By Aliyu Jalal
(This contains spoilers)
I don’t believe in guilty pleasures when it comes to TV shows and films generally. I don’t watch (or continue to watch) what I don’t like. But I also understand the impulse to check shows that are being hyped by people close to you. That’s why I started watching Izzar So, because my two younger sisters wouldn’t stop talking about the “majestic way Nafisa ties her teadtie.”
Bollywood-esque in its unnecessary elongation of simple plots to make up for its insufficient ideas, Izzar So is also exciting in its shabbily-directed melodramatic acting. But what’s profoundly commendable is that its teeming viewers have chosen to ignore all these, together with its glaring poverty of locations – being that apart from a house and a couple of offices, nearly the entire show is shot on streets and residential compounds (with friends and coworkers meeting and conversing or gossiping on their feet) – and concentrate on a “powerful” female lead character whose aggression on a smarter and hard-working holier-than-thou male co-worker is the main driver of the storyline.
It’s not much of a wonder though, that the show can be a form of escapism for especially young people, and that effect seems to reach its dramatic peak when the supposed antagonist and main female character, Nafisa, emptied a bucket of water on Umar Hashim, the protagonist, wetting him from head to underpants, perhaps to toes too. Hashim, surprisingly, it must be said, only sits there like a disgruntled piece of metal sculpture, refusing to act with the rage that would’ve been the expected “masculine” reaction to the heavy humiliation.
Perhaps it’s because her father is his boss, or because he’s at her house, or because he’s an outwardly religious Muslim, always preaching morality and redeeming sinners, and thus exercised one of the Prophet’s most cherished qualities – patience. But I’d prefer to say it’s a combination of all of these. Whatever the case, that particular scene gripped audience. And me.
The characterization of Hashim is actually bland and stereotypical, and easily boring. The overwhelming effort to make him appear too perfect, too spotless, too smooth, is a disservice to an actual human being. Characters, no matter how good, to make them real and relatable, need to have a certain excusable vice, a weakness or a point of inadequacy.
We need to see Hashim making choices or decisions he shouldn’t have made, even while remaining essentially good. We need to see and empathize with his human fallibilities no matter how little, without jeopardizing his essential morality.
No wonder, his rival, Nafisa seems more interesting to us, not necessarily because of her looks or her exaggerated pomposity, but because she expresses some of the primal emotions all humans contain, such as envy, even while we disapprove of the ways she acts on it.
I wouldn’t have said anything about the grossly embarrassing subtitle that boarders on illiteracy, but I remembered that there’s probably more than one person who rely solely on it to understand the vocal aspect of the drama. The subtitle doesn’t only struggle with unpardonable poor grammar, spelling errors, and profoundly narrow vocabulary, but also with inability to: differentiate between formal and informal languages; to match contexts of speech or emotions with the appropriate lexicon; to understand that there are sematics that imply disapproval or approval and there are neutral ones even if they basically mean the same thing. In essence, the film’s subtile is a wrecking mess that simply shouldn’t have been there.
Despite the bunch of ingredients that makes Izzar So a horrible (even though popular) show, its slight redemption for me is that it introduces us, quite unusually, considering its setting, to a conventionally good-looking young woman who’s as obsessed with her looks as she’s with her career and accomplishments.
Films about ambitious women competing with coworkers (about work) in workplaces is almost entirely absent in Hausa films. What we’re used to is the usual stereotypes of women as searchers and losers of love, as jealous co-wives, and sorts. To be defensive, I’ve nothing against love.
I’m fond of it and obsessed with it, but I also want to see films from northern Nigeria about young women’s obsession with makeup and men and marriage, and also with goals beyond these.
I must however be quick to add that I suspect Nafisa’s unusual aggression towards Hashim doesn’t happen in a vacuum. There’s the possibility it’s her complicated way of containing a secret love for somebody she sees originally below her social class, and thus persistently does things to get his attention, and ironically getting closer and closer to him such as by making sure he has a reason to come to her office. Considering her personal history, having grown up without a mother, there’s the psychological tendency she’s finding it difficult to express affectionate love, due to the repressed pain she endured in childhood of not having a biological mother like the majority of her peers.
Humans have different ways of relieving the pains they onced suppressed, and hers is easily understandable even if unjustifiable. This might not be the writer’s motivation, but it makes sense to me this way, and the show’s title seems to suggest something close.
Aliyu Jalal writes from Zaria