Kunle Afolayan’s third feature film Phone Swap is set for cinema release this month. A press screening was held recently to precede the cinema run.
When Akin and Mary collide at the airport, both are unaware that their very lives have been set on a collision course. The chance encounter torpedoes a series of unlikely events, which begins with the accidental swapping of their mobile phones.
Akin, played by Wale Ojo (Johnny English Reborn, Meet The Adebanjos), is an arrogant company executive with little regard for anything that complicates his life. Nse Ikpe Etim (Mr and Mrs, Kiss and Tell) is Mary, the exact opposite of Akin. The pretty, free-spirited tailor lives behind rose-coloured glasses, until the airport incident with Akin. What follows sees both characters struggling to adjust after ending up in each other’s world, a bit like the case of The Prince and The Pauper, but with a dose of humour and romance.
These two very separate lives and their consequent intertwining is the main plot of Kunle Afolayan’s new comedy drama, PHONE SWAP. The film was introduced to the press at the Lagos-based Ozone Cinemas on March 1. Augusta Okon, general manager and legal adviser at Blue Pictures (distributors of the movie), described the film as a highly-anticipated blockbuster, “tipped to break box-office records in Nigeria.”
Speaking at the event heralding his third feature film, Afolayan, the producer/director, who has received acclaim for earlier productions like IRAPADA and THE FIGURINE, said the detour to comedy was to prove that his company, Golden Effects Pictures, was not running a ‘one-way traffic.’ “Phone Swap is something different from what I’ve done in the past. It’s light, it’s bright, it’s a different genre from Irapada or from The Figurine,” the director said.
The new film boasts sponsors in Globacom, Blackberry, Honeywell Noodles, Arik Air and Seven-Up Bottling Company. Also at the screening were representatives of the sponsors as well as the Ozone Cinemas MD Patrick Lee, and Seun Soyinka, a friend and business partner of Afolayan’s.
Starring alongside Ojo and Ikpe Etim in PHONE SWAP are Joke Silva, Hafiz Oyetoro, Ada Ameh and Ghanaian actress Lydia Forson. Silva plays Ojo’s smothering mother, while Ameh is Cynthia, Mary’s troublesome sister whose misdemeanours warrant a family meeting. The stellar cast plus Kemi Adesoye’s interesting script make a perfect recipe for Phone Swap’s potential success; not forgetting Afolayan’s input as director. The movie was however not without its challenges. First off was the demise of stage and screen veteran Sam Loco Efe, originally slated to play Mary’s father.
It took the production team two weeks to find a suitable replacement in Chika Okpala (famous as Chief Zebrudaya of The New Masquerade). “It’s not everyone who can do comedy,” Afolayan said. “We were looking for someone who could fit the role perfectly and immediately (Okpala’s) name came up, there was no argument and we brought him on board.” The film is dedicated to Efe’s memory.
The crew also had to reconsider the initial choice for Akin. “Our first choice was Joseph Benjamin, but after few months we realised he featured in a film and got paired with Nse Ikpe Etim and they played boyfriend and girlfriend. I won’t repeat such cast.” Jim Iyke’s name had also come up for the role but he was unavailable.
For the eventual cast, filming Phone Swap was roundly described as “wonderful” and “amazing.” More so for Etim and Ameh, who had to learn the Owerri version of the Igbo Language as part of their characterisation. Both had a lot of praise for the script and for the director. “The script was very nice,” said Ameh. “It has a lot of comedy. Everything about Phone Swap was beautiful. Kunle (the director) is wonderful, experienced and would want you to work in a very comfortable state. He ensures his actors get everything they want.”
According to Etim, “I had a lot of fun while filming Phone Swap, it was also draining,” she said, explaining a scene where she has to fall into a swimming pool ten times over. “I’d like to say it was an honour to be picked. It is an enjoyable movie, at least, that’s what I felt while filming it. It was a good script and I think that will always inspire an actor. As Nse, I found it funny and took it on. I thought it was very well written and well constructed.”
Afolayan revealed that the story was not planned, disclosing how it resulted from an advert agency requesting a pitch that could traverse the 18- to 45-year old demographic of tech-savvy Nigerians. “It’s not something I was nursing,” he added. Phone Swap eventually happened and rather than easily tag it a romantic comedy, Afolayan chose to refer to it as “a comedy drama with elements of romance.”
Joy Ilibeno, Managing Director of Blue Pictures Distribution was also full of good words for the flick. “Excellence will always reach out to excellence. I know Kunle stands for excellence and that’s what we stand for at Blue Pictures. The film has that theatrical appeal and these are the things we look out for and it has the potential of being a blockbuster.”
Ilibeno, who is theatrical distributor for PHONE SWAP in Nigeria, Ghana, Kenya and the UK is hopeful that the film will cross the 33 million naira mark set by THE RETURN OF JENIFA, which her company also distributed. Considering the film’s technological bent, Afolayan is not immune to mobile phone access to distribution and viewing. “Yes, if there is such an offer. Those are the distribution options that we are trying to explore,” the award-winning filmmaker said.
An uncertainty though is if the film will follow the successful festival route similar to Afolayan’s previous works. “Definitely we’re going to put it in,” he replied. “But for Figurine, it was easy to put it in festivals, because it was very arty and the film was actually requested for by some of the festivals that we went. (Phone Swap) is a film that can also feature at festivals because of the cross-section between the urban and the rural, because of the language, so we can still do that. It’s more of a commercial movie, so I don’t think it’s going to do as much as Figurine in festivals.”
Whatever happens, Phone Swap looks well worth its running time of one hour, fifty minutes. The cast avidly bring a good script – filled with memorable scenes and lines – to life under Afolayan’s touch. The sound – the music and sound effects unlike many before it – is hardly out of place. Nor does the setting interfere with the action. Rather everything properly complements the other in what can only be seen as the apt execution of a well-planned production design.
It won’t hurt to take Ada Ameh’s advice: “Watch Phone Swap! Beautiful movie. I know (Kunle) has been doing good movies but this one is exceptionally different. It’s comedy but it’s not slapstick comedy.”
Phone Swap premieres in Lagos on March 17 at the Expo Centre, Eko Hotels and Suites. An Abuja Premiere follows in Abuja on March 24 and in Accra, Ghana on April 5.
The movie opens in theatres on March 30.