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Nigeria comes Bollywood-tasting

Mumbai, April 20: There were not too many people of African origin in the first place. But in his long, powder-blue robe, lightly embroidered but a little dirty with dust, the tall dark young man with an uncertain air cuts an even more unusual figure amid pins and stripes of the new generation of desi filmwallahs.

But then at Frames, Ficci’s global entertainment convention held last month, there were more reasons for which Edion A. Eddy stood out. Eddy, who works for the National Film and Video Censors Board, Abuja, Nigeria, was the one-man team sent by his impoverished country to take a close look at Bollywood.

While there were several companies from other countries, especially the US and the UK, which saw in Bollywood and cross-over films a business opportunity like never before, Nigeria could afford to send only one representative.

Other foreign representatives stayed at Renaissance, the plush luxury resort at one end of the city where the convention was held. But Eddy stayed at the Railway Hotel in Colaba, roughing it out with backpackers, travelling for more than two hours every day for the convention.

All this because Bollywood is a role model for Nigeria. The country — a nascent democracy that is recovering from years of colonial British and military rule and is still struggling against powerful anti-democratic forces — needs lessons from the Indian film business to build up an industry of its own, which lies demolished.

“It all began with the Structural Adjustment Policies (SAP) in the eighties,” says Eddy, who in his broken English finds it a little difficult to explain why an employee of the censor board should be sent as representative of his country’s film industry.

“But that’s because we don’t have a film industry any more. We only have video films. Some of them are very violent. The censor board is constantly busy,” says Eddy. “Before SAP, we used to make a few films. We were very low on infrastructure, but our filmmakers used to shoot the film in the country. For processing, they would send them abroad, mostly the UK.

“But after SAP, the Naira (Nigerian currency) collapsed. It became impossible for us to send our films abroad,” says Eddy. Since then the scene has been dismal. But even before the eighties, things weren’t very good.

During the British rule, which ended in 1960, the country got its taste of films. In the early part of the century, the colonial masters made films on “educational” subjects.

They could be good business — better housing, mixed farming or fighting tuberculosis. After the British left, Nigerians were forced into a diet of films from many countries.

The market began to be dominated by China, Hong Kong, Japan, the UK, Hollywood and Bollywood. In reaction, some of the country’s filmmakers tried to make films in the country or take control over other aspects of the trade from the seventies.

It was very difficult. The audience was hooked to Bollywood romance, Chinese and Hong Kong Kung Fu and Hollywood and British producers showed their films free of cost.

Distribution and exhibition of films were firmly in the hands of Indians and Lebanese who also owned movie theatres.

Production was even harder — getting to raise the money to make a film became a nightmare for the Nigerian producers. Then came SAP.

It was then that they turned to video film for survival, a medium that defines the Nigerian film industry till date. It led to a boom, though foreign makers, keeping up with the trend, kept importing their stuff.

“Some of these films were very violent,” says Eddy again, explaining why his organisation is so important in the country. “Our censors have a lot of work.”

But now Nigeria wants a change. That’s why Eddy was sent hurriedly to India, though the Frames invitation reached late.

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