In Defence of The Interpreters

In Defence of The Interpreters was originally written for and published by 234 NEXT Newspapers.

If Nobel laureate, Wole Soyinka were to be cast in a movie, he would be a swashbuckling hero in a nineteenth century Western. But while others are wielding rifles, our hero would calmly take out a pen and silence the whole lot of them.
That’s what the playwright has been doing over the years: churning pieces that leave you silent, shocked, impressed or just plain confused. Plays like ‘The Trials of Brother Jero’ have attracted large audiences in theatres across the globe. In poems like ‘Telephone Conversation’, Soyinka leaves a racist landlord in a stuttering mass of confusion with the admission, ‘Madam, I hate a wasted journey. I am African.’
What leaves me most impressed with the soon-to-be 76-year-old, is his novel, ‘The Interpreters’. Had his other works not been as impressive enough to qualify him for a Nobel Prize, this book, I believe would have been a deal clincher in itself.
Set in post-colonial Nigeria, the novel is centred on six friends, who have returned to the country with foreign degrees, and high hopes of snagging rewarding jobs. First things first however: they have to fit into the system.
‘The Interpreters’ is a joy ride, manned by several drivers – characters if you like – who move us through a series of events, misfortunes and incidents that give us a peek into their journeys both as individuals and then, collectively.
Sagoe, the somewhat cynical journalist, faces corruption as he discovers that his American degree is not all he needs to attain a good job. Following an interview with a newspaper over a possible position, a member of the paper’s board demands for a bribe and explains, “… degree is too plenty… so everybody is rushing to fill all vacancy.”
Kola the artist starts to feel “feminine anger’ once Sekoni the frustrated engineer begins to sculpt inspiring pieces. Sekoni faces the danger of going to an asylum when the power plant construction he worked on is declared dangerous. When he insists on putting the plant to the test, his employers say he has gone mad. Egbo is haunted by his tortured childhood and finds solace in rivers and accounts of how his parents drowned in a river back in the Niger Deltan creeks. Dehinwa is the only female in the crew and her constant sparring with Sagoe hints at a possible romance. Bandele faces little drama but experiences it vicariously through his friends, who count on his sense of stability; while his acquaintances invite him for home cooked meals, hoping to listen in on gossip he is often privy to… We meet them at a club, in the early hours of the morning, each buried in his or her world but kept connected by scant conversation.
Bandele emerged from a cat-nap, unwrapped his eyes and inspected the scene. “It hasn’t stopped then.”
” The rain, no”
There is no central plot in this 253-paged novel but the subject matters are limitless: degeneration, disillusion, bribery and corruption, interracial relationships and tribalism, to mention a few. The language is highly poetic: “to the clang of iron bells and the summons of shared drums.” Through the juxtaposition of scenes of the past with the present, Soyinka reveals to us the fears, idiosyncrasies, grievances and thoughts of these characters. He also beams a torchlight on common practices that exist in Nigeria, even till date. In Chapter 7, a taxi driver tries to bribe Sagoe who is under the guise of a police man. The section reads, “In his hand was the crumpled 5 shilling note which he prepared to pass on.’
A couple of chapters earlier, we meet the members of the board who interview Sagoe. Soyinka gives his view of the then-Nigerian leadership, “They are products of missed nominations, thug recruitment, financial backing, ministerial in-lawfulness, ministerial poncing, general arse-licking, ministerial concubinage.”
This is all part of the system and the office messenger, Mathias’ statement when Sagoe asks him how he deals with stench shows how many handle corruption: “Ah, na so everybody dey say first time… but make you look me now. I just dey grow fat for the smell.”
In this Soyinka world, which spans Ibadan and Lagos states, a number of foreign characters are used to explore relationships between Nigerians and foreigners. Joe Golder is described as three-quarters white. He spends most of his time frying his face or gluing newspapers to it so that he can darken it and claim what he calls his birthright. In Peter the German, we see that it is not just Africans that try to inflect an American accent. Bandele says of the unwanted house guest, “No, German, but he thinks he is American.” And if a reader starts to doubt this possibility, he is brought short by the appearance of the character in question, “I’m Perrer (Peter). Hi!”
One of the major symbols in the novel is the presence of an albino in most of the characters’ lives. They are usually given an ethereal quality that either draws people to them or leaves them terrified. It is said of Simi, Egbo’s lover: ‘Simi broke men and friendships’. Sir Derin, another albino was the only member of the newspaper board, who ‘stood out’ at Sagoe’s interview.
Many have said that ‘The Interpreters’ makes no sense and that the diction in use therein is too highly strung. It probably is, if the novel has been compared with the works of literary greats like William Faulkner and James Joyce. Still, I have often wondered why it is so difficult to find it at bookstores. I see ‘The Interpreters’ as a cocktail of sorts, laced with humour, social realism and giving an insight into the neo-colonised system that used to and still pervades the Nigerian society.
And if it is true that a people can forge successfully into the future once they know about the past, then this is one novel many ought to read to set the ball rolling.

Shamitabh: Film Review

”Fear exists where people die. Nobody dies in the graveyard” – Amitab Bachan, Shamitabh

 I had many a tear dabbing moment watching this movie. Bollywood has done it again: Slum dog millionaire, My name is Khan and now this.
Great story telling, done in layers and pulling at almost every human emotion possible.
You truly feel for the protagonist: his victories, hopes, fears and yes, tears.
Shamitabh deserves an Oscar in 2016. I’m not Indian and have no personal interests but I will be rooting for it along with any great Nigerian creation or actor that gets nominated.
With this movie comes the same heady reactions I had to classics like Superman, The Scarlet Pimpernel and A few good men. A cape draping moment replete with Punjab laced music and amazing attention to photographic detail….attention, cinematographers!
Amitabh reprises his status as Bollywood’s best in this movie. Although his character wears old-man -scruffy like a second skin, his lopsided cynical smiles and sarcastic jibes casts him as the main character. Whereas we have watched Amitabh for years and appreciate his deep mellow voice, this is the first time we are forced to appreciate it independent of his looks and his oh so impressive personality.
Amitabh’s jealousy of Shamitab is an echo or the lifelong argument of who is the greatest; the voice actor or the television star? To paraphrase an old 80s song, Did video really kill the radio star? Is there more effort put into video acting than radio? What is an actor without a voice? How best do you capture the hearts of an audience- through mere sound or with a combination of that and video?
Bachan’s Character says they can’t make a movie without sound but once the production is released, it is referred to only as a ‘ Picture’
Whiskey is used as a metaphor for voice while water represents acting.
He says, ‘ no water, whiskey. Whiskey doesn’t need any water.’ To which the only prominent female character in the film screams, ‘ whisky is made from water. Without water, there is no whiskey’
And so the wheels of thought churn to life and this debate continues in one’s mind long after the movie is finished.
Two hours twenty minutes and not a boring moment, for me at least.
My goodness, who wrote this script? It’s the same question I asked after I finished the movie Hot Rod, season one of ‘ how to get away with murder. ‘(Yes, Shondra Rhimes but I knew that before I began the series.)

Classic movie: a mute wannabe actor meets a drunk impoverished never do well actor appreciated only for his voice. Through joint talent their work elicits praise from both local and international fans but only one is the face of this duo and there begins the problem.  But there is more to this story line. It is moved forward by a series of twists and turns that is embodied in the clash of characters and a display of high strung ego cum jealousy that more often than not becomes a companion to fame.
I will say very little about this movie except for the fact that nobody does tragedy like Bollywood: just take a moment, think back… 
In this cocktail of genre’s lies deep the message around team work and the need for joint effort.  The movie description says it us an ‘ode to film.’ I say it is that and far much more.
And just as two started with a meeting in the grave yard, they reunite there, culminating in a bitter sweet ending.

PS: Sorry , wrote this last year but I feel its never too late to review a good movie.