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“Ajakaju: Beast of Two Worlds” Stumbles in Melding Myth and Modernity

By trying to blend the old Yoruba legend into a modern-day cinematic masterpiece, “Ajakaju” has been caught up in its own narrative ambitions.
May 17, 2024
12:06 pm

The landscape of Yoruba cinema is fast expanding, with filmmakers following a trend that draws from the culture’s vast wealth of folklore and ancient literature. This method enables the audience to experience what they are familiar with – the Yoruba environment – while still being able to recognize their favorite stars. Though this approach has had reasonable success in combining tradition with a contemporary perspective, some adaptations have struggled to maintain this delicate balance. “Ajakaju” falls into this latter category, as a movie that is unfortunately not very successful, despite its noble intentions.


Directed by Adebayo Tijani and Odunlade Adekola, the storyline initially takes the well-known path: an ambitious king searches for a male heir to continue his lineage. After having several daughters from his three wives and under pressure from the ancestral cult, King Towobola (Odunlade Adekola) marries an enigmatic young lady Adaralewa (Eniola Ajao). Hope for an heir brightens up, but Adaralewa brings in a sinister twist as she keeps killing her newborn sons so much so that she shrouds the palace in a dark mystique.


The opening scene is filled with various cultural Yoruba motifs such as how important it is to continue the royal lineage, the powerful duality of womanhood, and the constant presence of the supernatural. The portrayal of King Towobola by Adekola is a masterpiece as it oscillates between his authoritative presence and vulnerable moments; other veteran actors like Sola Sobowale and Fathia Balogun provide a solid foundation for their archetypal roles through linguistic authenticity and emotional appeal.


Ajakaju - Beast of Two Worlds
Ajakaju – Beast of Two Worlds

However, “Ajakaju” is flawed in that it takes an abrupt shift from this main story into Yoruba folklore about antelopes turning into humans. Although this shape-shifting mythology holds significant cultural values, its introduction does not have the required skillful handling and foreshadowing to allow for its seamless inclusion in the core narrative.


The film awkwardly lets us know that Adaralewa was once an antelope and later transformed into the vengeful beast, Ajakaju, hell-bent on revenge after her parents were killed by a merciless hunter (Femi Adebayo). This revelation, which would have been better as a mid-film twist, arrives with little preparation, thus diminishing its intended impact and disrupting the flow of the story.


This fractured structure underlines a wider problem: “Ajakaju” finds it hard to harmonize folkloric elements with present-day storylines. The long flashback chronicling Adaralewa’s metamorphosis feels tonally disjointed, almost melodramatic without exploring enough into her emotional motivations or anchoring her plight within the film’s overarching themes.


This disconnect reflects on a broader level as well since the movie fails to incorporate many profound symbols from its mythological background into an all-encompassing thematic narrative, hence, undermining its essence. The transformation motif, very vital to Yoruba folklore that explores human-animal duality and spiritual worlds, still remains underdeveloped, making “Ajakaju” lack depth.


Performances by the ensemble cast reflect what is seen in terms of tonal inconsistencies in the film. While Adekola stands out and Sobowale’s portrayal of the crafty royal matriarch is a model of restraint, Ajao struggles to give Adaralewa the necessary emotional complexity as she often comes across as a caricature instead of a vengeful beast. Supporting roles, including Lateef Adedimeji’s humor-infused family sub-plot, and Femi Adebayo’s one-dimensional villainous hunter do not enhance the storytelling.


There are however moments of brilliance in unlikely quarters, particularly in terms of visual craftsmanship. The lush cinematography by Idowu Adedapo gives full expression to traditional Yoruba aesthetics while the production design painstakingly recreates both palatial splendor and rural village life thereby allowing audiences to be immersed in authentically rendered worlds.


Ajakaju - Beast of Two Worlds
Ajakaju – Beast of Two Worlds

Yet, “Ajakaju’s” most egregious misstep lies in its muddled thematic messaging. By awkwardly fusing disparate folktale fragments without cohering them into a unified philosophical throughline, the film squanders its cultural richness. The finale’s heavy-handed didacticism about unity between humans and nature lands with a thud, failing to articulate a cogent moral vision transcending simplistic grounds.


Thus, in its pursuit of synthesizing ancient myth with contemporary resonance, “Ajakaju” loses itself amidst fragmented folklore and tonal dissonance. While individual components dazzle, from the visuals to standout performances, the overall experience remains an unfocused mythological amalgam struggling to harmonize its myriad ambitions into a cohesive, impactful whole.


Therefore, in spite of its sumptuous trappings and cultural nobility, “Ajakaju” is a fractured folktale fusion and a stark reminder that adapting revered folklore requires more than mere replication of narrative beats – it necessitates a deft combination of the mythic and the modern, the primordial and the contemporary. What a missed opportunity to elevate Yoruba storytelling to transcendent heights.


“Ajakaju: Beast of Two Worlds” premiered in cinemas on March 29, 2024.


Release Date: March 29, 2024

Runtime: 2 hours

Streaming Service: None. Cinematic Release

Director(s): Odunlade Adekola and Adebayo Tijani

Cast: Odunlade Adekola, Eniola Ajao, Sola Sobowale, Femi Adebayo, Lateef Adedimeji, Mercy Aigbe, Bimbo Akintola, Fathia Balogun, and Ibrahim Chatta

TNR Scorecard:


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