmmaking outlet, Play Network Studios, has earned him. The business mogul’s debut entrance into Nollywood was with a distinct filmmaking approach: the remake of old Nollywood titles.
Avoiding falling prey to the industry “winning genres” (rom-com and slapstick comedy), Okpaleke decided to visit the past for “nostalgic purpose,” a decision that has earned Okpaleke and his studio an enviable career history. Living in Bondage: Breaking Free is the remake of the Chris Obi Rapu-directed Living in Bondage. It is the studio’s first outing, and Ramsey Nuoah’s directorial debut. With a box-office return of over N160 million during its cinema run, and winning seven awards at the 2020 Africa Magic Viewers’ Choice Awards (AMVCA), the debut appearance cues the effectiveness of Okpaleke’s filmmaking cum business strategy. Three years after its debut appearance, the studio seems to be losing its alluring charm.
After Living in Bondage: Breaking Free, the studio has gone on to acquire the intellectual property of other old Nollywood titles. The earliest childhood memories of certain Nigerians of specific age brackets were formed around these old titles. In Play Network’s resume of acquired titles are Living In Bondage: Breaking Free, Rattlesnake: The Ahanna Story, Glamour Girls, Nneka the Pretty Serpent, Osoufia Goes to Miami, Aki and PawPaw, and Tade Ogidan’s Diamond Ring. Over its lifespan, the studio has continually built its distinct forte. With the remake of the 1999-produced Karashika confirmed, the studio is embracing, in full force, its old strategy. Play Network has been known for its timely news release. Unlike its peers, the studio announced the speculated release date of its films earlier. The studio announced the release date of some of its projects and the production of a non-acquired film, The Six. This announcement was welcomed with mixed reactions from Nollywood audiences. Unfortunately, one of the popular consensus in the reaction is the question of when Play Network’s preference for remakes and sequels will come to an end.
Family pictures are a repository of history. By scanning through family pictures, the family history that precedes the birth of unborn members is laid plain in pictures. Dampened by age, these pictures, which occupy variant places in the room, are relics from the past. Remake shares this powerful trait, too. The motion pictures, a collage of moving pictures, is rife with history. By watching a remake film, with tweaks in the cast and storyline, the audiences are introduced to an era that has fluttered past. Okpaleke’s acquired films veer off the original by changing crew and cast members. These remade films by the virtue of their existence instill curiosity about the original. This curiosity leads to the watching or re-watching of the old Nollywood classics. This leads to a trans-generational conversation among film enthusiasts. It is a trans-generational conversation that intersects between the past and present.
Remakes, besides their potential of introducing younger audiences to classical films from a past epoch, also serve as a meter. The films could be used to measure the advancement or stagnancy the movie industry has undergone. In its rebranding of Nollywood classics from the 90s, Play Network confirms the affectionate approval the original enjoyed in its lifetime. Luxurious settings, gadgets, improved dialogue fitting to the contemporary parlance, enhanced cinematography, and editing makes these films visually appealing to watch. And ultimately, the existence of these remakes films is a subtle reminder that the originals are great films.
Play Network projects are now notable for soiling the nostalgic value of its films. Despite the appealing-to-watch images present in the Bunmi Ajakaiye-directed Glamour Girls, it failed to live up to the apex of the original. The loopholes and dangling plot line made the film receive negative domestic response despite gaining traction in the global community on Netflix. Rattle Snake: The Ahanna Story chanced at following up on the success of Living in Bondage: Breaking Free was missed with noticeable inattention to the story. Aki and Pawpaw, aside emphasising Chienedu Ikedieze and Osita Iheme’s affinity for inducing comedy, has minimal attraction. With these films, it seems the nostalgic charm is wearing off. As more and more audiences are losing confidence in Play Network’s ability to deliver a stellar homage-paying film, a question film journalist, Anita Eboigbe, asked comes to mind: “Has Play Network Studios fallen from grace?”
Films, ultimately, are a partnership. The chain of partnership runs from the filmmakers and ends with the audience. This position, as consumers, give the audience a right to be disgruntled when filmmakers fail to fulfill their duty effectively. Ayo Paul is one of the genuinely disgruntled Nollywood audience vocal about Play Network remake. The 27-year-old Nigerian watches old Nollywood films to be familiar with the prevalent societal norms of the 90s. (How Deadly Affairs and Last Girl Standing are inundated with the gender and religious view held in 90s Nigeria, and how filmmakers like Tunde Kelani espouse morality and culture in Saworoide and Koseegbe.)
For Paul, he watches films to feel “transported back to those times because of the way gender roles, religion, culture, and normality are interpreted and conveyed without being forced, with depth and focus.” Like most aggrieved audiences, Paul’s apathy toward Play Network is due to how “shallow they have become.” The remade films lack philosophical depth. “There is no philosophical statement being made or questions being explored. In the new movies it’s about sharp oversaturated colors, unrealistic habits, larger-than-life dreams, faux accents, and celebrity appearances,” Paul concluded.
Film critic, Joseph “Josie” Jonathan’s perception of Play Network remake project is similar to that of Paul. After taking some time to watch some old Nollywood films (notably Rattlesnake, and Osuofia in London), he discovered the focus then was the richness of the story rather than aesthetics. This attention to the story was perhaps influenced by the limited filmmaking equipment at the filmmakers’ disposal. “Perhaps, it is this that caused the careful attention to be paid to the plot development, not the film’s visual aesthetics. Despite the inadequacies which these films had, the plot keeps you glued to your screen,” Josie concluded.
Josie extends his criticism of Play Network to Nollywood’s present preference for glamour over the story. “Nollywood has somehow taken aesthetics too seriously and neglected the importance of a great plot, engaging dialogue, and effective characterization. For some filmmakers, it’s all about glitz and glamour rather than having a compelling story which audiences can relate to,” Josie said. Josie’s comments aren’t to defeat the importance of great lighting, beautiful cinematography, amazing costumes, and make-believe CGI since all these make watching a film worthwhile. Still, for Josie, “there has to be a definite balance so the story which is a major essence of the film doesn’t lose itself in the sea of aesthetics — an issue which is now commonplace in Play Network project.”
Olakunle Martini Akande is one of Nollywood’s go-to editors. He worked on the remade version of Nnneka the Pretty Serpent and Glamour Girls as editor. Speaking about the importance of remaking as an editor, he said “[an editor isn’t] really bothered about the original or limited by the original. For an editor, when it comes to remaking, there really is no interference from the original; the remakes don’t really influence your job.” While the original might affect remakes at pre-production (scripting) and production (directing), during post-production (editing), the editor is just trying to tell a story with the footage in front of him,” Akande clarified.
Akande has a dual response to the question of why remakes are important. His thoughts favour remakes that pay homage to the original with the caveat that they are done better. “Remakes are great; they are fine. You should pay good homage to what you are remaking; don’t make it worse.” He however continued his comment by saying, “I believe you should improve (as a filmmaker) judging that you have better technology and more budget than you had years ago.” His concluding sentence bears the burden of Paul and Josie’s concern about Nollywood remakes: “They are great but I think they should be done very well.”
Remakes are worthwhile endeavours, and as much as Play Network production has largely disappointed consumers, Okpaleke is relentless in his pursuit of remakes. Recently, Zeb Productions, FilmOne Entertainment, and Kayode Kasum’s FilmTrybe confirmed the release date for the updated version of the 24-year-old Domitilla, titled The Domitilla: The Reboot. This is a signal that other film production houses are taking note of Okpaleke’s strategy. As much as audiences and critics’ uproar can’t totally determine the project a filmmaker will choose to do, filmmakers must listen to the audience’s humble plea: make a great film (remake or sequel) with a convincing storyline
Seyi Lasisi is a Nigerian student with an obsessive interest in Nigerian and African films as an art form. His film criticism aspires to engage the subtle and obvious politics, sentiments, and opinions of the filmmaker to see how it aligns with reality. He tweets @SeyiVortex.