By Muhsin Ibrahim
It’s usually in the evening when CTV or NTA, Kano would show a TV series and serials of Hadarin Qasa, Zaman Duniya, Hana Wani Hana Kai and others in the early and the middle 1990s. Watching those dramas was usually a family affair—parents, their kids and often the children from the neighborhoods would sit together and enthusiastically watch them. No one feel embarrassed for anything that would be shown, said, symbolized or implied in those dramas. It was, literally speaking, just fine for people of all ages and all classes. But that is no longer the case. We today have dramas whose actors are often only Hausa in language but not in character and dress.
They are starkly unlike what we used to see those days. This is more so in the Hausa feature films, hence the context for this article. For the dramas, not everyone has the cable satellites and dish antennas that broadcast them on channels like Arewa24, Farin Wata, Dadin Kowa, Africa Magic Hausa, etc. But the films are far widespread and very popular.
The Hausa video film was born in 1990. It began with Turmin Danya (The Draw) by Timbin Giwa Theatre Group, and later many more others such as Gimbiya Fatima, Abin Sirri Ne, Gagare, Simbiqa, etc. came forth. Their presentation style, except on extremely rare cases as in Alhaki Kwiykwiyo, Mutu Ka Raba and a very few others, were still largely family-friendly. Even those exceptions generated downright censure and condemnation for their portrayal of what could, or should, only happen in private: a couple on the bed, a man holding a woman, etc. I believe those filmmakers and actors learned their lesson in a bitter way, hence never repeated it. Film is done for the public consumption, thus the need to produce what is acceptable in the culture and the religion of the public.
Things however fell apart in the later years of filmmaking in Kano, the epicenter of film production and consumption in northern Nigeria, hence their appellation: Kannywood. Culturally-wise, many observers cite the infiltration of several non-Hausa/Fulani in the film business as the genesis of what is perceived as the debasement of Hausa film. Watching films with a family became a big deal. In songs after songs, in particular, actresses began doing a big business with their assets, and that soon appealed to their teeming youth-majority audience. The actresses, whom are mostly flat, competed for their mastery of break and hip-hop dance flair in curves revealing jeans, T-Shirts, and other Western wears, and not their ability to act well. The song and dance routine soon became the signature for a successful Hausa film (remember Guda?).
Although several religious scholars and concerned individuals denounced such presentations, the trend continued unabated until the infamous (Maryam) Hiyana hiatus, as Prof. Abdulla Uba Adamu called it. That put a pause to that bothersome vogue. Film business was completely banned until much later.
The New Era
Kano state government has already established a censorship board and saddled it with the responsibility to monitor the relationship between films, imported or indigenous, and society in Kano. The Board was, following the Hiyana phone-porno scandal, empowered to approve or disapprove the release of any film by the Kannywood; and to ban any film released without its consent or in case of any foreign film found obscene or harmful in the market. Doubtless, this brought a drastic change in the film industry.
One could not thus see the usual seductive song and dance sequence that used to characterize Hausa films. There were, though, a few cases of defiance, the ‘defaulting’ individuals were mostly tried and fined or jailed.
A New Trend
In his second tenure as the governor of Kano, Engr. Rabi’u Kwankwaso was chiefly viewed as pro-Kannywood for his tacit approval of their activities in the state. They, nay some of them, breathed the air of freedom and liberty. For instance, on 21 September 2013, the Censorship Board banned and prosecuted the makers of a film entitled Kara’in Ibro, but let its protagonist, whose name is even an appendage of the film’s title, went scot-free. The current government of Dr. Abdullahi Ganduje is basically the continuation of its predecessor’s. Therefore, more ‘defaulting’ filmmakers were, and continue to be, untouched in the fight against indecency in Kannywood, apparently due to their political ties. This has given the filmmakers an acquiescence to do what they wish.
No Longer a Family-Friendly Affair
Today, Hausa filmmakers are retrogressing in terms of decency and decorum. As I have noticed lately in a number of films such as Mijin Aro, Garbati, Gidan Kitso, Dillaliya, Duduwa among others, a newer trend of flouting cleavage by actresses is taking the centre stage. Several actresses unashamedly bare the upper part of their breasts to the world, taking no notice that their prime audience—Hausa people—are notoriously culturally prudish on one hand, and consider exposing one’s nakedness against Islam on the other.
I particularly see this as an issue, for it started like that in other film industries and they are now where they are. As young as I am, I can recall the old good days we used to watch Indian films on Sundays. As an assault, the antagonist would often try to strip the protagonist’s wife, mother or sister but that was only inferred through pulling her dupatta. To the displeasure and discomfort of many in India—and I have firsthand information—much more than that is now shown in their films.
The retrogression is even more glaring in the language spoken in Hausa films. While watching the films with your younger ones, the best way to hide the embarrassment is to, time and again, pretend not listening to their foul language, or pick up a book, phone or anything beside and pretend reading.
The films are becoming something else. Many of them are thematically empty (see NAS, etc), their stories fragmented and plotless (see Mijin Aro, etc), or are mere copycats of mostly Bollywood films (see Kudiri, Gwaska, etc), while others do contain little or nothing that bear similarity with the people they purportedly (re)present (see Mallakamin Dukiyar Ka, etc). Only a few others are worthy of any serious attention (see Wani Gari, Mati da Lado, Hindu, etc). Those, among other reasons, are why their films are largely disparaged, disdained and under-studied by scholars and lack attention in the global arena the way they ideally deserve.
Ibrahim writes from Kano. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, @muhsin234