Wish James Cameron’s “Titanic” had Bollywood-inspired music numbers? Nigerian Titanic’s got you covered!
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A loveless betrothal, a forbidden romance, and a doomed ship carrying it all toward tragedy. It’s a tale of American independence breaking free of old-world social conformity.
But the story is a little different when told in Nigeria.
I don’t know about you, but I’m getting a sinking feeling of Deja View.
In 1997 director James Cameron presented the world with his $200 million opus, “Titanic”, based on the events of the 1912 disaster. Focusing on a compelling albeit fictional love story, it shattered the record for the highest grossing film ever made and held it for 12 years.
It was an international phenomenon, touching a cord with moviegoers worldwide. And in 2003 Nigerian filmmaker Farouk Ashu Brown gambled that this tragic romance would appeal to audiences in his country, and set about retelling it with a local twist.
Because of the high expense of shooting on film, Nigeria never really had a film industry per se.
But by the early 1990s, videocameras had become widely and cheaply available. Suddenly anyone could pick up a camera and make a movie. And that’s exactly what happened. Nigerian movies were shot on video and distributed on VHS, and later VCD and DVD.
The quality may look rough, but it’s important to understand that Nigerian filmmakers have been learning an entire industry from scratch. Moreover, their films are produced in spite of nearly insurmountable obstacles — meager budgets, considerable urban crime, and daily power blackouts that require gas-powered generators to keep filming.
Despite all of that, Nollywood now produces well over 1,000 movies a year!
Farouk Ashu-Brown’s “Masoyiyata Titanic” follows James Cameron’s film almost to the letter. It tells the story of Binta, an upperclass young woman who is promised to marry the unlikeable Zayyad but falls in love with the brash, lower-class Abdul — all against the backdrop of the Titanic’s disastrous maiden voyage.
This film is even dedicated to “all the Africans that died when the Titanic sank”, and while the sentiment is noble, it’s not particularly well researched, as only one African actually perished onboard the real Titanic.
Brown also ignores time period entirely, dressing everyone in modern attire.
Now in order to place his characters aboard the largest passenger steamship in the world, Brown lifts footage from Cameron’s “Titanic”, intercutting Hollywood exteriors with the interiors of ordinary urban buildings. And to help further the illusion, he carefully chooses insert shots that don’t give away the original actors’ faces.
However the borrowing doesn’t end with “Titanic”. As the ship sinks, the passengers are not only confronted with freezing ocean water, but sharks! Specifically, shark footage lifted from Renny Harlin’s “Deep Blue Sea”.
In spite of this particular film’s inspiration and appropriation from Hollywood, Northern Nigeria, where this movie was made, actually models its film industry much more closely on India’s Bollywood. Indian films are hugely popular there, much more-so than American films. And a lot of that has to do with similarities in morality, family values, and gender relations. The result is that not only are their films thematically similar, but they also come complete with the requisite song and dance numbers. And in the case of “Masoyiyata Titanic”, there’s even a Hausa language version of “My Heart Will Go On”.
And some even less subtle methods are used to give the film a Nigerian flavor. [The movie's climax features a shot of the ship's sinking bow where the word "Nigeria" has been shakily composited underneath "Titanic".]
The biggest reason that Nollywood audiences are quick to forgive low production values is the fact that these films specifically address Nigerian issues, culture, morality, and religion in a way that only local cinema can. And while “Masoyiyata Titanic” is based on a Hollywood film, the central conflict between arranged marriage and love-based marriage is one faced on a regular basis in Nigeria.
Nevertheless, the familiarity of the source material makes “Masoyiyata Titanic” a great introduction for Western audiences to the world of Nollywood. It has the story of an internationally popular blockbuster, but all the rough-edged fun of grassroots filmmaking.
It’s important to understand that the use of pirated footage in Nigerian films is very uncommon, and Farouk Ashu-Brown was heavily criticized for it by his peers.
Nollywood films are improving drastically every year with bigger budgets, high definition video, and increasingly experienced filmmakers. But it’s still a wild wild west of local cinema — and that’s the most exciting time in any nation’s film industry.
Thanks so much for watching, and I’ll see you next time.
If you’re interested in seeing more Nigerian films, you can watch HUNDREDS of them legally at NollywoodLove.com