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Opinions of Tuesday, 2 February 2016

Columnist: Mensah, Solomon

Adom TV, Kumkum Bhagya & A Cow-Dashing Chief

By Solomon Mensah

"W?fa Kofi, do you watch Kumkum Bhagya?"

"What is that?" I deliberately asked.

Reclining in a chair with his legs bent to kiss his chest, Jeff quickly sprang to his feet. He removed both hands that had been buried under his faded green Lacoste shirt.

"It is an Indian movie,” Jeff said.

“Really?”

“Yes, it is shown on Adom TV," he added.

When I got to Sunyani the night of December 26, 2015, I knew I would return to Accra when the cock announced the birth of the next day. So, I strived to visit each of my siblings in the municipality before I went to bed.

When I got to one of my sisters' place, two of her three children were asleep. The eldest of the three, nine year old Jeffery Owusu Korang, also known as Jeff, was awake.

Jeff loves gifts and surprises. Whenever I called his mother and asked that I spoke to him, he would give me a list of items I should buy for him on my visit to Sunyani. One thing remains constant on Jeff's gift list. He wants a "Kufour bus"- Metro Mass Transit bus. Trust me, I cannot even buy one of its tyres!

When I went to his home without even a sachet of This Way Chocolate drink for him, my heart palpitated on seeing him awake.

Surprisingly, Jeff seemed to have forgotten ever speaking to me on phone about gifts. He didn't ask for his 'Kufour Bus'. Rather, he met me with the excitement of watching Kumkum Bhagya. Can you imagine!?

The soap opera “depicts the life of a Punjabi woman, Sarla Arora, who runs a marriage hall named Kumkum Bhagya. She lives with the hope of seeing her two daughters, Pragya and Bulbul (who’re poles away), married,” says Wikipedia.

I first read about the popular soap opera on the internet. The story read that Adom TV was to show an Indian telenovela that has its characters/actors speaking Twi.

That sounded nice. I guess it was a plan to outcompete UTV's popularised stance on such soap operas. On UTV, a presenter sits on air to run commentary on the previous day's shown episode. She does not do this alone. She has a panel who further deepen the discussion.

A lady shopkeeper, whom I buy provisions from in my Accra vicinity, literally gets annoyed whenever a customer calls on her while watching these soap operas.

If you ever heard of UTV’s La Gata which became a household name, some Ghanaians forcibly befriended the opera’s cast. Last year’s Christmas saw banners raised in town. Some read, "Friends of La Gata beach party." Thus, Adom TV would try whatever possible to rub shoulders with its competitor. Hence, Kumkum Bhagya. My mind, though.

This is how far our country Ghana has come. My worry is that these soap operas, apart from hinging on the theme of love, do not bring anything tangible onboard to move our country Ghana from ‘developing’ to a ‘developed nation.’

In an Aljazeera news report titled “Thailand PM bemoans 'divisive' soap operas,” dated September 26, 2014, Thai Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha criticised television soap operas for promoting violence and divisions in society.

Mr. Prayuth said he will write them (soap operas) himself “if he has to.” As if that was not enough, he added: “I have ordered that scripts be written, including plays on reconciliation, on tourism and on Thai culture."

Here in Ghana, soap operas may not be dividing us directly as Mr. Prayuth says of his country. That notwithstanding, I think a country which has a lot of its leaders trained in prestigious universities such as the Harvard and yet struggling to combat diseases like cholera and malaria, should not overly get drunk in ‘love’ movies.

Our problem, as a preacher once said, is not to go to the moon. We have no business there. Our problem is simply to clear the filth off our streets and choked gutters. Yet year after year, we die of preventable diseases.

The Ghanaian media, I strongly believe, has a great role to play in helping build Ghana. But is that to devote a chunk of air time showing empty foreign movies?

The BBC of all media houses sponsors a radio drama called Story Story that is recorded in Nigeria and aired on the station. Story Story’s themes have always been tailored towards the development of Nigeria and other African countries.

Few days ago, veteran Ghanaian actor Solomon Sampah passed on. There are many of such actors who are just waiting to die. Thanks to poverty. Can our media houses and movie industry make use of these old actors, together with the youngsters, to tell our story?

Could Adom TV and the rest of our television stations not have recorded their own Kumkum Bhagya with themes that would promote concrete national development?

In another Aljazeera news report: “Thailand taps into soap opera to fight corruption,” dated January 20, 2015, the country was shooting a soap opera to fight corruption.

“Thailand’s military government is tapping into popular culture in an effort to battle corruption. A soap opera based on real-life cases is being produced in the country,” wrote the report.

Most nauseating to hear of our country and soap operas, Myjoyonline recently carried a story that got me asking myself if we are serious as a nation.

“Viewers of Adom TV’s all-popular Televonela, Kumkum Bhagya could not believe their ears,” the story started, “when it was announced that the Chief of Assin Asaaman in the Central Region has decided to reward personnel of Adom TV for being innovative and presenting to viewers the telenovela which is dubbed in Twi language.”

All the way from his land, Nana Kwasi Wadie Esly II and his entourage presented two fat cows to the staff of Adom TV in Accra. We must honestly appreciate Nana’s kind gesture. However, his act would have been much appropriated had he awarded a Ghanaian movie like “Fulani Land Guard” which starred Kwadwo Nkansah Lil Wynn.

Fulani Land Guard was shot in Twi and it addressed some major problems bedeviling us; chieftaincy and the nefarious act of some Fulani nomads in the country.

Perhaps Nana Kwasi Wadie has never watched this and many other good Kumawood movies to reward them with cows. As well, Nana may not have watched the popular Efie Wura television series that addresses societal problems. If he has awarded them at my blind side then I hold my fire.

I am not in any way fighting Nana Kwasi Wadie. With all due respect, I cannot instruct him on who he could bestow his favour. My concern, however, is that we must solidify our movie industry before investing in other people’s. By rewarding Adom TV on Kumkum Bhagya, we are but telling them to do more of copying and pasting. No wonder that on Otumfour Osei Tutu’s 15th anniversary, Adom TV showed a documentary on Manhyia that was filmed by the BBC.

Would an American or European or Indian television ever show a soap opera shot in Ghana by Ghanaians to its viewers? On what grounds? Well, they may do but will that be shown at prime time and almost on air all day?

I am not calling for a ban on soap operas/foreign movies. No! If such soap operas speak on [national] development then why not show? My call is to take off our television screens soap operas that indirectly rob us the little we have.

It is only prudent we empower our movie industry to write good scripts to build the Londons and the New Yorks we dream about... here.

The writer is a freelance journalist and a cultural activist.
Email: nehusthan4@yahoo.com
Twitter: @Aniwaba