Site icon The Times Group Malawi

Did ‘The Road to Sunrise’ lead to perfect destination?

I was very excited that night at Sunbird Nkopola in Mangochi with fellow journalists during a media retreat organised by MultiChoice Malawi when we were informed that apart from other activities such as playing soccer, we will have an opportunity to watch Shemu Joyah’s latest movie The Road to Sunrise.

Since Joyah announced that The Road to Sunrise was ready and that its premiere would be in November 2017, I had longed to watch the film.

I wanted to see what the film was all about and what progress Joyah had made following the successes of his award winning movies – Seasons of a Life and The Last Fishing Boat.

I have watched Seasons of a Life which featured actors such as Flora Suya, Tapiwa Gwaza, Ben Msuku and Hope Chisanu.

It is a very good movie with a very touching story. Being Joyah’s first, there were some shortfalls in terms of production but he scored more marks.

And come The Last Fishing Boat, there was a very big improvement in terms of production and this time because he was more advanced in terms of equipment, the picture quality as well as sound was much better than Seasons of A Life.

The story in The Last Fishing Boat is also powerful, especially because it reveals some of the activities that take place along the lake.

But if one was to rate Seasons of a Life and The Last Fishing Boat, Seasons of a Life still stands out as the best in terms of maturity of the story.

Enough of the two movies, and back to Joyah’s third film The Road to Sunrise.

The desire in me grew further to watch The Road to Sunrise, especially when news came out that the movie had won a Special Recognition Award for a Narrative Feature Film at the Silicon Valley African Film Festival in USA. The festival run from September 29 2017 to October 1 2017.

I recall this other day when Joyah and team were at Robin’s Park in Blantyre shooting one of the scenes. I wanted to sample this scene which was a fashion event.

There was seriousness in the way Joyah and his team were going about their business, such that it brought back memories in me of the time one of the Hollywood stars was shooting a movie in Cape Town, South Africa.

Shooting a movie is a serious business that demands a lot and during the shooting in Cape Town, roads were closed, with sign posts placed in all the corners that read “Film Shooting in Progress.”

Back at Sunbird Nkopola, Joyah told us that this was only a preview and that with the premiere coming up in Lilongwe on November 3 followed by another screening on November 11 in Blantyre, we would not see the entire film.

He was right; we did not manage to see the end of the movie.

After the screening, it was now time for us journalists to critique the movie.

For your information, this film is rated 18 and above because it has strong language and so many sex scenes in it.

Being a film that tells the story of the lives of two women, Rubia and Watipa, who engage in prostitution, sex actions are pretty much a part and parcel of the movie.

Some journalists were of the view that Joyah had gone overboard with the sex scenes and thus could have done away with some of them, and at the same time could have toned down on strong language.

Some felt some scenes should not have been part of the movie as they were irrelevant, while others felt he had lost the plot by putting in more court scenes, which was somehow similar to Seasons of A Life.

While many people thought Joyah would go for the known names when casting the movie, he did the opposite, unearthing new faces, with the known names of Chisanu, Gwaza and Msuku taking supporting roles.

But he was on point on his selection for lead actors in using Mirriam Phiri, who plays Rubia, Chantelle Phiri (Watipa) and Madock Masina as Shoti, the switchblade-welding pimp.

Rubia and Watipa struggle with life in the rough and unforgiving townships of Blantyre.

Rubia finds herself in such a situation after being impregnated whilst in school. She ends up being disowned by her father.

It is while wandering about that she ends up meeting Watipa and colleagues, who are already into prostitution.

Meanwhile, Shoti calls the shots, as he finds men to sleep with them and in turn he (Shoti) gets all the money.

Rubia, Watipa and friends sleep with the men but they are exploited by Shoti.

One day, Rubia refuses to have sex with a very rich businessman, who is a regular client. The businessman loses his temper and violently attempts to rape her.

In self defence, Rubia stabs the businessman to death. She is arrested and charged with murder.

Her subsequent trial becomes a battle, not just to escape the death sentence, but also a journey towards her inner emancipation.

Towards the end, the jury finds Rubia not guilty while Watipa, who is into fashion designing wins a fashion show and that changes their lives.

Meanwhile, Shoti is beaten and left for dead and loses both legs.

Just like the journalists had mixed reactions to The Road to Sunrise, the movie has also got different views from people, having had its two screenings in Lilongwe and Blantyre.

Versatile writer and critic Dave Namusanya wrote on his Facebook page that Joyah had the cameras, the actors, and the time but had no story.

He further said that he endured watching Joyah’s latest release and that at the end, he was left feeling like he had just attended a sermon of a basic motivational speaker or had just finished sitting by his grandma’s side, with all her tales meant to instill what she considered as virtues.

In brief, watching the movie on the day for Namusanya was an experience he would not want to endure again.

“While the production had the blessing of resources, it lacked in the storyline. While it had talented pool of actors, its narrative veered closer to the old productions of Joyah which we applauded for, either out of lack or, because we so believe the film industry here is in its infancy,” Namusanya said.

He further said that The Road to Sunrise is Seasons of A Life 2 and that it is an Association of Teaching of English in Malawi (Atem) drama, only blighted by powerful HD cameras, a passionate cast and good music.

Another artist said Joyah would have removed the sexual scenes and explicit language.

But Tango Ngalawa says in Malawi, people have a tendency of watching local movies with “our families, kids inclusive.”

“Now this movie which has some strong language and sex scenes is not good for family viewing. Some words are too obscene to be mentioned in our local language,” Ngalawa writes on Facebook.

But despite this, he says this is a must watch movie and describes the main character Rubia as a genius, so too is Shoti.

Criticism is good. It makes you improve and for Joyah, this should be a welcome development.

Being a movie that talks about prostitution, Joyah was not wrong in putting sex scenes, otherwise removing them would have diluted it.

This is why he rated the film 18 and so he is not at fault putting strong language.

The filmmaker also needs to be commended in that, apart from the issue of prostitution, the film also highlights some of the challenges Malawians are facing, including power shortage.

Joyah said he has read some of the comments people have said about the film on social media.

“It’s interesting that people are discussing the movie but I am not sure if some have understood it. The comments will help me see my work from a different angle and sometimes it helps one to improve,” Joyah said.

He said that normally, he does not comment because he believes that once a piece of art has gone into the public domain, it should speak for itself for he has no control of what people think.

He said the film is about prostitutes so there is bound to be a lot of sex.

On the film being labeled a copycat of Seasons of A Life with similar court scenes, Joyah said:

“I didn’t know that there is a limit to how many films with court scenes a filmmaker is supposed to make. Martin Scorsesse did Goodfellas and Casino of Gangsters. He even used same actors. I have never heard anyone criticising him for doing that,” the self-trained filmmaker said.

There are things which are being done in court which some quarters have branded as ‘fake’ hence Joyah could have made a proper research.

“As always, I research my subjects thoroughly. I asked lawyer friends about the scenes and they said they are realistic. During shooting, I asked the late Nyakwawa Usiwa-usiwa to give us court officials to give us guidance on court procedures and we had them the entire three days we shot the court scenes,” Joyah said.

He added that during the preview, one of the previewers was a lawyer.

“He too commented that there was nothing wrong with the court scenes. So I don’t know how the court scenes can be called fake,” he said.

During the premiere in Lilongwe, the movie received a low patronage but at Robin’s Park, according to Joyah, the response was better.

Joyah has since said that those who missed the two outings in Lilongwe and Blantyre have another chance to watch the film.

“We start screening the film at M-Theatre in Blantyre on November 25,” he said.

Joyah has scored points on the sound, picture quality and selection of actors and has done well tackling the issue of prostitution but he could have done better on the story line which is somehow lacking.

Exit mobile version