Movies and Television

Review of Loukman Ali's Sixteen Rounds

First, there was Natasha, then the 16 Rounds

Me and Natasha have had such a relationship.

The first time we met, for instance, I was in school. See, we did not really meet, she was in one of the newspapers my father religiously bought.

I picked interest in Natasha more than the other people in that Miss Uganda contest because my brother used to go to the same school with her.

Years later, I ended up in a school where one of the boys had a full-page newspaper pin-up of her on the wall. I think it was New Vision.

I usually looked at her picture for many reasons, sometimes to wonder if she knew her picture was on a wall of some boy whose dream was to become a priest and, other times, to wonder where she got her second name from.

It’s like every TV and radio presenter at that time said it in their own way. No wonder I don’t like saying that name to date.

The first time I really met Natasha was in 2015, a colleague had invited me to be part of the preview audience for the Lukyamuzi Bashir’s film Bala Bala Sese.

Initially, I was told it was a small affair and they were right. A small affair of Bashir and his producer Usama Mukwaya … Simple things. And then Natasha..

She looked better than the person on the New Vision page on the wall at the seminary and, unlike the Natasha on the wall, this one talked… You know I had been introduced as a film critic, they mentioned that I had just come back from South Africa where I was attending the Durban International Film Festival, so she was paying attention to what I was saying… Like, the girl pinned up in my school wall by some random dude was listening to me (this is the Katonda yabadde mweno ensonga kind of things).

But I kept my cool and did not even ask for a selfie..

Next time I was in the same space with Natasha was early this year, at Motiv. I was with her, Loukman Ali, Michael Wawuyo, Mukwaya and other people that may get mad for being mentioned as others

They were shooting, Sixteen Rounds.

I had been fascinated by what the film’s trio of Loukman, Mukwaya and Andrew Ahuurra had been doing since Blind Date, so, I was interested in the next chapter.

I had earlier on loved Natasha’s character in Bala Bala Sese, I believe this is one film where the entire cast showed up and did their job, Michael Kasaija, Raymond Rushabiro, Musumba Allen, there was that other guy I keep forgetting, he had a catchphrase of things he treasures, love, power and wealth… I’ve watched this film as many times…

Ok, where were we, Sixteen Rounds…. Yes, when I see a film being made, I struggle to enjoy it as much, probably because I feel like I watched it yet I did not.

Last week, Sixteen Rounds premiered on YouTube. It was the first time I saw Ugandans as interested in a Ugandan film – something I respect Loukman for… I mean, the first time we got many people we did not expect tweeting, too many tweets that some had Alkoko effects.

This time, we were on a billboard…. Like we were hanging in the streets advertising our 30 something minutes.

I remember telling a random girl that I knew the film producers and I have their numbers…. I tell you..

You bare with me, I write the way I talk, sometimes I have a plan of what I want to write but things keep showing up in my mind.. and then I don’t want to delete them because I love them… Like the real love. Though when you give me a writing gig, I won’t go off-topic, I promise.

Ok, about the film, in a nutshell, Sixteen Rounds is about a man willing to do anything to divorce his wife without parting with a coin. That man was Wawuyo… As in, he did not just choose vayolensi, he chose SMAU too.

If there’s is one thing that Loukman Ali has mastered over the years, it must be the art of using smaller things and details to move a story.

In Blind Date, he did this with Wawuyo’s small tattoo and in this, it was a doll. These small things innocently appear in scenes even without emphasis, you only remember them when the story is taking another twist.

For Blind Date, the tattoo came back to introduce the third act, yet in Sixteen Rounds, it was one character’s eyes and ears, probably without it, Natasha wouldn’t have emptied those 16 Rounds from that roulette.

The story of Sixteen Rounds is not complicated, it’s simple and easily digestible, there’s a good man turned evil by the situation, then there’s an evil woman but too beautiful for her evil that you don’t easily suspect her.

But what stands out are the actors, Jackson Sserunkuma, Michael Wawuyo’s take on PSTD and Natasha’s cunningness…

If you thought the actors were outstanding, I need to tell you that on the set, it was even more intense. When Michael for instance cuts a man to pieces, girls had been celebrating seeing him shoot semi-nude…you know abs, muscles and all the things I find overrated really interest them.. some of them. But after the scene, the set was silent, like someone had killed someone.

Then we get the technical prowess, someone said it’s well-lit trash, she was actually right about the lighting, having been at the shoot, I know how much of it was intentional.

Loukman makes his film with a vision of having them watched the same way people would watch those in the cinema. That’s a game-changer, especially for an industry where most people paid more attention to the artistic value… I could say a big chunk of short films and features we have released have been geared towards feeding into the festival chain and because of that, our topics, stories and at times inspiration came from an art house film that won many awards somewhere.

Loukman looks like he’s doing films that people would want to see at the cinema, films that are intensionally entertaining. Something we rarely do – which probably explains the absence of poverty porn in his narrative…

Ok, I went off, let’s talk about Ahuura’s sound; this film was shot in the week Museveni was swearing-in and, as you may remember, he spent much of it reminding us he won. For much of the shoot, the sound was disrupted by jets that made noise for the sake of it, over Motiv. When the jets were silent, the neighbourhood was then at it, with a festival complete with performances.. how they pulled off the crystal clear sound…

How do we even forget the music, usually ignored by all our festivals, this film won with music, Kenneth Mugabi ‘s tube fiddle at the beginning to a refixed version of Kyekukuna,…what about Masagazi’s Alululu…..!

But besides all that, the film fell short in surprising ways… For instance, when our main character chops a man, blood splashes on things in the house, carpet, doll and walls. In the shoot that follows, the doll, walls and saw blade used are spotlessly clean…

It’s not like we can’t let it pass, it’s just that we saw it.

But above it all, it’s an interesting film. I think this film is what happens when you get the right energy in the same room.

And I was in that room. At least for two days.

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Kaggwa Andrew
Ugandan Arts and Culture Journalist. Film and theatre enthusiast. Photojournalist.

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