She plays the role a prostitute in a movie Road to sunrise by Shemu Joyah. For that, she is a symbol of moral decadence looking at her through the prism of the conservative Malawian society.
Even her male clients seeking her pleasure under the cover of darkness loathe her. They cannot associate with her during the day for fear of tarnishing their image. But she is a woman with a big heart.
From Bangwe Township in Blantyre, in an area characterised by mob justice, violence, prostitution and broken hopes, Watipa is already a lesser human being whose fate in life seems to be already sealed. She is the face of other millions of other Malawians dwelling in the slums leading a challenging life.
By extension, Watipa is the Bangwe of broken hopes, a slum stuck in poverty struggling strenuously to extricate itself from it.
Through Watipa, Joyah advances the plot of the story, bringing in some characters, Rubia and Chisomo, who are also prostitutes along with her.
It is through adversity of life that she gets purified as she trudges along the rugged road to sunrise (success) through tailoring. Unprecedented events in life turn her into a prostitute to become a breadwinner for her three siblings.
At one time the city council confiscates her merchandise, losing her entire capital. But, like a phoenix, she rises from the ashes of her loss to own a business. She realises that the only road that leads to sunrise is hard work and not prostitution as Shoti had told her.
The imagery of the rising sun illuminating the shanty township is a reminder of the enduring hope of such people as Watipa and Rubia. It was in the darkness of Watipa’s plight that a ray of light shone to subdue the long night of despair—she won a fashion competition and started her own company—the road to sunrise (success) was underway.
In Watipa and Rubia one sees a round character like Lucy in Tiyambe Zeleza’s Smouldering Charcoal who, after being a prostitute to support herself and her child, changes in the end and starts a small business. Thus, such characters, who through the line of time undergo transformation, become agents of change to others.
After finding Rubia at Wenela Bus Depot with a baby, Watipa takes her to her house. She also recommends that Misozi, Rubia’s baby, go and stay with his grandmother as growing in the house would not be good for him.
Joyah places Watipa in the same league as Sonia in Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s Crime and Punishment who became a prostitute “with good intentions” of helping out her family.
Just as Sonia, Watipa hates her prostitution but that is her only means of raising fees for her siblings and putting food on the table.
Joyah’s literature of realism in the script in portraying characters that are debased such as Watipa, Rubia and Chisomo is conspicuous. The script writer has succeeded in paying attention to minute and mundane details of life and nailed it on the use of vulgar language just as in the ghettos.
Worth noting also is Joyah’s improved utility of actors in the movie as he was able to bring out the best in them unlike in his other productions—Seasons of a Life and The Last Fishing Boat in which actors were dramatising the dialogue as if it were a stage play. This time, there is no dramatisation in the name of acting. The dialogues are natural and real.
The other positive area is sound and music which, just like in The Last Fishing Boat, is superb. The lighting is topclass just as the pictures which are clear in high definition.
Through the struggles of Watipa, Rubia and Chisomo, Joyah’s film depicts marxist and feminist undertones-depicting struggles of classes and equality of the sexes. Clients from the middle and upper classes who are men exploit women from the lower class through sex.
Further, the girls are practising their trade through a middle-man, Shoti (representing capitalism) who protects them but reaps the money out of them. Shoti is a bully and threatens the girls with a knife to surrender money to him.
The end of Shoti, after being setup in mob justice by Rubia, together with the killing of a business-person who tried to rape Rubia, symbolises the triumph of feminism over patriarchy.
In life, the oppressed always fight against their oppressors as Karl Marx argues in The Communist Manifesto thus the victory of Rubia over patriarchy buys her freedom for ever.
However, there is little tension and conflict. The film just presents life as a struggle in the characters of prostitutes. The storyline lacks a main plot that should tie all other themes to it. For an ambitious movie project such as this, the storyline ought to be clearer.
Joyah is not new to writing long scripts. In his best short story, Against the howling wind, he created a larger than life plot. However, it was well done unlike in Road to Sunrise. A good script should build conflict that rises to a climax. But there are many disjointed scenes in the film, sometimes arising from failure to connect flashback and current action. Other scenes are unnecessarily too long.
Another weakness is a court scene where Rubia repeats four times a phrase: “For the first time in my life….” This is a waste of time and is boring—twice would suffice.
But for all its weaknesses, the movie arguably ranks higher than his previous works. Its strengths far surpass its weaknesses—the major one being the creation of characters that are real and honest.