Friday, February 09, 2007
In memory of Ahmad S. Nuhu
The other day, I finally watched the (2006, I think) Ahmad S. Nuhu film Yayee that he directed and starred in. It made me sad to watch, because I kept thinking about how alive he was on screen. How his ghost is caught here forever, digitized, dancing, singing , forever cutting up for the camera as a crazy bleach-haired earringed “been-to.” He and his "real life" wife Hafsat sing "Cikin rayuwa kashewa Allah ke nan...." The story ended with the standard variation on the formula. “End of part one.” But there will be no part two—not unless he had finished shooting it before January 1, ranar hatsari. The movements in the film were stylized—the characters danced through their scenes, even when there was no musical background. A visual triangular motif that kept returning throughout the film. God, he was good, I kept thinking. I will probably write more on this later. But for now, I just wanted to post this picture that I took of him this summer and the journal entry I wrote a few days after I found out about his death. It’s funny how the mind works. I came back from Christmas break, thinking I had at least three or four good photos on film—but there was just this one in which his face can be seen. Here’s what I wrote in my journal:
6 January 2007, Friday, 2:47am
The knowledge of death follows you for a while after you hear of the death of someone you know. It comes filling up those quiet spaces between events and conversations.
After I found out about Ahmad Nuhu’s death, I could not write about my walk around the small Georgia town where my sister works, as I had been intending to do when I went to the library. Instead, I posted my initial thoughts and his picture, and then I walked back in the dusk to her little townhouse. I could not shake my sadness. I wished I had his film Yayee that I have been saving to watch—waiting for the right moment. Now, when I watch it, it will just make me sad.
Instead I sat down and read Ella Enchanted. I buried myself in the story, and then finished Jane Austen’s collection of juvenilia that I had picked from my sister’s bookshelf—a wickedly hilarious collection—in which she skewers every character with her cutting satire. These novels were not on my to-read list, but they distracted me well enough, and I’m glad I read them. I continued reading my advisor’s first book, and I am once again awed at how lucky I am to have him as an advisor. He’s being tough on me, but that’s a good thing. So, I read. I pushed my sister through the last of her grad school applications.
But in the empty moments, in the quiet darkness of riding beside my sister in the car, Orion rising over us, the sadness came over me. Why, I ask myself, am I so sad over someone I knew so little? In some ways it is similar to the sadness I felt over the death of the Sultan of Sokoto, over the death of my friend R’s mother in the plane crash--people whom I had met only a few times but who were loved by those I love. Much of it has to do with the loss to the Hausa film industry that I find myself so emotionally involved with. He was one of the biggest and the best—one of the trend-setters. A talented director, an amazing actor.
The sadness also has to do with my memories of our brief conversations--memories that are deeply emotional because they take me back to a time that was new and exciting and uncertain. I have not yet written much about my experiences with the Hausa film industry on this blog. I did not know how much I wanted to reveal, how vulnerable I wanted to be on the internet. But it will eventually be out there anyway. I found a html version of the FIM article in an online Hausa newspaper the other day.
Abbas was the one who got me into it all. He had directed a film that I had written a paper on. I was thrilled to meet him, totally by happenstance. He talked to me, my digital recorder on, for hours, telling me about the industry, about the debates raging about Hausa film, about the market, tradition, everything. And then, he told me that I must agree to be in one of his films. I gave a sort of noncommittal answer and the next time I met him I discovered I had been written into a script. I said, “Oh… ok…” It was one of the most reckless things I had ever agreed to. But my curiosity, for once, was greater than my embarrassment. “But I’m not an actress.” I told him. “I don’t have any training.” The only acting I’ve ever done was a small role in my senior play in high school. I once audited a Theatre for Development class. “I don’t want to ruin your film,” I told him. “No,” he said. “It won’t be hard. Just be yourself.”
Thus began Talatu’s entry into the world of film. Last year my goal had been to make it onto a set to see how it was done, for “research,” but mostly because it would be really cool to be on a film set. But this level of involvement was almost unimaginable. One evening Abbas came to my house with another director. There was another film they wanted me to be in. Could I do it? I repeated my mantra. I’m not an actress. I have no experience. You will have to tell me exactly what to do.…. So, my debut was in Hannun Jari Ce 3. When they first started rolling the camera and told me to begin to act (improvise). I froze. They had to start it all over again. I was mortified and out of sorts. But by the end of the day, on a third scene, I was starting to get the hang of it. I was starting to really like it.
In Abbas’s film I was to be a naijawife. “And do you know who your husband in the film will be?” he asked. I did not. “Ahmad S. Nuhu,” he said. My eyebrows jumped up. I probably blushed a little. “Oh,” I said, feeling frightened and excited at the same time. Such a big name. And me? I spent the next week, getting myself into the part, imagining myself into the story.
The second day of shooting, Abbas came to the door and said my ride was here. I came out of the gate with my suitcase, and it was Ahmad S. Nuhu. I was suddenly shy and starstruck. The children were dancing around the car chanting, “Ahmad S. Nuhu. Ahmad S. Nuhu.” When I tried to get into the backseat of the car, Abbas made me sit up front, while he squeezed into the back with two others. Ahmad was driving. So, we drove off, me feeling as if I had been dropped into someone else’s story. Only it was me, driving off in a car full of movie stars, with the neighborhood kids dancing along behind us
Arriving at the garden set, there were about three other films shooting there. Abbas was stressed out. I felt gawky, stupid, and out of place. I was given a shirt to change into, which would have fit almost any of the other petite and dainty actresses there. On me, it barely came to my naval—and I ended up having to wear the most hideous flowered cordorory button down shirt—that looked like it came from the bargain bin at my mother’s favourite Dress Barn. Probably 60-70% of the Hausa film industry was in that park, hanging out, taking pictures together, jisting. And me, I felt tall, white, hideously dressed, and idiotic. What the hell was I doing? I normally never would have been caught dead in such an outfit, and here I was about to act in a movie in it. I wanted to die. I wanted to crawl under the bushes. I wanted to jump over the fence and run away. But instead I wandered about and sat with the older actresses who kindly told me about films they’ve been in and films they wanted to shoot. They warned me to hold onto the puppy I had gotten as a prop, as it would be stolen if I let it go. At one point Ahmad and some other actors were talking, leaning against his car. He called me over, and we chatted for a while. They said nice things about my Hausa, and we talked about Jos, where many of them were from, and where I had also grown up. He told me about the kind of films he wanted to make, rural ones--set in the countryside. I took a few photos. Later we did one very brief scene together.
Because of a scheduling problem the next day, Ahmad and I did not act together again. Abbas ended up simplifying the story. I was no longer going to be the wife of Ahmad in the story. It was probably better for the story—since it was already complex, but I was sorry, because I had spent so much time getting myself into character—and because I enjoyed talking with Ahmad and wanted to hear more about his views on the Hausa film industry. I saw him a few more times on other sets, but we never exchanged much more than greetings. I thought there was no rush to try to get an interview. I would be back...
After that, I did a few more films. The best fun I had on set was getting to act an idiotic American victim who came to Nigeria to try to get millions of dollars, in the Sheriff Ahlan movie 419-2.
But, I will always remember that morning when I came out of my gate and saw the children dancing. I will remember Ahmad’s kindness, his easy handling of his fame. It’s hard to believe that someone so full of life, so full of talent, so full of plans is not here anymore. He was a year and a half older than me, newly married, featured regularly on magazine covers. I suppose the films will go on without him, but right now it’s hard to imagine how.