Opinion

KANNYWOOD TRAJECTORIES- THE FOUNTAIN HEADS- HAMISU GURGU AND THE GYARANYA DRAMA CLUB

If Sani Lamma was the pioneer Kannywood cinematographer, then his friend, Hamisu Gurgu, was the pioneer Kannywood ‘Movie Executive’. Abrasive, self-assured (in spite of limping physical disability, earning him the nickname of ‘gurgu’), Hamisu formed the Gyaranya Drama Club (GDC) in the 1980s in the Gyaranya quarters in the heart of the city of Kano. Gyaranya itself is close to the Palace Cinema, opened in 1952 by Fredric George, a Lebanese who owned virtually all the cinemas in Kano. It was the only cinema in the heart of the city and provided a massive entertainment focus for youth. Other cinemas – El Duniya, Rex, Orion, Queen, Plaza – were all located outside the city (Sheila Cinema at WAPA came much later). For you to be a real ‘ɗan birni’ (the dude), you need to be seen in Palace cinema in those days.

Kano in the era was bustling with Drama groups – no doubt prompted by the massive popularity of films shown both in cinemas and on TV. These drama groups, some of which metamorphosed into film production companies and spawned off the icons of early Kannywood as an industry included Jigon Hausa Drama Club, Tumbin Giwa Drama Group, Tauraruwa Drama & Modern Film Production, Janzaki Motion Pictures, Kano, Ruwan Dare Drama Group, and Yakasai Welfare Association among others.

The Gyaranya Drama Club was formed by Hamisu Gurgu who handled all the production aspects of their videos, as well as doubled as property manager and occasional artiste. Members of his crew included Bala Hamza, Sidiya “Baƙar Indiya” Abubakar, Hauwan Gware, Hansatu Murahu, Hauwa Bilihodi and others. Such fancy and colorful names – but then, this reflected the ‘liberal’ times they lived. All were avid fans of Hindi films. The Club was based in the Gyaranya sector of the old city, and in the neighborhood of the defunct Palace Cinema (which was converted to a Children’s Hospital in 1983) which screened predominantly Hindi films in the 1970s.

The GDC formed a video parlor in Hamisu Gurgu’s house where they run shows of popular Hindi film video tapes purchased from Smarts, the largest Hindi film outlet in Kano located at beginning of Bello Road near the Railway road gas station (and run by Indians). They thus made it possible for young children (boys only) to watch the films they would not have been allowed to see in the cinema, either due to young age or the caprices of the ticket seller.

The members of the GDC became so engrossed in watching and showing Hindi films that they decided to make their own “films”. In 1982 Hamisu Gurgu contacted Alhaji Ammani Inuwa who had a Betamax camera and which the latter was ready to sell. Sani Lamma, an old friend of Hamisu Gurgu, became their cinematographer since he was already skilled with a camera, and he was also an avid Hindi film fan. They made 10 videos between 1981 to 1983. These were In Ka Ƙi Sharar Masallaci, In Ka Ƙi Ji, Komai Nisan Dare, Kasko, Auren Dole, Ƙarabaje, Ƴan Ɗaukan Amarya, Turu, Ƙarshen Alewa, and Sanda Jan Namji. Sani Lamma also made additional two, The Riders and Marke, independently for a local drama group.

The first video, In Ka Ƙi Sharar Masallaci, was based on straightforward Hausa drama reflecting a love story as the main theme. It was a sermonizing film about the virtues of being good, and was “premiered” in Hamisu Gurgu’s shop, attached to his house, where they charged neighborhood kids a few kobo to watch on a television.

However, the production had difficulties in getting a girl to play the love interest to the leading character, so they asked one of the casts to mimic a girl, complete with voice and dressing! In the second video, In Ka Ƙi Ji, they decided to dispense with the love angle completely and produced a drama based on Hausa medical shamanism (bori).

However, it was getting increasingly clear that it would be impossible to produce a love film without a girl. Since getting “ordinary decent girls” to appear in a video in the early 1980s Kano was a daunting task, GDC decided to simply employ the services of prostitutes at Kabuga, a suburb of Kano. The girls were happy to oblige, and the third video of GDC, Komai Nisan Dare, set the pace for the rest of their productions. Interestingly, years down the road, the same category of prostitutes REFUSE to feature in any Kannywood film because, “mu ba ƴan iska ba ne”/we are not wayward (!). This came at a period when Kannywood became so infused with sexualized singing and dancing that a lot of the female starts were perceived as behaving like prostitutes (in fact some of them had to report their traducers to police stations to reclaim their good reputations).

GDC’s Komai Nisan Dare was the first Hausa home video to be ripped-off from a Hindi film. It was based on AliBaba (dir. Mohammed Hussain, 1976), and featured singing and dancing. When this was shown in the video parlor, it was a massive hit. The audience was already used to CTV and NTA television dramas, so the first two videos of the GDC did not impress. However, the third, with its Hindi-cinema theme of singing and dancing, and based on a Hindi film most of the audience was familiar with (being close to the Palace cinema in the city) attracted more audience. In particular the idea of substituting Hindi lyrics with Hausa, but retaining the music was a very attractive and provided Hamisu Gurgu with a cinematic technique: simply rip-off Hindi films into Hausa.

Thus, subsequent videos of the GDC were based on Hindi film rip-offs, although Hamisu Gurgu could only remember the Hindi film equivalents in only two other videos; they were Ƙarshen Alewa which was Sholay (dir. Ramesh Sippy, 1975), and Ƙarabaje from Mr. India (dir. G.P. Sippy, 1961). Kasko was based on Chinese chop suey films then also popular at the time. Only the last, Sanda Jan Namji, reverted to the traditional Hausa urban drama.

Sanda Jan Namiji ironically was the third non-Hindi cinema adaptation by GDC. It focused attention on female empowerment, especially education, and analyzed the ills of auren dole (forced marriage) and talla (street hawking, especially by under-aged girls). It was the first amateur home video made in Kano with an ideological message.

Their patron of the arts of the GDC, as it were, was Alhaji Hassan Sunusi Ɗantata, a local business man with interest in media and entertainment. The plot and the shooting—and by then they were getting good at it—was what impressed their patron promised to take the tapes to Britain for more professional editing.

However, the rest of the group insisted on being paid with a truckload of sacks of rice! Thus putting a commercial sheen to a process that had so far been a hobby, since none of the crew and artistes were being paid for their labors. This angered everyone and that terminated the relationship between Hamisu Gurgu, his crew and their patron of the arts. Alhaji Hassan Sunusi, therefore, became the first businessman in Kano to patronize the film industry. The GDC, reflective of subsequent Kannywood ethos, focused more on immediate return on investment – thus creating a dividing line between a business and a profession; a cleavage that afflicts Kannywood well into the 20s.

In any event, Hamisu Gurgu, who was ready to accept any role in any of the videos, had once been cast as a thief and he claimed his children started getting teased at school about this role; so he was already getting fed up with the acting. He quit the business and concentrated on maintaining a cinema house, Albarka, in Ɗorayi, a suburb of Kano, which he had already opened in 1980, showing all categories of films. Subsequently he was able to screen two of the amateur videos they shot, Komai Nisan Dare and Ƙarshen Alewa Ƙasa. Indeed, it was with the view of screening his own productions that he focused attention on the cinema.

When an ultra-orthodox mosque, Al-Muntada, was built near the cinema in 2000, in preparations for the implementation of Shari’a in Kano, it put Hamisu in direct collision with the mosque authorities. Quite simply, the mosque authorities wanted him to close down the cinema — which he refused, insisting on his right to earn a legal livelihood since screening of films in cinemas was not illegal in Kano. The mosque authorities, using the same arguments against cinema houses in the 1960s, insisted that Albarka was a haven for prostitutes, drug addicts and other undesirable youth elements (ƴan daba) who had no place near a mosque. They also accused Hamisu Gurgu of encouraging a facility where married Muslim women sneak out from their purdah and furtively attend the cinema, since it was the only open entertainment facility in the area. These squabbles led to a four year legal battle which only ended in January 2004 in a spirit of reconciliation when a new governor was elected in Kano. Hamisu Gurgu was allowed to continue showing films in Albarka. He eventually closed the business down when Viewing Centers proliferated in Kano, giving him a tougher competition. By then he was fed up with the entire business anyway.

Thus, the GDC the first to employ this ground-breaking procedure of appropriating Hindi films into Hausa home videos in the early 1980s, which is to be the road-map of Hausa home videos in the 1990s.

Illus: Albarka descript cinema and Hamisu Gurgu, 2004, Kano.If Sani Lamma was the pioneer Kannywood cinematographer, then his friend, Hamisu Gurgu, was the pioneer Kannywood ‘Movie Executive’. Abrasive, self-assured (in spite of limping physical disability, earning him the nickname of ‘gurgu’), Hamisu formed the Gyaranya Drama Club (GDC) in the 1980s in the Gyaranya quarters in the heart of the city of Kano. Gyaranya itself is close to the Palace Cinema, opened in 1952 by Fredric George, a Lebanese who owned virtually all the cinemas in Kano. It was the only cinema in the heart of the city and provided a massive entertainment focus for youth. Other cinemas – El Duniya, Rex, Orion, Queen, Plaza – were all located outside the city (Sheila Cinema at WAPA came much later). For you to be a real ‘ɗan birni’ (the dude), you need to be seen in Palace cinema in those days. Kano in the era was bustling with Drama groups – no doubt prompted by the massive popularity of films shown both in cinemas and on TV. These drama groups, some of which metamorphosed into film production companies and spawned off the icons of early Kannywood as an industry included Jigon Hausa Drama Club, Tumbin Giwa Drama Group, Tauraruwa Drama & Modern Film Production, Janzaki Motion Pictures, Kano, Ruwan Dare Drama Group, and Yakasai Welfare Association among others. The Gyaranya Drama Club was formed by Hamisu Gurgu who handled all the production aspects of their videos, as well as doubled as property manager and occasional artiste. Members of his crew included Bala Hamza, Sidiya “Baƙar Indiya” Abubakar, Hauwan Gware, Hansatu Murahu, Hauwa Bilihodi and others. Such fancy and colorful names – but then, this reflected the ‘liberal’ times they lived. All were avid fans of Hindi films. The Club was based in the Gyaranya sector of the old city, and in the neighborhood of the defunct Palace Cinema (which was converted to a Children’s Hospital in 1983) which screened predominantly Hindi films in the 1970s. The GDC formed a video parlor in Hamisu Gurgu’s house where they run shows of popular Hindi film video tapes purchased from Smarts, the largest Hindi film outlet in Kano located at beginning of Bello Road near the Railway road gas station (and run by Indians). They thus made it possible for young children (boys only) to watch the films they would not have been allowed to see in the cinema, either due to young age or the caprices of the ticket seller. The members of the GDC became so engrossed in watching and showing Hindi films that they decided to make their own “films”. In 1982 Hamisu Gurgu contacted Alhaji Ammani Inuwa who had a Betamax camera and which the latter was ready to sell. Sani Lamma, an old friend of Hamisu Gurgu, became their cinematographer since he was already skilled with a camera, and he was also an avid Hindi film fan. They made 10 videos between 1981 to 1983. These were In Ka Ƙi Sharar Masallaci, In Ka Ƙi Ji, Komai Nisan Dare, Kasko, Auren Dole, Ƙarabaje, Ƴan Ɗaukan Amarya, Turu, Ƙarshen Alewa, and Sanda Jan Namji. Sani Lamma also made additional two, The Riders and Marke, independently for a local drama group. The first video, In Ka Ƙi Sharar Masallaci, was based on straightforward Hausa drama reflecting a love story as the main theme. It was a sermonizing film about the virtues of being good, and was “premiered” in Hamisu Gurgu’s shop, attached to his house, where they charged neighborhood kids a few kobo to watch on a television. However, the production had difficulties in getting a girl to play the love interest to the leading character, so they asked one of the casts to mimic a girl, complete with voice and dressing! In the second video, In Ka Ƙi Ji, they decided to dispense with the love angle completely and produced a drama based on Hausa medical shamanism (bori). However, it was getting increasingly clear that it would be impossible to produce a love film without a girl. Since getting “ordinary decent girls” to appear in a video in the early 1980s Kano was a daunting task, GDC decided to simply employ the services of prostitutes at Kabuga, a suburb of Kano. The girls were happy to oblige, and the third video of GDC, Komai Nisan Dare, set the pace for the rest of their productions. Interestingly, years down the road, the same category of prostitutes REFUSE to feature in any Kannywood film because, “mu ba ƴan iska ba ne”/we are not wayward (!). This came at a period when Kannywood became so infused with sexualized singing and dancing that a lot of the female starts were perceived as behaving like prostitutes (in fact some of them had to report their traducers to police stations to reclaim their good reputations). GDC’s Komai Nisan Dare was the first Hausa home video to be ripped-off from a Hindi film. It was based on AliBaba (dir. Mohammed Hussain, 1976), and featured singing and dancing. When this was shown in the video parlor, it was a massive hit. The audience was already used to CTV and NTA television dramas, so the first two videos of the GDC did not impress. However, the third, with its Hindi-cinema theme of singing and dancing, and based on a Hindi film most of the audience was familiar with (being close to the Palace cinema in the city) attracted more audience. In particular the idea of substituting Hindi lyrics with Hausa, but retaining the music was a very attractive and provided Hamisu Gurgu with a cinematic technique: simply rip-off Hindi films into Hausa. Thus, subsequent videos of the GDC were based on Hindi film rip-offs, although Hamisu Gurgu could only remember the Hindi film equivalents in only two other videos; they were Ƙarshen Alewa which was Sholay (dir. Ramesh Sippy, 1975), and Ƙarabaje from Mr. India (dir. G.P. Sippy, 1961). Kasko was based on Chinese chop suey films then also popular at the time. Only the last, Sanda Jan Namji, reverted to the traditional Hausa urban drama. Sanda Jan Namiji ironically was the third non-Hindi cinema adaptation by GDC. It focused attention on female empowerment, especially education, and analyzed the ills of auren dole (forced marriage) and talla (street hawking, especially by under-aged girls). It was the first amateur home video made in Kano with an ideological message. Their patron of the arts of the GDC, as it were, was Alhaji Hassan Sunusi Ɗantata, a local business man with interest in media and entertainment. The plot and the shooting—and by then they were getting good at it—was what impressed their patron promised to take the tapes to Britain for more professional editing. However, the rest of the group insisted on being paid with a truckload of sacks of rice! Thus putting a commercial sheen to a process that had so far been a hobby, since none of the crew and artistes were being paid for their labors. This angered everyone and that terminated the relationship between Hamisu Gurgu, his crew and their patron of the arts. Alhaji Hassan Sunusi, therefore, became the first businessman in Kano to patronize the film industry. The GDC, reflective of subsequent Kannywood ethos, focused more on immediate return on investment – thus creating a dividing line between a business and a profession; a cleavage that afflicts Kannywood well into the 20s. In any event, Hamisu Gurgu, who was ready to accept any role in any of the videos, had once been cast as a thief and he claimed his children started getting teased at school about this role; so he was already getting fed up with the acting. He quit the business and concentrated on maintaining a cinema house, Albarka, in Ɗorayi, a suburb of Kano, which he had already opened in 1980, showing all categories of films. Subsequently he was able to screen two of the amateur videos they shot, Komai Nisan Dare and Ƙarshen Alewa Ƙasa. Indeed, it was with the view of screening his own productions that he focused attention on the cinema. When an ultra-orthodox mosque, Al-Muntada, was built near the cinema in 2000, in preparations for the implementation of Shari’a in Kano, it put Hamisu in direct collision with the mosque authorities. Quite simply, the mosque authorities wanted him to close down the cinema — which he refused, insisting on his right to earn a legal livelihood since screening of films in cinemas was not illegal in Kano. The mosque authorities, using the same arguments against cinema houses in the 1960s, insisted that Albarka was a haven for prostitutes, drug addicts and other undesirable youth elements (ƴan daba) who had no place near a mosque. They also accused Hamisu Gurgu of encouraging a facility where married Muslim women sneak out from their purdah and furtively attend the cinema, since it was the only open entertainment facility in the area. These squabbles led to a four year legal battle which only ended in January 2004 in a spirit of reconciliation when a new governor was elected in Kano. Hamisu Gurgu was allowed to continue showing films in Albarka. He eventually closed the business down when Viewing Centers proliferated in Kano, giving him a tougher competition. By then he was fed up with the entire business anyway. Thus, the GDC the first to employ this ground-breaking procedure of appropriating Hindi films into Hausa home videos in the early 1980s, which is to be the road-map of Hausa home videos in the 1990s. Illus: Albarka descript cinema and Hamisu Gurgu, 2004, Kano.

By Prof. Abdallah Uba Adamu

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