US-based Dr. Robins is indisposed, culminating in her inability to embark on her annual medical trip to Nigeria, where she conducts free surgeries for Vesico Vaginal Fistula (VVF) patients in a rural community. So, Zara (Stephanie Okereke), her daughter, also a medical doctor, decides to represent her mother and also use the opportunity to confront her troubled past. This journey brings her in contact with Halima (Zubaida Ibrahim Fagae), an underage girl-cum-VVF patient married to a 60 year-old man.
Stephanie Linus is extolled for taking on this developmental issue in a fictional film. One cringes when Sani shows sexual attraction to little Halima and it is hoped that those who engage in this nefarious activity of marrying underage girls plus paedophiles see this film, they will understand the untold harm they cause these young girls. Films like this have the power to disarm wrongdoers, compelling them to have a rethink. One wishes that the film will be popularizedin the part of the country and other parts of the continent/the world where child marriage is rife.
A few years ago, Sandra Mbanefo Obiago of Communicating for Change, a defunct film-making company, narrated how a woman, who was a 3rd or 4th generation female ‘circumcizer’ from a family known to carry out female genital mutilation in their community, wept for days and afterwards discarded her implements of circumcision after she watched a video where she performed the ruthless exercise on hapless infants. Therefore, the producers of Dry have an advocacy material on their hands and should collaborate with NGOs who campaign against child marriage to make sure this film is seen by those who indulge in this unfortunate practice.
The film is ironically, but aptly titled Dry; a simple but very deep name for a heart-rending tale. The film subtly makes a case for doctors in rural areas. This is commendable because even in the developed world, health workers in thehinterland are better remunerated than those in urban settings. Why has the government, at all levels in Nigeria, refused to provide this incentive to doctors, nurses, and other health workers, so that they will be motivated to work in rural areas? Where there is a semblance of this motivation, it is not enough to attract medical practitioners.
Dr. Robins gives Zara the best education and exposure money can buy; giving her a voice to represent thedowntrodden at the National Assembly. It also reinforces the imperative of quality basic education for all children, the kind of training which will guide them in choosing their paths in life. It is heinous when any child anywhere in the world, especially in the developing world, is denied this right, which is enshrined in the Child’s Right Act. Moreover, a well-trained child is equipped to make tremendous contributions to the economy and the society at large.
The Traditional Birth Attendant’s (TBA’s) statement is one of the funniest lines in the whole film. She says, ‘All these children for this village, na me dey collect their deliver‘, meaning she takes delivery of all the children in the village. Again, the film emphasizes the need to train TBAs, firmly instructing them not to keep women in labour beyond a certain point if the women fail to put to bed because of the dangers the prolonged attempts at delivery by the TBAs with their limited knowledge pose to the life of the mother and her unborn child.
Despite its tear-jerking theme and the fact that this is probably the first time VVF is dramatized in a film, there are several flaws in Dry, many of which could have been avoided if more care had been taken during pre-production and the actual production.
Zara (Stephanie Linus) herself makes the same mistake, common among Westerners, whenever they talk about Africa and African countries – failing to call the specific name of the African country they are referring to or taking as if Africa is just a country. Zara tells Dr. Robins “… your trip to Africa” rather than “… your trip to Nigeria”.
Undoubtedly, the producers seem to have a misunderstanding about the different levels of care in the health system. Who trains the doctors, who according to the Matron (Liz Benson-Ameye), leave for the teaching hospital subsequently; owing to poor remuneration in the clinic/health centre? VVF can only be handled by gynaecologists, who may choose to train select medical officers to perform VVF surgeries.
However, we neither see this gynaecologist nor are told about him, making the viewer suspect that the Matron and the nurses provide the training for the doctors, which is impossible. This forces one to question why the nurses cannot do the surgeries themselves if they train the doctors.
Why is VVF presented as a bed-wetting problem rather than a problem of urinary incontinence? The audience expected some exposition as to why some young girls escape contracting VVF though they marry as underage children; in the end, it is not every girl involved in child marriage that contacts VVF, though it is impossible to tell who will and who will not just by looking at a girl, a reason every girl must mature enough before getting married or becoming pregnant.
The reaction to Halima’s ailment portrays hers as the first incidence of VVF in a community where that disease is actually prevalent, more or less, because of the high rate of child marriage. Hajia (Rekiya Attah) behaves as if she has never seen that ailment in her entire life, which is not possible! Even the younger women must have seen it because it is common in their part of the country. Is the health centre located in another world or are there no members of the community, who accompany their relatives to the hospital or even work at the centre? So, they cannot feign knowledge of VVF like the producers project them to.
The producers of the movie, in a bid to attach stigma to the disease, could probably have claimed that it is accursed people who contract it. After all, many of the women in that community marry very early. How come the ailment chooses those to afflict, leaving out others? That or any other logical premise could have been made the theory behind the discrimination against sufferers of the disease, but it beggars belief to present VVF as a strange ailment amongst the people.
Hajia represents the same domineering and nasty mother-in-law seen in thousands of Nollywood films. For the umpteenth time, such women are in the minority in the Nigerian society and their behaviour should not be ascribed to every mother-in-law! Film-makers should create mothers-in-law who approach matters in different ways. All of them definitely do not behave or react in the stereotypical way they have been depicted.
Language is another problem in Dry. The same people who speak both English and Hausa claim they cannot fill a form – write down their particulars in a hospital card. Why did they not just stick to speaking Hausa, so the viewer will know they are not literate?
During Zara’s presentation at the National Assembly, which means a lot to her character, she says that “women are the most endangered species”. A consummate scientist like Zara should have known that men and women are the same species. She also says, “You all may wonder, what is my story”; ‘You all may wonder what my story is’ is the way to put it.
Zara addresses the Speaker as the Honourable Speaker, Federal House of Assembly. There are State Houses of Assembly while the lower wing of the National Assembly is known as the House of Representatives. When mistakes such as this are made, one is then reminded that one is watching a film. Obviously, the screenwriter made a mistake, but does it also mean that none of the tens of people who read the script know the appropriate registers of the legislature in a Presidential democracy?
Zara also says, “Be rest assured …” instead of ‘Rest, assured …‘
One of the legislators, Musa Abdullahi (Hakeem Rahman), addresses the Speaker (Olu Jacobs) as His Lordship? Again, this is a lack of knowledge of registers. That expression is used for judges and bishops and the speaker is neither a judge nor a bishop. Mr. Speaker is the correct title.
Zara is insensitive. Her inquisition about her daughter does not preclude expressing empathy to suffering people. When people say there are situations they do not wish their enemies to face, does Madam Kojo’s state not merit Zara’s sympathy in spite of all Kojo did to her?
Director Linus does not monitor her extras; many of those who stone Halima in the market are actually smiling and giggling as they do so! The traditional leader asks, “Why is our children burning the hospital?” ‘are’ is the correct verb.
The scene where Hadiza (Halima’s mother) and Zara argue gives a sense of déjà vu, reminding one of a similar encounter between Peggy (Ego Boyo) and Sumbo (Mildred Iweka) in the late Amaka Igwe’s Violated, a 1995 film.
The screenwriter, who also happens to be the director, could have been more thorough in her research to close up thegaping holes, many of which arise from storytelling. However, the visual demonstration of Halima’s suffering is enough to melt a stony heart and even if it is for that reason alone, Dry is worth your while.