Anikulapo is a wonderful attempt to fulfil the much needed desire for Africans to tell African stories, and Kunle Afolayan is a master storyteller. Anikulapo has a very simple storyline, with a simpler subplot that allows for fantastic acting and cinematography.
Anikulapo is an epic fantasy tale that begins In media res. A CGI-clad smokey raven-like creature, the “Akala bird”, resurrects a battered and beaten man who wakes up shocked and surprised.
In Yoruba culture, the mythical bird “Akala” has the power to resurrect a person who has died before their time.
The film tells the story of Saro (Kunle Remi), a weaver of “aso-ofi” and an ambitious young man who came seeking better fortunes in the old Oyo empire. He is taken under the wings of Awarun (Sola Sobowale), a woman who runs a pottery business.
Awarun initially seems like a kind middle-aged woman who advises Saro to work under her for a while to save some money to start his own weaving business. But Awarun nurses ulterior motives; deep at night, Awarun makes sexual advances to Saro, and even though momentarily shocked, Saro happily reciprocates.
On the side of the kingdom, Queen Arolake (Bimbo Ademoye) is miserable and sad in a marriage to the Alaafin of Oyo. She is hated by all the Oba’s other wives for being his favourite wife and to top it all off, she’s barren. Her only ally in the palace is Omowunmi (Eyiyemi Afolayan)- daughter of Alaafin’s oldest wife.
Meanwhile, Saro’s weaving business takes off, and the news of fine quality Aso-ofi clothes travels to the palace of the King, where the women invite him to see and buy his clothes. An elated Saro goes to the King’s palace and impresses everyone. At night, Arolake sneaks out of the palace and meets Saro, and a lustful affair immediately ensues between them and as they plan to elope, they get caught and Saro is sentenced to death.
A horrified Arolake hiding from the angry mob lynching her lover behind some bushes, sees Saro beaten to death by the crowd. As soon as the crowd leaves, the Akala comes to Saro and resurrects him, and right at this moment, Arolake, with her presence of mind, steals the power of resurrection, which is a mysterious black pouch.
A now resurrected Saro and Arolake find shelter in the Ojumo village, whereupon Arolake’s insistence, Saro uses the power of resurrection to bring a little boy back from the dead.
The news of Saro being the “Anikalupo” (which means he carries death in his pocket) spreads like wildfire and Saro soon turns into almost a saviour for the villagers. Even the Ojumo King and his chiefs put Saro on an extremely high pedestal. Only the high priest seems sceptical about Saro’s source of power.
Years go by, and Saro’s great fortune seems like a never-ending streak. But for Arolake, things take an ugly turn as Saro takes more wives and procreates with them. Their love fades away, and once a queen and the King’s favourite, Arolake now becomes the barren eldest wife of the “Anikulapo” in a cruel turn of fate.
When the Ojumo king’s only son accidentally dies, Saro is summoned to save him. Blinded by his pride, Saro asks for the hand of the King’s daughter as his payment for the resurrection of the prince. Initially apprehensive and enraged by the audacity of Saro, the King eventually gives in to his demand.
Upon hearing Saro’s wish to marry the daughter of the King in exchange for the prince’s life, Arolake can’t take it anymore and decides to leave silently. But before leaving, she removes the sand from Akala’s pouch, which Saro uses to resurrect people.
But as Saro tries to resurrect the prince, he fails, and after so many desperate attempts, he realises that he no longer has the power of “Anikulapo.” This failure did not go well with the King of Ojumo who had already been enraged by Anikulapo’s initial request to marry his daughter.
In the end, Saro is seen beaten to a pulp and paid a second visit by the Akala bird.
The movie weaves mythical elements into a story of love, betrayal, scheming, and the lives of our ancestors. The casting of the movie works perfectly as all the actors are placed in roles they successfully execute. The acting from the protagonist and deuteragonist is commendable, as they stayed on their A-game till the end.
Anikulapo is a fine movie, one we have anticipated for a long time. The chemistry between Kunle Remi and Bimbo Ademoye is a beauty to behold, and the way they both speak Yoruba with the right accent is very impressive. Bimbo is such a great actress that all she needs to express something is to open her eyes; her body language is fantastic on the screen. Kunle Remi’s first foray into Yoruba movies is good for his acting profile and it shows he is a versatile actor.
Some say the biggest disappointment is the character arc of Arolake. Shown as a repressed but fierce female at first, the writer decides to turn herself into someone who, in fact, starts to regret the miserable life she has left behind.
Certain critics believe it is an injustice to possibly the best character in the narrative, which damages the movie to a great extent, and also makes it problematic enough. But I strongly disagree with this Narrative for two main reasons:
Firstly, it is the choice of a director to represent a character in their own movie exactly how they want to and tell the story how they see it. And secondly, the presentation of Arolake in Anikulapo successfully established some of the most important takeaways of greed, pride and the perverted nature of the human race. Not everything has a happy ending and that’s real life- get over yourselves!
The movie does not try to modernise the issues in the story. It portrays polygamy in its true light, both in a palace, and a regular household, women giving their men preference, and all the other challenges of such a living arrangement.
The makeup, props, and costumes in this movie were top notch and one hundred percent realistic. Anikulapo is one of the best portrayals of Yoruba mythical stories and a masterclass in filmmaking by a master filmmaker.