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“Water and Garri” Is Exactly What It Is – Without Sugar

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What if I said “Water and Garri” wasn’t as bad after all? Sure, the film received a negative reception, but can’t we give it some credit? Initially, I felt annoyed and unsatisfied after watching it. However, I later asked myself: what was in the minds of the director and producers of this movie? What exactly were they thinking? Then I came across this quote by Jim Emerson: “Any good movie — heck, even the occasional bad one — teaches you how to watch it. And that lesson usually starts with the very first image.” This made me rethink and rewatch the film from a new perspective.

The film was directed by Meji Alabi, a music video director who also served as the producer and co-writer. He has directed various notable projects, including music videos like Rema’s “DND,” Leigh-Anne feat. Ayra Starr’s “My Love,” and the TV mini-series “Voices Rising: The Music of Wakanda Forever.” He holds many titles to his name. However, what else would you expect from a music video director debuting into a feature film for the first time?

The same goes for Tiwa Savage. The popular music artist debuting as a lead actress in this film brings a new nuance. In an interview with Okay Africa, speaking about Meji Alabi, she discloses, “I love his eye.” This could be integral to understanding a key element of this film: beauty and aesthetics prioritized above an authentic and even cohesive story. And that’s the bitter truth underlying the film’s psychological framework: beauty and aesthetics take precedence, leaving the immersive story that the producers initially promised to wither in neglect.

It’s a recurring motif throughout the narrative: Aisha’s disillusionment with Eastside contrasts starkly with her memories of the past. The past seems more believable (through the acting, for example) than her present. The blunt declaration, “East side is not the same as before,” underscores this sentiment, as the violence portrayed pales in comparison to her earlier experiences. The portrayal of characters like Kay (Andrew Yaw Bunting), the supposed racketeer, lacks believability; instead of being menacing, he comes across as merely good-looking.

And this brings us to a crucial juncture: the preference for performance over authenticity. The film’s vision doesn’t prioritize perfection but rather performance. And marketing it from this perspective would have served the film better. What else could we anticipate from a music artist transitioning to acting? Tiwa Savage brings her expertise from the music industry into film, setting the tone for its performative nature. From the captivating visuals, meticulous location choices, and varied perspectives (albeit too many, resulting in rushed editing that detracts from storytelling) to the questionable narrative itself.

The standout feature of “Water and Garri” undeniably lies in ‘performing’, but its major pitfall lies in marketing it solely for its narrative-driven experience. Instead of emphasizing on its strengths, such as its brilliant soundtrack, would have been more effective. While the film boasts a captivating soundtrack, its beauty isn’t fully realized within the narrative it presents. Each song within the soundtrack tells its own story, but the oversaturation of distractions caused by the poor storytelling prevents them from shining effectively. The film’s failure to fully integrate these musical elements into the narrative proves to be a missed opportunity. Instead of allowing the soundtrack to complement and enhance the storytelling, the film becomes cluttered with distractions, diluting the impact of both the music and the plot. If marketed with a stronger emphasis on its musical strengths, “Water and Garri” could have offered audiences a unique and immersive audiovisual experience if expectations were made clear.

As ambiguous as the title “Water and Garri” may be, so is the narrative. And that’s exactly what they unintentionally attempted to achieve. What ultimately undermines the film is the expectation of a compelling story. It might have been more fittingly promoted as an 80-minute music video, visualizer, or what have you, rather than being labeled under the drama genre. And what does it leave us with, after promising an immersive narrative? Simply water and garri without sugar.

Jimi Adesanya and Meji Alabi, cofounders of Unbound Studios, shared their vision in an interview with Nollywire: authentic storytelling, striking visuals, and unique angles and perspectives, adding their distinctive “furniture” to the table. While the film showcases these elements, it falls short of delivering authentic storytelling, ultimately failing to meet audience expectations. The beautiful “furniture”—the music video perspective infused into Nigerian cinema—remains a notable attempt that if implemented differently could have been a big win.

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