Ifeanyi Chidi on writing epic drama series Cheta M

By Daniel Okechukwu15 March 2024

Ifeanyi Chidi on writing epic drama series Cheta M

It was during a holiday trip that the seed for what would blossom into Cheta M first sprouted in Ifeanyi Chidi’s mind. She encountered a tree said to erase memories of past lives for those who passed by it.

“So I wanted to tell a love story. It was a simple story until I threw in the tree of forgetfulness,” Chidi told Showmax. “I was like, what challenges can we give this couple and the idea that you can forget the person that you are so in love with was just fascinating.”

Watch the trailer for Cheta M

Cheta M follows the tale of a young couple, Adanna and Nnanna, whose affection for each other knows no bounds, but they are to meet insurmountable obstacles that threaten not just their love, but their lives.

We caught up with Chidi (known for Diiche, Crime and Justice Lagos) to discuss her role as the head writer for Cheta M, Showmax’s first Nigerian epic drama series.

Where did the story of Cheta M come from? 

So you know the tree of forgetfulness, the one they call Osisi nchefu … so I went to Benin Republic and they took us on a slave tour, the slave route. On that route, they showed us a tree and it was said that when the slaves walked past that tree, they forgot who they were. They called it the tree of forgetfulness. It was almost as if there was jazz in the tree or something that made them forget what their past lives were and made them just acclimatise to the life of slavery. 

The tree of forgetfulness sounded like an interesting terminology to use as a storyteller. In my life as a storyteller, anything that sounds interesting, I just put it down.

So the story idea for Cheta M came from the tree of forgetfulness. That was the first thing I had before Adanna and Nnanna came into the picture. So that was the seed that now spread into building a community, building a village. So it was the idea of people being in love with each other but their challenge was you’re made to forget who this person is. 

Tell us how you created Cheta M.

From the inspiration, a story came out about these two people who wanted to fight for their love and then they are faced with circumstances that want to shatter their love. They now have to prove to themselves that their love is real despite the obstacles.

At the workshop, that story now gets fleshed out completely, and a lot of things came up in workshops. The animation at the beginning about Ala and Chukwu wasn’t part of the original story; that came up at the workshop. It was the researcher who told us the story of the separation of Chukwu and his wife, Ala, that is believed to be part of the Igbo Pantheon. And that story was so fascinating that we agreed that it had to enter Cheta M. 

So Cheta M, the beauty of it, was built at the workshop. We had a beautiful story as an original idea, but it was expanded upon. It was beautified, just to make it as engaging as possible for the audience. And we’re really proud of what came out at the end.

Can you discuss the process of researching and depicting the ancient times in Igboland?

The researcher is Lolo Eremie and she did a bit of travelling. She also discussed with older Igbo people. The thing about our history, as Nigerians, not even just Igbo people, is that a lot of it isn’t written down. So we have a generation that is like a storage of our history, culture, values, and stories. And since we’ve stopped sitting down under the moonlight to hear stories from older people, what she had to do was travel to these places, speak to people in the older generation, and read a lot. 

She searched as much as she could on the internet, and in books, to find what currency was being used at that time, what people looked like, what they dressed like, hairstyles, the stories that mattered to Igbo people; the idea of a male daughter, what it means, what it represents.

She came up with a lot of information; she had pictures and she presented all of that stuff to us. So that we are building with accuracy, and no one says, “oh, that doesn’t happen in Igboland”. Research is valuable, especially if you want to stay true to the times that you want to tell your story in. 

You’ve worked several times with James Omokwe. What’s it like working with a showrunner who really appreciates writers and writing workshops? 

Well, it’s compulsory because of the network (MultiChoice) we work for. James has been my friend for years, even before filmmaking. He is an amazing collaborator who has respect for the writing process. I feel like there are people out there who don’t have respect for the process, but that’s because they haven’t even been immersed in the structure and process that Showmax and Africa Magic have, and that process and structure taught us a lot of discipline. 

You first do it because you have to, and then you start learning that there is beauty in this process because you can’t just go there and give out stuff, higgy hagga. So you do it because you have to, and then you appreciate the fact that you have to. You appreciate what comes out of it because you had to, and then you start doing it because it’s the right thing. 

James is very aware of how the process adds to the beauty of the material. He’s one of the people that respects the process and we’re very grateful that he does. He’s one of the people that just lets writers be writers. He steps back. He’s like, “You know what? Here are my limitations. I’m not going to try to force anything.”

Nnanna and Adanna’s love is the centre of the show, but what’s the appeal of telling a story of lovers whose love seems doomed? 

It’s delicious! It makes me sound wicked and horrible, but it’s delicious. I saw a fan video of Adanna and Nnanna’s love, of how he was saying, “I like it when you look at me [while] touching her arm and her face”, and I’m just chuckling in the corner like, you people don’t know what’s coming because you are just lost in this love. 

I believe that love without challenges isn’t actually love. If your love hasn’t been tested and tried, can you call it love? Adanna and Nnanna’s love is going to be tested and tried in ways that we’re not used to in these modern times. Their love is going to be dragged and it’s proof, I think, of real love. 

As we go on this journey with them, I hope that the audience will see what we are trying to do to show that real love does exist. There are obstacles, but if two people are so in tune with each other, like Adanna and Nnanna are, so determined to find the one that speaks to your soul, they will fight for that love. Will that fight turn out victorious? I know but I can’t say. 

Kingsley Nwachukwu and Oluchi Amajuoyi have great chemistry. Do you think they delivered the vision that you had for Nnanna and Adanna?

Amazing chemistry because those two, you’re watching them and you’re wondering: is this chemistry real? Is it Adanna and Nnanna or is it Kingsley and Oluchi? I think they are beautiful; they’re doing it well. There are these little moments, I  don’t know if it’s the directing or if it’s the actors who chose to do it, where he keeps his eyes on her, even when he’s talking to other people. It’s almost as if everybody has disappeared, and Adanna is the only person in the room.

I think the actors are brilliant. The execution is giving. It’s giving love, it’s giving romance, it’s giving, “oh, carry me away, carry me in your arms and run far away”. They are giving us what we expected Adanna and Nnanna to give us. 

Cheta M is flavoured with very interesting characters. Who’s your favourite one? And who do you think might be misunderstood?

Wow, I can’t choose. It’s like asking me to choose my favourite child. It’s very difficult to choose one person. So I’ll choose the core couple. I will choose Adanna and Nnanna as my favourite characters.

The audience might misunderstand a bunch of people. Jidekene, who a lot of people just assume is angry for no good reason. He does have his valid points. He’s the oldest man on the council. He’s the one who’s expected to be the Nze. They crowned Ezeugo because Ezeugo is rich. Those are his arguments and his arguments are right, but because of his delivery, everybody is like, “ah, this one is wicked”.

Another person is Akuada. Akuada might be misunderstood as someone who’s just angry and wicked, but she’s being human. She’s experiencing jealousy because her younger sister gets more attention than her and if you have siblings, that experience happens. When everybody brings home a report card, your younger sibling gets As, you get Bs and they say why can’t you be like your younger sibling? Imagine being compared to your younger sibling, everybody has that emotion and she’s just being human even though she takes it to a different level. 

What would you want the audience to take from the show?

One of the reasons that Cheta M was built around Igbo culture is this thing that I’ve been doing and I hope I can keep doing: exploring different Nigerian cultures. We’ve done it in itsekiri with Riona; Ajoche, we did in Idoma; Cheta M is Igbo. 

They all show that our experiences are the same. No matter where you come from, no matter what side of Nigeria you’re from, the middle belt, the South-South, the East, the West, we all have, at our core, the same human experiences because no matter what skin colour you have, your blood still runs red. So, what we want people to take away is, “oh, this person isn’t so different from me so despite the cultural divide, the language barriers and backgrounds, I can relate to this experience because it’s a human experience”. We’re all humans going through the same experiences. 

Stream Cheta M now on Showmax, with new episodes on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday!

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Cheta M, now streaming

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