The second of director Kunle Afolayan’s three picture deal with Africa Magic, (Omugwo was released in May and The Tribunal follows later in the year,) Roti is a psychological drama that goes to much deeper places than the regular Africa Magic fare. But don’t get excited much, the subpar execution ensures Roti remains squarely in Africa Magic territory.
Dealing with such weighty themes as loss, love, mental illness and reincarnation, Roti is a film that throws up many questions but isn’t ashamed to admit it has none of the answers. It grapples with a premise that appears simple but brims with such complexity that it must be handled as delicately as possible. Afolayan shows with his chronic heavy handedness, scene after scene, that he simply isn’t the man for the job.
Sure Afolayan has his strengths, and they include matching bright talent to big ideas dreamed up by his ever ambitious drive. But with Roti, as he did in October 1, and pretty much every film he has done to a more restricted extent, the award winning filmmaker simply proves he hasn’t the patience for nuance in the stories he chooses to tell.
Normally these stories (Figurine, The CEO) usually arrive packaged in some high concept gimmick that succeeds at diverting attention from his shoddiness. Whenever Afolayan gets it right, as he did with Figurine’s sucker punch ending, he is hailed as an auteur and the errors in his work are overlooked. But when he fails to hit the bull’s eye as he demonstrated with the entire cheat sheet that was The CEO’s disastrous final act, he demystifies his process as all technique, with little substance.
Roti falls in this latter category.
Which is not to say that Roti isn’t a well-meaning film, or that it lacks ambition or good intentions even. If more effort had been put into handling the story as respectfully as possible, it might have even been a good film. The finished product is stuck in some kind of uncomfortable limbo. One that embraces obvious theatrics by lingering on actors weeping inconsolably. As though that were the only way to convey grief. Roti is the kind of film that places A-list actors into pretty pictures created by the terrific Yinka Edwards and assumes that the viewer will be suitably impressed.
As narrated by Kabiru (Kunle Afolayan), he and his wife Diane (Kate Henshaw) have waited ten years to have a baby. They finally have Roti (Darimisire Afolayan) who grows into a lovable boy. As he approaches his ninth birthday, the doctors notice a hole in heart, an ailment which by the way, in reality, is never diagnosed medically via a chest x-ray. But let’s go with the flow.
Roti does not survive this heart condition. His traumatised parents are left to piece their lives back together. When they eventually begin to come to terms with their new existence, years later, in strolls a child, Juwon, belonging to another family.
Juwon bears more than a striking resemblance to Roti (they are played by the same actor) and Diane is convinced that her dead son has come back to her. This unlikely situation opens fresh wounds and the couple begins anew, the struggle to make sense of it all.
Roti is the story of this struggle.
Afolayan casts himself in the lead role and hires his mum (Omoladun Afolayan), and his son for supporting turns. If Francis Ford Coppola could cast a young Sofia in the third Godfather film, who’s to stop our own equivalent?
While the director elicits decent performances from his kin, he criminally undercuts Kate Henshaw at every turn. The veteran Henshaw is one who under the guidance of a perceptive director could have delivered a more sensitive portrayal of grief. She certainly has the chops to do so. But Afolayan is not interested in any of this.
He only wants her tears and she gives him buckets of it, at the detriment of any genuinely interesting acting on her part. She will score the nominations, and some awards but it is the role they will be rewarding, not the performance.
The screenplay, by Sola Dada says too little, observes even less and distances with its coldness before building to a climax that manages to be both fitting and unsatisfying. The film comes to life briefly when Faithia Balogun and Toyin Oshinaike, as Juwon’s opportunistic parents show up as foils, but they are too peripheral to really matter.
The picture is clean enough with greenish hues and a cloudy sense of foreboding prevailing throughout the film’s brief running time.
To be fair, Afolayan, and Africa Magic deserve kudos for engaging viewers in a tale this divergent, when they could both have easily made another mother in law film starring Patience Ozokwor. But perhaps Afolayan is too deeply invested in his own self-importance, and Africa Magic in its second-rate status, that either side isn’t pushing the other creatively, or demanding deep introspection.