Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Review/Gender Analysis of Hausa Film Inda Ranka

This is a summary/analysis I wrote up as a sample for a class I'm teaching. I'm a little uncomfortable with the 'judgmental' end, as I tend to like to just analyze and not 'review,' but I figured a practical componant might be good for the students, since many of them are hoping to become practitioners.

Inda Ranka
Produced by Nura Hussani; Directed by Sulaiman Alubankudi
(no date, purchased in 2008 from Almah Video, Jos)

Summary: The film Inda Ranka engages with recent criticisms of the Hausa film industry by following the rise and fall of a poor girl Safiya (Kubura Dackho), who enters the Hausa film industry and is able to transform her economic situation for the better while transforming the lives of those around her for the worse. While initially discouraged in her dreams of becoming an actress by director (Ishaq Sidi Ishaq) and the producer Mahmoud (Nura Hussein), Mahmoud’s wife Samira (Jamila Nagudu) urges him to give the girl a chance. Upon being accepted as an actress under Mahmoud’s protection, Safiya goes to a boka who gives her “control” over Mahmoud’s mind. The rest of the film shows how Safiya destroys lives around her: Mahmoud leaves his patient and kind wife Samira at home while chasing Safiya and quarrelling with her over her supposed affairs. Safiya is shown with a series of lovers: the producer Mahmoud, her elder sister Binta’s (Maryam Usman) fiancé, a wealthy alhaji (Mustapha Musty) who provides her with a house, a car, and trips abroad, another wealthy man (Baballe Hayatu) who wishes to marry her, and an elderly ‘Commissioner’ (Aminu Hudu) who promises to help her take revenge on Mahmoud for shouting at her. Safiya kicks her sister out of the house, ignores the advice of her mother who wants her to leave her profession and get married, and calls Mahmoud’s father a “useless old fool.” When her duplicitous nature becomes obvious to her various suitors, Baballe, on the advice of Alhaji Mustapha who says she is “not marriage material,” rescinds his marriage proposal and instead marries her virtuous elder sister Binta. The bewitched Mahmoud is reconciled with his long-suffering wife Samira, whose sad song has stitched together the episodes of the film. The final (and only) song and dance number comes at the end of the film, in which Safiya and Binta are shown dancing with their various suitors.
Analysis: Inda Ranka reproduces many stereotypes of women in its reflection of the controversies currently surrounding the Hausa film industry. While the film industry is shown as a professional public realm operating according to established procedures (particularly one in which young girls who want to enter the industry are advised to return to school and get the permission of their parents, while no similar injunction appears for young men), Safiya (and by implication, other ‘greedy’ and ‘ungrateful’ young actresses) introduces chaos into these smooth operations. It is arguably not the film industry that spoils her but she who spoils the film industry. Mahmoud is shown as being a respected and professional film producer in a loving relationship with his wife, but Safiya destroys his life by “controlling him” through the powers of a ‘pagan’ boka. Safiya also disrespects her chosen profession by coming late to the location and using it as a way to attract wealthy lovers. In addition Safiya is shown as being contemptuous of her elders and Hausa traditions in the way she responds to criticism from her mother, sister, and Mahmoud’s father. She refuses to marry, preferring to have the independence of a profession and the attentions of many suitors. Cinematography, editing, and mis-en-scene emphasize Samira’s shrewish nature—she is shown in close-up shaking her finger at those who offend her. She is often portrayed as sitting in shadows. For example, when Mahmoud’s father confronts her, his virtuous nature is highlighted by the light yellow background, which casts light on his face. On the other hand, the shadowy corner in which Safiya sits casts a sinister green pallor over her face, a colour motif that is repeated when she tells Alhaji Mustapha she would rather lose him than her career.

Several ‘virtuous’ women appear as foils to Safiya. Samira is portrayed as the opposite of Safiya. She is a kind, loving, and faithful wife, and her mournful song provides the bridge to many scene transitions. While Safiya responds with a shrill and angry voice to ‘just’ criticism, Samira is never shown as raising her voice even when her husband abandons and abuses her. Instead, she is shown as constantly weeping. Closeups on her tearful face reinforce portrayals of the ‘good wife’ as helpless victim. Similarly, Safiya’s kind sister Binta, who cared for their ailing mother while Binta chased career ambitions, is shown several times weeping—the ‘good’ to Safiya’s ‘bad.’ (The choice of actress for this role becomes ironic in light of later ‘sex scandal’ involving Maryam Usman. The marketing possibilities of Maryam ‘Hiyana’ Usman’s participation of the film are highlighted in the choice to have her face prominantely displayed on the cover of the video, rather than that of the main character Kubura Dackho. The cover becomes more of a commentary on 'real life' than on the 'fiction' of the film--illustrating the name of the film "Inda Ranka" the beginning of a proverb "Inda ranka kasha kallo" meaning "In life you will see many things...." In this case, life is stranger than fiction...)

While the film challenges current interpretations of the inherent immorality of the film industry (since the problem is seen with the character of the actress rather than her work), the treatment of Safiya as ‘devil’ woman and Samira and Binta as ‘angel’ women perpetuates the social ideology of the status quo. Professional behavior in filmmaking is shown as the realm of men. Actresses, who use their fame as a platform for personal enrichment, become scapegoats for the misfortunes of the industry. Safiya lifts her sickly mother and unemployed sister out of poverty, but her ambitions to maintain an independent professional life and not immediately marry are shown in the context of a rebellious and ‘immoral’ lifestyle.’ Her ‘success’ is shown not in terms of her ability to perform well as an actress but in her ability to sexually attract wealthy men. On the other hand, the women praised as being virtuous are those who have no identifiable profession and who are defined by their relationships with their husbands or fiancés. Samira faithfully grieves her bewitched husband. Binta, whose first fiancé is stolen by Safiya, is rewarded with Safiya’s humiliation when the rich alhaji who had first proposed marriage to Safiya decides to take Binta as the ‘mother of his children.’ This seems to be the best reward a good woman can be offered.

However, even these virtuous women are portrayed as ‘weak’ in judgment. The film subtly places the entire debacle at the feet of Mahmoud’s wife Samira, who encourages him to employ Safiya as an actress, despite his better judgment. Men are seen as the victims of women. At the beginning of the film, the male production assistant tells Safiya that when they have helped other actresses enter the industry, young men have ended up as the errand boys to these ‘ingrates.’ The fall of the virtuous Mahmoud is seen as result of Safiya’s scheming. Her other suitors are shown mostly as innocent dupes, who eventually discover her with other lovers. Mahmoud’s father suffers humiliation at the hands of Safiya when he advises her to leave his son alone (initially at the request of his wife). This humiliation is shown visually in an extreme close up of his profile, which obscures his eyes, while he begs the woman who is sitting spider-like in the shadows behind him.

In a film that engages the current controversies surrounding the Hausa film industry, the producers of the film missed a chance to creatively respond to criticisms in a gender-balanced way. Portraying the achievements, as well as the challenges, women face in the film industry could have provided an enlightening defense of the role of the film industry in contemporary Hausa society. Instead, Inda Ranka risks perpetuating dangerous stereotypes that damage the reputation of the film industry and hurt the chances of women to choose the film industry as ‘respectable’ profession. .

No comments: