“Adire” Review: Kehinde Bankole  Powers Minimalist Story  

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Adire, a comedy drama directed by Adeoluwa Owu, tells the story of a prostitute, Asari (Kehinde Bankole), who escapes from her pimp Captain (Yemi Blaq) and relocates to another town where she takes on a new identity as Adire. As she gradually adjusts to life in Oyo Oke, her former boss finds her, posing a threat to her newfound independence. This film, with minimalism, tackles sex trafficking, individual agency, religious fanaticism, hypocrisy and morality.

The plot is passable. There’s a smooth, unencumbered progression from the exposition which has Asari tethered to Captain’s whims, to the ending where the lady experiences genuine love and freedom. Unnecessary minor plots and backstories are boycotted—no superfluous sexual encounter between Tega (Ibrahim Chatta) and Asari, no unsolicited excavation of chunks of Asari’s past life. Also, the dialogues between characters are straight to the point and accompanied with less sensationalism. Exceptions apply to perpetually melodramatic characters like Tobi (Kelechi Udegbe) and Yewande (Lizzy Jay), both of whom accentuate the film’s comic foray. 

Kehinde Bankole is recently remembered for her powerful lead roles in Sista and Funmilayo Ransome-Kuti. In Adire, she brings her A game as a sex worker in search of emancipated and purposeful existence. While the simple storyline does not make the impression of a blockbuster, Kehinde’s portrayal of Adire is graceful and edifying. From the opening club scene, we learn quickly that the concept of class is ubiquitous, that there is a sense of class even within lowly enterprises. The film does not leave us to imagine what it means to be the “classy”, less sassy sex worker. We see this in Asari who brims with confidence as she struts towards Tega (Ibrahim Chatta) and takes off his glasses. As an actress, Kehinde Bankole’s got a good gait aided by her height, an assertive tone for a manipulator and the queenly demeanor of someone who has everything under control—which her character, Asari, readily contracts. At Oyo Oke, where Asari becomes Adire, her demeanor gets the men groveling as she garners a temporary reputation as a temptress. 

Unlike many Nigerian celebrities, Kehinde Bankole has remained scandal-free in her career. Having admitted herself to being homely, she joins a breed of Nollywood stars who have managed to separate their private affairs from public life. It’s why she hardly makes the headlines or social media trends unless she has delivered a remarkable performance in a film. Coincidentally, this seemingly strong sense of selfhood—charisma, ambivert-like aura, the potential for strong, personal resolutions devoid of group-think culture—is perceptible in some of her recent film characters. In Biodun Stephen’s Sista, Kehinde plays the titular character who faces squarely and with defiance the reality of single parenting. Similarly, in Adeoluwa Owu’s Adire, the protagonist defiantly decides to take charge of her own life. She proves to be enterprising, establishing herself as a designer of undergarments, even while being a sex worker. Her rebellion against Captain only happens after failed attempts at negotiating her freedom, and when she eventually leaves, it’s a solitary decision that involves no other person. We are not told she has any close friends to confide in.

It’s interesting how Kehinde Bankole meticulously marshals her emotions in Adire. In the face of oppression and antagonism, Adire revolts reasonably, her reaction rooted in the actress’s quiet confidence. When the church woman leader Folashade (Funlola Aofiyebi-Raimi) demeans and ridicules Adire, Adire remains unruffled. When Captain locates and confronts Adire in her new home, she does not cower as she tries to defend her action at first. When she smiles at the men in the bar, her smile is controlled but contagious, one with a deceptive undertone, not giving her out as a lecherous being and yet not also completely overruling the desire to express her sexuality.  We all see a woman at this point that is smitten with a moral crisis, and it takes the intervention of a love interest, Thomas (Ifeanyi Kalu)  to make her value herself better.

Simplicity in Adire is both beauty and anathema. The film is felled by its minimalist virtue, occasionally doing a bit too little to convince us. Adire’s love interest, Thomas, readily accepts her without getting to know much about her. For a man of his age and experience, his masculine frame is suspect; and the relationship between him and Adire is not properly defined till the end of the film. Also, the reference to Adire’s abode as a haunted house is baseless because the filmmaker does not show us in any way how this belief is relevant to the plot.

In spite of failings, Adire makes for an admirable watch as it raises questions on morality as well as  the responsibility of the church towards maintaining a wholesome community. The protagonist’s quest for redemption and a community is a microscopic reflection of the struggles of every individual for fulfillment.