Aníkúlápó tells you a star-studded production can have a good story, but it leaves us hanging

Omoleye Omoruyi
As in Yoruba history, the movie makes subtle references to the hostility towards anti-norms – like having sex outside of a formal union…

Sometimes, as a Nigerian, you wonder how many times you get a good story from Nollywood, but when movie director and producer, Kunle Afolayan, tells you he has something in the works, you wait for it. “Aníkúlápó” is a good example.

Aníkúlápó” starts with enthralling stellar visuals, including aerial views of the ‘sacred forest’, hinting that a significant chunk of the story will revolve around the elements that reside in the forest.

Besides that are the historical references “Aníkúlápó” makes starting from the beginning:

Bi oku ba ku ni ile Yoruba, won ki n gbe ile ki wo sin wo… (when someone dies in Yoruba land, they are not buried) The narrator adds that the corpses are usually thrown in the sacred forest, and ‘Ifa so fun wa wi pe, eye Akala o ni agbara a ji ku (Ifa says the Akala bird has the power of the resurrection).

That is the narration that connects the story. The movie illustrates the culture of ancient Yoruba land, including their system of marriage, industrious nature, folklore and traditions.

Read also: “The Woman King” is entertaining but historically debatable

The plot – “Aníkúlápó”

Apart from the reference to the Akala bird and how the Yorubas dealt with dead people, the story is straightforward, telling of Saro, the visitor to Oyo – a man seeking greener pasture, but after an affair with the king’s wife, he encounters his untimely death.

The Akala bird tries to intervene in the life and death cycle but realises he doesn’t deserve to live again. What happens next is what drags the story further.

Towards the story’s climax, Awarun warns Saro of his greedy nature, but, like a proud Yoruba demon, he does not heed.

Saro - Anikulapo
Saro – “Anikulapo”

Saro…O shi ti n nowo si n ti o se ti e. (Saro, you are stretching your hands to things that are not yours.)

Awarun to Saro
Saro and Awarun - Anikulapo
Saro and Awarun – “Anikulapo”

Also, in the movie, Oyo is portrayed as the land of green pastures.

The characters

You would naturally expect the characterisation to be Yoruba-ish, but this one is star-studded and is an amazing combination. Let’s name some of them:

Saro (Kunle Remi) – is the main protagonist and one of two who encounters the legendary Akala bird and uses its power for personal gain. He is a greedy polygamist, a habit that leads to his downfall.

Awarun (Sola Sobowale) – the promiscuous member of the Oyomesi, and Saro‘s first host and eventual ‘sugar mummy’.

Olori Arolake (Bimbo Ademoye) – the Queen forced into marrying the king, and Saro‘s mistress, who eventually causes the second death of Saro. She is an excitingly scheming character, “bi ejo” (like a snake), who first poses as a naive character.

Akanji (Adebowale Adedayo) – A talkative, or gossip and the one who first warned Saro of Awarun‘s promiscuous nature and his straying into the path of slavery.

Yoruba culture in “Aníkúlápó”

If you are an advocate of indigenous languages, “Aníkúlápó” may excite you as it lays out the proper structure of the language all through to the end, unlike what we see on Africa Magic Yoruba (what many call code-mixing). This includes proverbs, which are typical of the indigenous Yoruba people -we would have wanted more proverbs, though.

On marriage systems, the movie highlights that polygamy is not a new concept in Yoruba land, and constant quarrelling between polygamists’ wives is a recurrent phenomenon. But why Saro is a dull figure in that system is surprising.

Though aso ofi is gradually coming back into contemporary fashion, its presence in the fashion industry is rather blurry, and this is why Saro‘s career in “Aníkúlápó” is an excellent storytelling element.

As in Yoruba history, the movie makes subtle references to the hostility towards anti-norms – like having sex outside of a formal union. But, it tells us that Awarun is a powerful promiscuous woman who is untouchable and who can get any man she so desires. This is why Akano (Kunle Afolayan) comes into the picture at some point.

For a two-hour movie, it tells little of the festival culture of the Yoruba, except the one-second show of masquerades and the dancing. There are no subcultures at any point.

Our thoughts

“Aníkúlápó” holds two stories in Saro‘s life, which we will call the first and second half.

Saro - Anikulapo
Saro – “Anikulapo”

The first half begins on a good note and teaches Saro a good lesson in greed and contentment, but he will not listen. The second half is where the story gets more intriguing, especially when Saro begins to raise dead people to life, and his greed begins to have branches on all sides of the tree.

This is when we have conversations about true love and who to blame in the end.

On true love, you may agree that Saro and Arolake were meant for each other, but their chemistry was not worth the risk, considering the might of the Oyo empire at the time, and what Awarun could possibly do to him.

Saro and Arolake - Anikulapo
Saro and Arolake – “Anikulapo”

The story also shows an unnecessary sex scene while trying to establish the love between Saro and Arolake. Not forgetting the hypocritical conservativeness of the intended audience, that scene does not tell any story, as the forest scene after the lovers escape death already tells us more. This is not Hollywood, where sex is the yardstick to define love.

“Aníkúlápó” is just a simple story and no depth in the dialogue. It is mostly entertainment. But, because the dialogue is too plain, we question the presence of the Kings and the older people in the film.

Also, in the second half, there are some unanswered questions. For instance, why is the King in Ilu Ojumo (Hakeem Kae-Kazim – Oba Aderoju) deaf and dumb in public? The story that explains that is rather dismissive too. If his Yoruba is not as good, there are other actors who can do a good job with that role.

You may find other unanswered questions, too, because, again, “Aníkúlápó” misses some details necessary to keep the story together. An instance here is why Arolake is childless and is just “nko itura lasan lasan.”


Skip or stream?

“Aníkúlápó” is entertainment that shows how far Nollywood can go if they put in the right budget and personnel. It may have left us wanting more, but it can be a good watch.

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