Review: Beyond the Veil offers a Charming and Intriguing Exploration of the Lives of 5 Arewa Women

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Lagos being the creative hub of Nigeria means the majority of Nollywood series and movies are set in the city, with plot lines detailing the lives of people living within it. The city has been a backdrop for engrossing shows like Flawsome and Unmarried, which center on the experiences of “modern” women connected through friendship, and their lives as they navigate societal expectations. Although stories focusing on women can never be enough, it is important that the stories being told are not restricted to certain groups’ realities. 

Refreshingly, as well as being set in Abuja and affording viewers a beautiful change of landscape, Beyond The Veil captures the lives of 5 young Muslim women and their journey through friendship, love, and family. The story is unique for spotlighting stories that are not popularly created or seen in the film industry, and delicately weaving a tale that incorporates the elegance of the Arewa culture in Abuja.  

The Amazon Prime series created by Nadine Ibrahim takes us through the lives of these women connected through friendship and family. Na’ima (Jemima Osunde), is a successful business owner who juggles running her Hammam, a persistent love interest, and her struggle with her mental health. Bradriyya (Norah Ego) nicknamed Baddie is a social media influencer absorbed by her own existence with little interest in things that don’t affect her. Hafsat played by Kannywood star Maryam Booth is an artist, wife, and mother of two grappling with the changes in her marital life and the unkept promises of her husband (Rikadawa Rabiu Mohammed), Zainab (Ame Aiyejina), Badriyyah’s half-sister who is also a disciplined, no-nonsense police detail of a minister, and Surrayah (Habiba Tanko), who is an extended relative taking solace from a failed marriage and attempting to build a new life. 

Although all the characters are essential to the plot, the core focus of the show is on the lives of close friends, Na’ima, Baddriyah, and Hafsat. From the start, it is clear through Na’ima’s frequent panic attacks and insomnia that she is plagued by a problem. This intrigue is built upon through her therapy sessions, random bursts of anxiety and her avoidant style of interacting with people. Jemima Osunde’s portrayal of Na’ima’s struggle is a compelling depiction of the layers of mental illness and the difficulties of being vulnerable. She also weaves a persuasive balance between Na’ima’s cheerful front and the obvious cracks in her facade. 

At first, Baddriyah’s self-absorbed personality seems exaggerated, however, as the episodes go on, it is obvious that Baddie is simply stuck in her own world without regard for her half-sisters and sometimes, her friends. The parallel of her nickname being a real-life symbol of an attractive person usually with a big presence on social media will not be lost on attentive viewers. It was impressive how “Baddie” was simply a short form of Baddriyah and no connection to “an Instagram baddie”  was made during the show. 

Newly single at the start of the show, Baddie’s attention is caught by a secret admirer who buys her an expensive watch the first day they speak. Even before they officially meet, Baddie is pleased by the attention showered on her and is already blushing at his texts the same day, disappointingly not registering that the natural response to a strange man calling and sending gifts should be scepticism and distrust, not giddiness. Although arguably a problematic character, Baddie’s naivety invokes sympathy (and annoyance) as her story is a relatable one amongst young women eager for a chance at love and to be showered with nice things. It perhaps could also serve as a mirror to similar real-life choices, to the effect that perhaps all red flags should be taken as serious warnings.

The show does an exceptional job of showing the realities of marriage when the expectations of getting into marriage do not translate into the reality of what it actually is. Hafsat’s marriage initially held the markings of a traditional marriage, with a submissive wife who is herded by her husband and restricted to the role of mother and nurturer. Surprisingly, Hafsat proved to be an outspoken woman, chasing her dreams of being an architect even without the support of her husband who was vehemently against it. In this story, many things which influence the fabric of marriage like gender roles, ambition and societal expectations, were explored in detail. 

The friendship portrayed between these girls was very surface level, without the real vulnerability or safety vital in women’s friendships done right. None of the girls were privy to the delicate issues happening in each other’s lives because they were occupied with creating an image of a happy and successful life. This is real in a sense, as friendships are hardly as sacred as they are meant to be in real life. Hafsat might have been guided by the unspoken rule of keeping marital issues private while Na’ima might have been cautious about not being a burden on the people around her with her mental challenges. Although efforts were made to show a loving friendship, there were obvious cracks right from the first episode, which could either be attributed to the initial lack of chemistry between the actors or just an intentional performance of a struggling friendship. The simmering resentment they held towards each other finally reared its head at the last episode of the season, with secrets exposed, accusations being thrown, and the inevitable catching up with them. Unfortunately for the characters, the problems are only just compounding.

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