By Muhsin Ibrahim
It is no longer news that the coronavirus pandemic has changed our lives and the world in general. The virus has already killed more than a million people and rendered tens of thousands others jobless. The tragic stories about the pandemic are numerous. There was a palpable fear for Africa, the most challenged continent on earth. Some analysts projected that there would be corpses littering African streets. However, the embattled continent, so far, fares much better than the rest, including Europe and North America. Likewise, some African filmmakers have not closed shop because of COVID-19. They, amazingly, do even better than ever. The makers of a Kannywood YouTube series, titled Izzar So, are some of these lucky lots.
Kannywood, the largely Hausa film industry, barely survives amidst a myriad of problems from within and outside. The biggest of them all is, perhaps, the collapse of the CD/DVD market in Kano and other northern Nigerian states. Recently, they started trying online video streaming platforms. Again, the market is not very promising due to some other problems. With the coronavirus-engineered closure of cinemas, which was their last lifeline, the filmmakers were left in limbo, jobless and hopeless. Nevertheless, a few of them, like the veteran actor, Lawan Ahmad and his friend, Nura Mustapha Waye, launched a series for YouTube viewers. Their budget is, apparently, small as their casts are mostly debutants and debutantes.
There might be a few YouTube series before Izzar So; but, many more emerged following its unprecedented success. This has inspired many filmmakers, both struggling and established, to resort to making series, serials and feature films for YouTube. As I mentioned, given its crew, actors and locations, etc., the budget for Izzar So is small. Surprisingly, however, it becomes a super hit and a sensation. Today, no other production has close to the number of views it attracts, including those by the industries heavyweights like Rahama Sadau and Adam A. Zango. Some of its episodes are viewed almost a million times – and counting. Indeed, people will be wondering how and why. The secret to its remarkable success is not obscure, I guess.
Premiered in April 2020 on a YouTube channel, Bakori TV, Izzar So is a melodrama that, mainly, revolves around a rivalry between Umar Hashim (acted by Lawan Ahmad) and Nafisa Matawalle (Aisha Najamu) at the factories of the latter’s father, Alhaji Matawalle (Ali Nuhu). So far, Ali Nuhu is the only A-list actor in the drama and has appeared in only a few scenes. Umar, a newly employed, right-minded accountant, doggedly stands against corruption, breach of trust, humiliation and so on in his office and outside it. He escapes several plots to pull him down, such as a lady’s seduction on a hidden camera. They also put a fresh corpse in the boot of his car, among other intriguing machinations. Umar’s protection is his steadfastness, confidence, patience and reliance on Allah. Hence, he remains invincible even against sorcery and other conspiracies. That uprightness fetches him admirers and adversaries such as Matawalle’s wife whose plans are broader. She suborns people to undermine both Nafisa and Umar, to get the whole fortune, eventually.
The secret to the series tremendous success lies in the story and, well, the cast. Nigerians suffer in the hands of corrupt, godless politicians, public servants, traders and many more. It is, unarguably, unlikely to come by a person who, against many threats, will remain that upright like Umar Hashim. Although it is fictional, his character is somewhat too good to be accurate. Thus, the message resonates among the audience. He adds flavour to it by quoting Qur’anic verses and Hadith of the Prophet (SAW). The comments below each episode on YouTube or under the actors’ social media handles tell you that many people cherish that particular character above all. No doubt, Lawal Ahmad and one other character, Khadija Yobe, have been invited to Maulud. It’s very unconventional to honour Kannywood members at such a ‘religious’ event.
The other point is their bold, nay experimental, choice of new, pretty faces such as the leading character, Aisha Najamu. One of the killers of Kannywood film industry is the monopoly by megastar where the same actors and actresses appear in films after films. Their audiences are bored, so they are now delighted to see new actors, who also mostly wear fancy dresses and apply makeups even when and where that is not very fitting. Nevertheless, people love that.
Generally, the drama is not bad. First of all, it is unmistakably modelled after Indian melodramas. Notwithstanding, its major minuses include editing, over-dramatization and over-casting. For instance, footage taken secretly cannot have sequences with a point of views, etc. Again, Matawalle’s wife is unarguably over-acting. Also, several actors are practically redundant as they seem to have no position or duty in the factories. Besides the gossips, rivalries and so on, the audience should see them working at their workplace. The director, Waye and his producer, Lawan, may consider fixing these issues. Finally, I rate the drama 3/5 – based on its genre and in Kannywood – and recommend it.
Muhammad Muhsin Ibrahim
University of Cologne
Hausa Film Hausa Series Izzar So Kannywood YouTube