The opening scene of Play Network Studios’ new film, Glamour Girls is scored in the background with the song, ‘Work’ by Larry Gaga featuring Davido. It has lyrics like ‘Step inna the club; All on my mind was for her to work, work, work; And after six bottles of gin and I still dey go on tour; You know that I gat you boo; I said no running no running; Girl I’m calling your body’.
This is a befitting introduction to the world of Glamour Girls. It’s raunchy, glitzy, and indulgent. Meanwhile, as Davido’s vocals welcome you; Sharon Ooja literally lures you into the world of Glamour Girls with her exotic dance. She’s a stripper.
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By the way, that song is off the soundtrack album of Living in Bondage: Breaking Free. Asides from being produced by the same Charles Okpaleke’s Play Network Studios, both films have a couple of other things in common. They speak about the life of the ultra-rich, and the efforts of the underdogs to not only break in but also fit in. Then they both are remakes of earlier Nollywood blockbusters.Glamour Girls is a remake of the 1994 classic film of the same name. So, the remake makes attempt to pay odes to the original material. In the earlier film, call girl, Sandra played by Jennifer Okere moves to Lagos when her friend Doris offers to help her find her footing as a ‘senior girl’. Sandra meets the wealthy Chief Esiri who offers her a job at his bank. Another Lagos ‘senior girl’, Jane, leaving behind her promiscuous life, is set to marry Desmond. Desmond meets with an auto accident and becomes bedridden.
Now, to the newer version; the narrative is different but samples tropes from the past to advance the setting of the new film. The girls don’t wait for offers anymore. They lump at it. They are not call girls now. They are high-end escorts. They don’t refer to them as ‘Senior Girls’ anymore. They are now ‘Bad Bitches’.
In one scene, newly inducted Emma asks Tommy played by Taymesan – who gave a convincing performance by the way – , ‘what do you say I am now?’ Tommy yells to her face, ‘a bad bitch!’
The props have also been replaced. Flashy cars, glitzy looks, private jets, exclusive meetings of the high and mighty laced with ample hedonism.
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It’s reinvention and the protagonist, Donna alludes to it. Meanwhile, writer, Kemi Adesoye and Director, Bunmi Ajakaye who directed the series, Smart Money Woman, gave Nse Ikpe-Etim playing Donna, a character that is as complementary to her as she is to it. She’s all fire and feistiness. Remember, this is not the first time she’s doing this on-screen. Still quite sharp in our memory is her depiction of First Lady Jumoke Randle in King of Boys: The Return of the King. Donna isn’t far from Jumoke Randle; strong, vicious, elitist and always scheming. Nonetheless, she plays this again with much delightful conviction.In an episode of TV show, Koffee with Karan, Indian actress who played the lead role in the film, The Dirty Picture, Vidya Balan was asked who could have played that role better. She said no one. “Maybe a Dirtier Picture; but Dirty Picture; No”, she says. Towing this line, it’s tough to think of an actor that can play Donna like Nse Ikpe-Etim. The straight face; the posture, the mannerism, the careful enunciation of words; she embodies the character.
And that is the most glorious thing about Glamour Girls. It gets its casting right. Whether its Sharoon Ooja playing a toned down version of her character in Oloture; or Toke Makinwa who is cementing her place in Nollywood one film at a time with high-candy, flossy character or the artsy Segilola Ogidan as the free-spirited Helion or the Ghanaian Joselyn Dumas who captures the dilemma of her character, Jemma who is torn between returning to the life of a Glamour Girl and staying true to the quest of her emotions.
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However, not so much is really going on in this film, really. The glamour is premium. The depiction of corporate sex work is well done. It in fact shines through. A hacker requests for a bout of sex as additional incentive for hacking a flash drive. An interior décor contract is offered as payment for sex. How expensive?! However, the story leads you on like a self-serving partner; thrusting with brewing vigor, then selfishly reaching orgasm before you; hence, ruining your experience of climax. You feel the build-up of tension but it never reaches the crescendo.
Two things could be responsible for this. First is the lack of layers and depth for the film’s characters. Second, I presume is the filmmaker’s deliberate withheld of certain key moments from the film for a sequel. At some point, the husband to Toke Makinwa’s character found out she was cheating on him during a kiddies party. That realization didn’t manifest. Then you get a scene where he throttles to her luxurious boutique with a machete. He opens the door, presumably saw something, drops the machetes and everything went nonplussed.
One of the characters, Temma, whose husband just died, found out something about his new boyfriend Alex and her young son. Next up, Alex is dead and you’re left wondering how and what went down with the son? Molestation? We don’t know. When Toke Makinwa’s Lulu as stylized by her husband yelled at a scene, “the world has gone mad”. You can’t feel the madness. It feels like the acts are alone in it and you can’t emote with them.A pregnant Helion who speaks of her parents as wealthy and of not being a Glamour Girl for money; died of drug overdose. But the film went bereft of her reason for being in the risky business and lacks the presence of her mighty parents too. Not even at the scene of her burial.
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Even Sharon Ooja’s character, Emma, who is central to the plot of the film, lacks depth. While seeking to be part of the Glamour Girls, she strips at the centre of an office. The scene screams desperation but with a tone that lacks nuance. What you get is the Nollywood trope of her siblings living in the village abruptly showing up from nowhere to complain about their survival and well, disappearing into thin air thereafter. This denies the characters of moral and emotional compass. Their adventure into corporate sex work seems self-serving and indulgent.In one scene, asked by her man to strip in the presence of his bodyguard, after all she’s once been a stripper. She says ‘so, it doesn’t matter what I do or how much I clean up in life, I’ll forever be an ashawo”. But you don’t see or feel that attempt to clean up. It’s an introspection that wants to sermonize and also tug at your heart. But it is too fleeting to hit you because few seconds after that, she’s loosening the belt of the same bodyguard’s trouser and throwing herself at him. “Just give me what I want”, she says.
As the Director, Bunmi Ajakaiye edges the film on to its climax, what you’re left with is the huge sigh reminiscent of Kiara Advani’s character’s whose husband had just rushed into orgasm after a few seconds in bed, in the Indian anthology, Lust Stories. The agony is apparent.Commenting on the 1994 Glamour Girls, Jonathan Haynes wrote, “glamour girls” (or “senior girls”) are professional women living outside of patriarchal control—scandalous figures in the Nigerian social imagination, associated with prostitution and danger.” This alone would sell a film in 1994. This is 2022. Between then and now is 28 years. You need more nuance to sell this film. In any case, the worldview of a streaming audience about sex work isn’t exactly scandalous. Something more exciting has to be at stake.
I strongly believe that Play Network Studios has a sequel in the pipeline given the Charles Okpaleke that we know. I however also fear that viewers who had experienced unfulfilled desires in this film might not care so much about a sequel of the same film.
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Glamour Girls is streaming on Netflix.
Writer: Kemi Adesoye
Director: Bunmi Ajakaye
Producer: Abimbola Craig