IN LOVE AND ASHES REVIEW

EPISODE ONE

After so many years of complaints about the poor audio quality of Nollywood productions, IN LOVE AND ASHES a production of Watershed Entertainment supported by NERI and USAID has shown that perfect sound quality is not the prerogative of Hollywood alone but Nigerian film makers can make the motherland proud of great sound output, a necessary accompaniment to a moving picture.

 

IN LOVE AND ASHES is a daring project in the sense that it delves into the most disturbing issue in Nigeria for the past one decade. And the viewers are about to see the writer and director’s take on the effects of terrorism and insurgency in Africa’s most populous nation.

 

Umar Turaki, the writer/director opens the story on a love note- Emeka(Charles Etubiebi) whose wedding is a few weeks away has to leave his fiancé (Meg Otanwa) for Maiduguri’s IDP Camp on an official assignment. The hasty Emeka is not the only one on assignment at Home Again Foundation IDP Camp in Maiduguri; a female photographer (Nafisat Abdullahi) is equally telling a not so harsh story about Borno and the state capital where love, joy and laughter are still shared.

 

                                              Maryam (Nafisat Abdullahi)

 

Life moves on in Maiduguri amid the horrific happenings; football still draws spectators, lovebirds such as Bukar(Benjamin King) whose father disapproves his craving for soccer and Falmata (Anita Pam) still set appointments and meet them.

 

IN LOVE AND ASHES is an expose driven by suspense. Will multi tasking Uncle Nuhu (Sani Danja) the Home Again Camp Director’s work plan and account book agree?  Will Emeka’s two weeks assignment in the North East be hitch free? His mother(Patience Ozokwor) is worried.  Will Bukar’s injury be the end to his football career? The little Habiba’s hallucination draws the horror of terrorism home.  And the choice of 2baba for the series’ title song is justified following his activism on issues of this nature.

 

EPISODE TWO

The episode two of IN LOVE AND ASHES is a continuation of the story in episode one but other characters are introduced to broaden the scope of the drama series. After losing a brother to Boko Haram, Yaga, a victim of terrorism, is picking up the pieces of his life in Maiduguri where he conveys passengers in his tricycle from one part of the city to the other and revealing his ordeal in the hands of terrorists to his passengers becomes therapeutic for this battered survivor. The picture composition within the tricycle space is commendable especially in the scene where Hyelni (Malvina Patrick) and the tricycle rider carry on a conversation.     

 

IN LOVE AND ASHES tries to explore other cultural phenomena and lifestyles in the North without losing focus on its core assertion as tales of havoc done by the terror group rent the air here and there but that universal love between mother and child is presented to viewers as Bukar’s mother (Deborah Daniel Nyako) relates with her injured son. IN LOVE & ASHES isn’t just another Boko Haram story as the writer educates Nigerians especially the southerners about the diverse and distinct tribes in the North, in other words, not all Northerners are Hausas.

 

Is Maryam (Nafisat Abdullahi), the female photographer, a feminist or a strong willed northern lady? Does pretty girl Falmata (Anita Pam) have a say on who her father suggests she marries?  Every line in IN LOVE & ASHES counts, this complements the pace of the show but how will core Northerners react to the casting; characters such as Bukar and his girlfriend look and act well but lack that natural northern accent.

                                                  Falmata (Anita Pam)

 

The opulent life is enjoyed by the elites in the North East, while the poor who are been relocated to various IDP camps can barely eke out a living, the rich are getting bribed over sumptuous meals and some are considering taking more wives. Such is the lot in Nigeria where the ordeal of the poor hardly concerns the rich who at best would pay lip service.

 

EPISODE THREE

Every episode of the drama series so far features a special appearance. Is that the trend in this genre now, a reminiscent of Empire? 

 

Marriage preparation is re-introduced into the narrative in episode three as Emeka’s fiancé in Lagos engages in telephone conversation with her husband to be but without a doubt the Maiduguri duty is getting the better part of Emeka.

 

And now let’s move from marriage talk to pregnancy, all in the same episode. Even the mother of Christ delivers the Messiah in a manger but IDP camp is one of the worst places a pregnant woman would want to be found. It is good to see Yaga the tricycle man spend time with Hyelni (Malvina Patrick) again, the seriousness he brings to every scene is the height of method acting.  

 

Falmata oozes sex appeal especially on a close up shot, no wonder the men want to have her. And her choice of man in the footballer seems to be beyond her grasp when other weighty family matters are brought to play. 

 

The no nonsense Maryam seems to reserve a soft tone for Nuhu the Home Again IDP Camp director. Could this be a sign that she is dying to be loved behind the tough exterior she maintains while dealing with other men. Nothing gets tougher than her handling of Emeka at a watermelon spot in episode two. But as we see this career woman give Nuhu a ride, her softer side is revealed. And for the cinematography, who says beautiful composition is for pictures in other climes? The angle at which Maryam is filmed while driving is beautiful so is the acting. Episode three of IN LOVE AND ASHES reveals tighter creative camera control so far

 

This episode equally presents one of the most touching lines in the story thus far as Nuhu stands up to overbearing Emeka. Mallam B(Hoomsuk Jibrin)  a shop keeper shines at every small screen time he gets. Every major Character in IN LOVE AND ASHES has a unique struggle and their paths cross as result of the menace of terrorism.

 

 

EPISODE FOUR

The beauty of IN LOVE AND ASHES is in the treatment of an age long practice in the North where the consent of a young girl on her choice of marriage partner is most times overshadowed by the will of her father. As viewers watch Falmata struggle with this critical stage of her life, they forget the horrors of terrorism while other life’s issues occupy their thoughts for a minute, this form of release is good though a burden to Falmata but a lesser evil to a viewer of this theatre of terror.

 

Mallam B, the ever caring shop keeper might just be an enemy within, a sympathetic devotee to the Boko Haram course in disguise but what could be his motivation? And the twist is seen in the way he is incorporating the innocent Bukar into a deadly scheme of his while viewers are gradually been prepared for the unpleasant, the growing interest of Emeka in Maryam is soothing and that is the beauty of life in Maiduguri. As terror looms, love builds and whatever happens in between provides the balance in a bitter sweet existence, in love and ashes the people strive in North East as a region and in Nigeria as a nation.

 

And the tips on how to win the heart of a northern woman offered to Emeka by his chauffeur (Tijjani Usman Faraga) who happens to be Bukar’s father is a 101 of some sort and it is quite revealing. Although Emeka dismisses this with a laugh but every suitor can take home a tip or two, thanks to IN LOVE AND ASHES.

 

It is the mastery in the art of storytelling that makes the director Umar Turaki show you how Bukar ends up in police cell, the hope nursed by an IDP (Lillian Yepwi) over the news of the release of some Chibok girls,  Yaga’s caring commitment to (Malvina Patrick)  the pregnant woman from Biu and Falmata’s wedding. These happenings take place within the last five minutes of episode four and they are never rushed, bravo!

 

EPISODE FIVE

Episode five is written by Aishat Abiri and directed by Ali Mustafa, would their creative input alter the pattern and direction seen in the previous four episodes? Let’s find out. This episode reveals the presence of soldiers, a necessary element for the setting.

 

There is a slight change of creative direction in the first few scenes of this episode. The reaction of Nuhu to Emeka’s experience at the exhibition is rushed.  The tension between Bukar and his father needs to rent the air longer than it is allowed in the first car scene immediately after the bail. Certain nuances are key to storytelling, once they get sidelined in favor of a style, the story can lose its grip on the audience.

 

Is the cinematographer changed too? The verbal exchange between father and son would have been more creatively captured; the filming here does not match what viewer had been exposed to in previous four episodes.  Maryam and Habiba’s scenes stand out but would there have been a need for a stand out scene if all had been well?

 

Women and wedding, if Ronke (Meg Otanwa) could witness the futility of life at IDP Camp maybe she will be less worried over the booking of a wedding Dj. But come to think of it, dialogue such as the one Ronke and Emeka are having over the phone makes one ponder over life’s high and low. In Nigeria wedding fanfare can be so dramatic and engrossing that even the reign of terror in Maiduguri doesn’t matter.

                                                                  Emeka(Charles Etubiebi)

   

Emeka picks up the business card that contains Maryam’s number and puts a call through.  Are you busy this evening?  He asks,  Maryam replies, it depends, Emaka continues, I was wondering if you want to do dinner or something and Maryam replies  by saying OK I will pass by your hotel on my way back from camp.

 

Agreed Emeka bought one of the frames she exhibited, he got her number off the patronage and from all indication the first phone call he would be making to this no nonsense career photographer is to have her come for a dinner at his hotel. Does it work that way? Emeka’s move is not out of place after a pestering call from Ronke ends on whether their planned wedding is worth having. But the ease at which Maryam agrees to be on a dinner date with Emeka bothers one.

 

What has Emeka said to Maryam to make her flare-up at the supposed dinner? Nothing, in my opinion, Aishat Abiri the writer of this episode should have constructed a more convincing dialogue for this purpose. Notwithstanding, episode five is fun, it is interesting to see how Alhaji Kundiri (Wassh Waziri Hong) will handle Falmata his newly wedded wife. And fish? You can call that the new hard drug in Maiduguri; possessing a few could earn one a jail term indeed. It is ironical how the sales of fish an essential source of protein to man can equally be instrumental to the funding of terrorism.   

 

Understanding the bond between Maryam and Habiba is welcoming. The on screen violence in this episode comes through little Habiba’s flash back and it is more gruesome; seeing this through the point of view of a child.

 

The limping Bukar better goes back to school; the football dream is dashed with his injury and his girl is someone else’s wife now. Heeding the advice of his parents is his best option before he becomes a laughingstock; he is gradually becoming one of the most interesting characters in the series.  Although his association with Mallam B the shop keeper might just be his major undoing.

 

EPISODE SIX

The disconnect between fathers and sons is another factor IN LOVE AND ASHES treats successfully; the quest for father figures is partly responsible  for the high rate of converts in Boko Haram sect. We can see this in how Mallam Laminu is losing his only son (Bukar) to Mallam B.

 

Emeka is in every-man, he quickly reconciles with Folake after the not so good dinner date with Maryam. And with Godiya’s (Becky Williams) brighter make up Emeka wants to know everything about the past and future of Nuhu’s office assistant at Home Again Camp.

 

Good acting from Alhaji Kundiri (Wassh Waziri Hong) , his ability to handle Bukar’s confrontation without transferring the aggression to Falmata is brilliant. Who knows, the new bride might just cheer up to Alhaji.

 

The daily agony the parents of the Chibok girls go through is presented with the character of mama Rahila (Lillian Simi Yepwi). The uncertainties about the fates of the missing loved ones, obituary reports and the power of money cannot be divorced from this tale of terror well written by Ulan Garba Matta in this episode. And I am beginning to get comfortable with Ali Mustafa’s direction.

                                                 Bukar(Benjamin King)

 

EPISODE SEVEN

With a moving performance, the cast and crew of IN LOVE AND ASHES take this episode into a degree unprecedented in areas of emotional pull and empathy.  Bukar puts up a commanding performance as a character with conscience, his refusal to be an agent of death can also be seen as a deconstruct, the escape of Bukar tells a Boko Haram assailant the harm can be averted by burring that weapon of mass destruction and run.

 

The professionalism exhibited by members of Boko Haram sect in their trade of terror in the North East needs to make Nigerian government favour an overhaul of the country’s arm forces; professional military training and intelligence gathering are critical to combating terror.  

 

The sporadic gun shots claim Falmata’s life while Kundiri the target of the attack survives. As the smoke from the gun shots clears, it is easy to see that money isn’t everything, love does count. IN LOVE AND ASHES hits climax in this touching episode. 

 

It is also brilliant to see Emeka, Maryam and Nuhu get on the same page for once out of a genuine intention to do what is right for Home Again Camp. And ten million naira can’t scatter that good intention.

 

Episode seven of IN LOVE & ASHES is colourful, action filled and touching.

 

EPISODE EIGHT

As Falmata’s parents mourn over the death of their daughter, the camera pulls out to reveal their colourful and rich abode acquired on the account of their son in law. In Islam whatever the outcome of events of life, be it good or bad, it is destined by Allah, and this belief will hopefully serve as a relief to Falmata’s parents.   

 

The pregnant woman played by Malvina Patrick and her new born unite with yaga who has been an angel. Mama Rahila who never gives up hope on finding her daughter finally meets Godiya. What Nuhu and Maryam share is real says Emeka whose advice Maryam is yielding to as she unites with Nuhu a man of integrity.

 

As Bukar leaves town he is hopeful and enjoys a clear conscience. Even if the little Habiba isn’t going to be speaking anytime soon but she has found happiness in her use of simple point and shoot camera as she relates with other kids now.

 

Unity is beautiful. Seeing Emeka in caftan in the last scene says it all. His journey to the North East has been an eye opener. Getting married to Folake is no longer the top thing on his list of priorities, he has seen people who live below ₦300 a day make sense out of their situation.

 

After seeing the eight episodes of IN LOVE & ASHES, one thing is clear, stories told through the video and film medium are best expressed by men and women who are skilled in that art form.

 

 

 

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