Not many Nigerian movies tackle uncommon and real scenarios, we are lucky Bariga Sugar is one of those movies setting themselves apart. Set in a brothel in the slums of Lagos, Ifeoma Chukwuogo’s short film identifies and explores loneliness with a childlike curiosity through the eyes of 8 year old Ese, the only female child who lives in Bariga Sugar. Ese’s narrative allows for an honest perspective of the brothel.

Written by Chukwuogo and Ikenna Okah, together a taboo reality is explored in an atypical way. It veers from the film industry norms: there are no over dramatic scenes of love and betrayal, nor rivalry. Bariga Sugar is realistic in its presentation, contrasting the groping and discomfort of the women with the ‘jokes’ of men cheating on their wives and looking for pleasure at a discounted fee.

Loneliness is probably one of the most poignant themes portrayed within the first few minutes of the film. It serves as Ese’s (Halimat Olarewaju) response to Jamil’s (Tunde Azeez) offer of friendship. Despite wanting a friend, Ese is defensive of Jamil’s interest in her. This wall melts away when she witnesses Jamil being bullied outside the walls of the brothel, for being the ‘son of a whore’. There is a reminder that kids are cruel and words still hurt as we see him running away and crying after. It is this that serves as the start of their heart-warming friendship, two children making the most of their surroundings.

We see him teaching her how to read, using his ‘favorite storybook’, an insight into what they believe marriage to be through improvised drama, complete with makeup and a doll to serve as the child within the union. At the same time, we witness their dreams and aspirations. Jamil wanting to be a doctor and Ese to be the queen of Bariga Sugar, much like Madam Sugar’s current position; a role Jamil tells her isn’t enough. He urges her to be a real queen or a president, something more than what the brothel has to offer.

Upon being injured, Jamil refuses Ese’s bid to get help, adamant as he doesn’t want her to get beaten. It is this injury that allows us witness a more vulnerable side of his mother, something we don’t see enough of in the movie. We see her genuine fear and care for the health of her son, her resort to a backdoor healer due to her inability to afford hospital fees. It is this that allows for an understanding between the two mothers to come to play. The relic of Ese and Jamil’s friendship is the scene where she reads to her ill friend from the very book he taught her how to read, a book she ends up reading to her mother later on. The movie progresses smoothly and allows the characters develop from their initial starting point right till the end.

Bariga Sugar is captivating from its birthed concept to its execution. Unlike most movies with a familiar face or two, we’re introduced to a whole new set of faces whose actions and language show the brothel in blank faced honesty. Chukwuogo does not shy away from the events that take place in Bariga Sugar but presents us with a tainted view through Ese’s eyes. The theme of childhood innocence is constantly reiterated in Ese’s speech; the men of the brothel as her mother’s ‘plenty friends’, as opposed to her own friendless state. There is a clear progression that allows the characters develop from their initial starting point, right till the end. Only 21 minutes long, Bariga Sugar is definitely worth watching.