To many, news that Charles Shemu Joya’s movie The Road To Sunrise has won this year’s Africa Magic Viewers Choice Award (AMVCA) for southern Africa is not much of a surprise.
In fact, it would have been surprising if the movie failed to clinch any award, considering how Joyah improved in script, sound, lighting, characterisation and dialogue—the very elements producers are struggling to get right in the film industry.
For this movie, Joyah surpassed his own best. It is a movie for which he raised the bar higher, even for himself such that his two previous productions Seasons of A Life and The Last Fishing Boat pale against The Road To Sunrise.
No wonder, the mixed reactions that greeted the movie after it premiered last year was a testimony to how people were touched by it, differently.
Reacting to the success, Joyah had this to say: “It is a great encouragement for the Malawian film industry. We are slowly getting there, but what we need to do is to continue learning the trade, training ourselves technically and writing better scripts. The competition was tough. When I watched the trailers of the films we were competing against on YouTube, I was not sure we would make it, but here we are.”
His compatriot Joyce Mhango-Chavula, whose movie Nyasaland was also nominated for the same award, congratulated Joyah.
“The competition was stiff as Malawi was nominated alongside many great films. For him to win it really means a lot for our industry,” she said.
Joya’s story is about three prostitutes—Rubia, Watipa and Chisomo—who are struggling to eke out a living in the slum township of Bangwe in Blantyre through sex. It is a complelling story that mirrors the current trends in society that see more young girls pouring into the trade out of poverty and desperation.
Joyah’s setting might have been inspired by Ayi Kwei Arma’s The Beautyful Ones Are Not Yet Born that uses filth and waste imagery in the newly independent nation of Ghana to symbolise the rotten state of things in the new republic.
Thus, by using this kind of setting, the film is in the light of postcolonial discourse that argues that despite attaining independence more than 50 years ago, the majority of Africans are wallowing in the murky waters of poverty—with the crop of leaders that succeeded the colonialists failing to uplift their lives.
Ironically, people’s attempts to do business within the city to pull themselves out of the dungeon of poverty are frustrated by city by-laws.
After city council rangers confiscates Watipa’s mandasi (fritters), she is left heart-broken and, amid sobs, she asks Shoti: “Kodi ife [anthu wosauka] tinalakwanji? [what crime have we poor people ever committed].”
And Shoti’s humourous response :“Chomwe tinalakwitsa ifeyo ndi kubadwa/Chachiwiri ndikubwera ku nsewu kwawo kuno,[our crime is the fact that we were born and traded their streets]” captures the ruthlessness of the law to business women selling their merchandise in the city always trailed by city rangers.
These lines echo William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet’s Act 5 Scene 1 where Romeo tells a poverty-stricken apothecary: “The world is not thy friend, nor the world’s laws/The world affords no law to make thee rich.”
Thus, just like Billy Kaunda sings Wosauka alibe mawu, Watipa and Shoti resign to their fate in the slums and continue earning their living through unorthodox means.
From this point Shoti’s life metamorphoses from innocence into a terrible ruffian living by a switch-blade.
As such, Shoti represents neglected people in society who terrorise others. His world resembles the state of nature captured by philosopher Thomas Hobbes in Leviathan that life is brutish and selfish—the prime instinct for everyone being nothing but survival.
Joyah’s adoption of literature of realism in his script by depicting characters that are debased is another salient feature in the award-winning movie.
According to the movie, life is real and cannot be romanticised as literature of romanticism presents life in idealistic terms.
To align his script with such genre of literature, Joyah had to put in the mouth of his characters such words as used by the sex workers in conversation with one another and with their clients.
Then, Joyah employs Marxism theory of class struggle in the movie where the rich are exploiting the poor-people from the upper class where life is romanticised (there everyone pretends they are self-sufficient, decent and superior) go low to the wretched of the earth for sex to satisfy their famished heart desires.
On the other hand, characters from the lower class are honest with everyone that they can just go straight to a woman and ask for sex. Those from the upper class, however, have to go through middlemen such as Shoti to get the same.
Joyah successfully portrays feminism theory in the movie through the women who are fighting the exploitation by men who turn them into sexual objects.
Thus, the movie is a story of struggle through life on the road to success (sunrise). Characters undergo transformation like Watipa and Rubia who quit prostitution to do something more productive.