Sunday, September 19, 2021 1:50 pm
By Nehru Odeh
Celebrated filmmaker, Kunle Afolayan, is adept at telling African stories with his movies. Not only has he told them very well, he has won several awards. Now, Afolayan, who has movies such as the award-winning Irapada, The Figurine, October 1 and Phone Swap in his kitty, is set to release another one, this time his first feature film on Netflix, entitled Swallow. The film will premiere on Netflix on 1 October.
Still, what makes this feature film interesting, and something to look forward to, is that it is an adaptation of multiple award-winning writer, Sefi Atta’s second novel, Swallow. Swallow tells the story of Tolani Ajao, “a bright-eyed young woman” battling with career failure as a banker, and who at the instigation of a friend to engage in drug trafficking, is torn between whether to take a plunge and become a drug mule or not.
Set in Lagos of the mid-80s, in the time of government imposed austerity measures and the infamous War Against Indiscipline, WAI, Tolani’s vacillation and introspection led her to self-discovery. The movie not only takes us back into our past, it tells us about the hard times Nigerians went through at the time and why they took some certain tough decisions.
It also gives us a vivid picture of what Lagos was like in the 80s. “I love the architectural designs of old Lagos, especially the Portuguese designs. Having to re-enact most of the designs with the details of what Lagos was like in that period felt amazing and it brought back memories,” Afolayan said.
Swallow stars popular Nigerian RnB singer Eniola Akinbo, better known as Niyola who plays Tolani the lead, alongside Ijeoma Grace Agu (Rose), Deyemi Okanlanwon (Sanwo), Eniola Badmus (Mrs. Durojaiye), Chioma Akpotha (Mama Chidi), Kevin Ikeduba (OC), Offiong Anthony Edet (Johnny), veteran Olusegun Remi (Mr. Salako), Kunle Idowu (Frank Donga) as Godwin, Joke Muyiwa (Arike), Oreofe Lawal ( from a viral video, “Mummy please be calming down”) makes his debut as Ayo, and Mercy Aigbe (Violet).
Asked what informed his choice of cast, Afolayan explained: “The only actor I auditioned for was Eniola Akimbo and that’s because I had never seen her act before then. But as for the rest of the actors I had envisioned them playing the role while I read the script and I was looking forward to working with them.”
Afolayan said immediately he read Atta’s novel, he was inspired to make a movie out of it, though with new twist; while not veering away from the thrust and underlying message. “Once I read the book, I had to decide on what aspect of the book I wanted to focus on and whose perspective I wanted to share based on the story because “Swallow” as a book focused on the life of Tolani’s mother and Tolani herself immediately that was sorted every other thing was put in place.
“Reading the book gives you an idea of what the movie will be like and in a way it helps in another way it could be difficult because if the book is misrepresented or downplayed then it would be terrible. Usually, people prefer the book to the film but I hope the reverse is the case this time.”
Another interesting feature of the movie is that the script was written by both Afolayan and Atta (author of Swallow). And that has no doubt elevated the production and make for the best quality. “It wasn’t a tough process because it was my choice to work with the original writer of the book which is rare in most adaptations. Usually, people don’t work with writers. I gave her a free hand to write what she thought but at some point, I changed a couple of things and infused some other things to give more life to the story,” Afolayan maintained.
Atta, on her part, is over the moon because that was her first attempt at script writing. “I am thankful to him (Afolayan) for the opportunity to earn my first screenwriting credit,” she shared on a Facebook post.
On set to assist Afolayan in the production were popular award-winning filmmaker Tunde Kelani and the Director of photography, Jonathan Kovel, famous for the professionalism he displayed in Citation. The entire film was shot using the Canon C500 Mark ii camera, which points to the fact that Swallow has all what it takes to make a box office hit.