We present to you ever talented Tunde Kelani popularly known as T.K, whose career spans about 45 years, he went through life from Television Broadcasting, Film Acting, he recently flags off his film institute on his 68th birthday in Lagos where young talented minds are nurtured in various artistic courses. The in-thing about T.K now is the OPOMULEROTV. It would be interesting to know what has been keeping him going for decades from the exclusive interview he had with PUBLICFACES MAGAZINE publisher Bola Solate. Do enjoy…….
Your personality and the investment in the industry, how did it start?
It has been an interesting journey, I was born in Lagos but I was brought up in Abeokuta, I went to Oke- Ona Primary School, Iberekodo. I grew up at Ijaiye Kukudi in Abeokuta, my grandfather was the Balogun of Ijaiye Kukudi. At that time, my father sent me to Abeokuta at the age of 5 so that I could benefit from the Awolowo Free Education, which I was among the first set to benefit from. Moving to Abeokuta gave me Cultural Foundation; I was fascinated by Yoruba language and culture, but what struck me first was the tolerance in Ijaiye Kukudi Compound. We had a Center ground constituting different people with different religions. My uncle the Adeyinka’s, they are Christians, at the right side we had Mr. Kasali whom his son was a drummer and they were Sango’s worshippers, then on left side to our own house, was brother Alabi’s House they were Egungun worshiper, and we are Muslims. Meanwhile my grandfather was also Egungun’s worshipper -the Ogogo Kulodo that is Ogogo Baba Oje. For instance, when they say my Oriki my mother will say Ayinde Omo kulodo, Alani ori, Alani Kulodo Kolejo ninu, Oku loko Odapon, Odoransi Bale Lorun, Omo Atoku Jeun, Omo Ata Aayee Sooro (Lineage Panegyrics).
You know Oma nje ki Ori mi Wu pe (I became emotional) that I am from this Artistic Origin, I got very familiar with the environment, growing up then, you went through some forests and scrubs, bush and then you ended up at the bank of Ogun River to play, swim, catch fish, crabs, climb the tree for foods, and all that. Then for me it was a great inspiration, they thought me everything about our folklore, Orality. While in my Primary school, I started reading Yoruba literature from G.O Fagunwa – Ogboju Ode Ninu Igbo Irunmole, Irinkerindo Ninu Igbo Eledumare, Aditu Eledumare, Ireke Onibudo which I read to my father every night and in my final year at Oke Ona Primary School I purchased my first Camera for 7 Shillings though the Camera didn’t work but I just purchased it because then my brain had been filled up with images of what I was told about; like Egbere, Ehanna, Ewele, reality, myth, superstitions, even in the Bible. Later I was admitted into Abeokuta Grammar School and throughout my Secondary School days, I was interested in Photography. In first year, I bought another Camera Cordiac 127, and Alimia 35s in my second year I bought the Mac 2, in my final year the Alimia 35s which was my first single lens camera after I had left Secondary School; I worked in one or two places in Lagos and I went to an Institute to learn how to type, but I officially became an Apprentice in Photography around 1968. About a year later, I was employed as a Film Cameraman which opened my interest for Motion Pictures. Later, I worked in TV Station where I was opportune to see every American film that came into the country, I got inspired I can remember vividly, back in television we were making films for TV and I decided that I don’t want to be making short films for TV that I want to go for big project on my own, I started saving up, but this decision interrupted my Television experience in 1976-1978 when I attended London International Film School.
Venturing into media, were you anticipating money or fame?
I wasn’t even looking at the future, I was just excited by what I could do, being a Film Maker gives you the capacity to learn if you want to learn, you cannot be a Film Maker if you are not a wide reader because it gives you avenue to translate your literal experiences into visual language, I read everything, and I am still reading. For instance, recently I was back in the Class room to learn with rich mix of people, definitely I was the oldest among them, these are people from different fields ranging from Photography, Fashion design, Film, you know, we came together to find a lasting solution to how technology can provide solution to challenges of modern times, this is an initiative called Cursor Shift 3, project organized by British Consul and facilitated by City Hall, so it wasn’t the money, but I just love it, in fact when I was growing up I worked at UAC world because I was UAC scholar they paid for my Secondary Education with Scholarship, I worked in the factory as a Raw-material Controller. I was really paid well and more than my mate, later I took the risk , I left there to become an apprentice photographer again where I was not paid a dime, so if it was a question of money I wouldn’t have left my former office for Photography, I found myself taking risk
throughout my entire career, I always take risk each time I produce movie, because I would have used that money to buy a car or build a house, instead I decided to use it for something else that gave birth to something else, because I usually ask that; what if we didn’t produce Saworo Ide, Agogo Eewo, Koseegbe, Yellow Card, Maami, Thunderbolt?
How lucrative is Film Production?
It is not lucrative enough, at the moment the sustainability is not there, in Nigeria we don’t have leisure centers and Cinemas in communities throughout the whole country, and then, that alone has limited us to physical distribution of our product through DVD and VCD and it is infested by piracy, there is a possibility that the industry can still be viable but we still have to work and restructure it; it is an industry recognized nationally and globally, here we have our literal heritage, cultural benefits, the tools for means of production but we lack the infrastructure to recoup our investment.
How much does it cost to set up a Film Production Outfit like yours?
Setting up is different from the actual production itself which varies from demand of the story to project upon project, like if I want to produce Ogboju Ode Ninu Igbo Irunmole, I will be looking at 200m in other to set the structure to make it come alive, it sounds like a lot of money but it is not compared to American Film Production which we can be talking of $60m. Comparatively, it is a bit low budget but apparently we are constrained to working with a low budget and achieving big things with less resource because of our country which is underdeveloped and the economy is not buoyant at the moment.
Do gadgets have any impact on the quality of the Film Production?
Cinematography gadget has really advanced, back in days we had to travel Oversea to buy and ship in gadgets then produce film and we took everything back there for Post-production operations, but now everything has changed; now we can control the means of production with the help of technology which has made it affordable and achievable. Now DSLR can shoot videos, 5d, 7d, but I am interested in cinema, so whatever film I make, I make them to be seen in Cinema, but for every filmmaker it is a matter of economy. For instance, we have Camera and equipment of $1000, also $3000, so for today we have a form of democratization on the field of production, we now have choices because we are in the era of digitalization, you can even use your phone if it will give you what you want.
Nollywood is booming and Nigeria is rated as third largest producer of feature films, do you think we deserve this?
To me Nollywood is not booming yet. Yes third largest in quantity but we cannot compare Nigeria with any of those places, for instance in January I was opportune to travel with Lagos state government when we went on fact finding mission to India, there they told us Nigeria is where they were 700 years ago, they gave a figure that in India 2 million people go to Cinema on week days not to talk about the weekends, and in Nigeria we don’t even have Cinemas so I don’t see the basis for comparison based on the fact and figure available around the world, we should really be humble and not be arrogant and not claim that we are the third in anything. See, we are 700 years backward to developed countries. America has not less than 300 Cinemas and here we don’t have 50. Also, when they talk about the budget for Avatar for instance, it was $300 million which is the cost of producing one film, but in Nigeria it is more than all what we use to produce. Judge Buckers sold the franchise of Starwars of over 20 years for $4.7 billion which is even more than maybe the budget of a State in Nigeria. So when they mention those things we have to move back to our benches and plan because there is no reason for comparison. Good, at least they are mentioning us, which mean we have things that are truly viable which we can build on.
Where can you attribute the origin of film production in Nigeria to?
From my experience, the first film was pioneered by Francis Oladele in the 60s, the man who registered and produced Kongi’s Harvest. Origin of film is not in Home video but a long journey, starting from culture, the tradition of the Travelling Theater from people like kola Ogunmola, Duro Ladipo (Sango), Oyin Adejobi, Ayinla Olumegbon, Hubert Ogunde (Yoruba Ronu), Akin Ogungbe, Moses Olaiya (Baba Sala) so we went systematically from Orality to Folklore into Literature and to Theater then to Television and then to Film which has developed and evolved overtime until the so-called Nollywood, so everything is in progression. At least, America has celebrated 100 years of Hollywood and they didn’t say we started from Film Production but all the media and how they evolved what has now continued into Web, Social Media. Anyway, I am not interested in the tribe but who makes what in history that we can reckon with. Apparently, maybe there are others from other tribes that I don’t know of.
It has really affected us; we lost our money in Arugba when we were massively pirated with 5 different versions, till now we still have 30,000 copies which we couldn’t sell due to the piracy, we don’t even know how we can recoup our money, therefore, we couldn’t even release Maami, here at Mainframe we started with 200 people we are just left with 4 people, though we are not making profit yet, but we won’t relent. Government should play its own part, by making good roads, electricity; Broadband Internet should have fetched us more money if it is well circulated. It is a disgrace that in 2013 Nigeria cannot boast of 1% of Broadband Internet penetration.
What happened to stage play?
The death of the stage play again is as result of inadequate infrastructure in Nigeria, also people are poor and they can’t afford it, government has not invested in theater, when I was young, each class must present a play every year, at the end of the year the school set aside a day which parents are invited and each class, I can remember that my class presented a story in the Bible when the Israelite was in the Egypt for 40 years about Moses, Potiphar, Aaron, if I still can remember a play in my primary school but now go to primary and secondary school, you will see that it is a disgrace that our children are not been exposed to an all-round education, in sports, drama, so I wonder when I see what we are breeding, it is a challenge and I hope for a process of re-orientation.
If you are to rejuvenate the man called TK or make him a bachelor again, who can you marry in Nollywood?
Look those are distractions and I don’t think like that, I am much more interested in developmental issues, I am never interested in the glamour, all those things are for stars, you know, I am just a facilitator so I am more fascinated by things that impact knowledge, so you probably won’t find me around them even if I am rejuvenated, I am far more inspired by really serious things, those are distractions.
Most female artiste alleged that they usually experienced sexual abuse, have you ever experienced such?
Again that is a distraction, you can’t find that happening in a professional circle, and on our own project I don’t think we have time for any of those, we are always on our toes, we don’t care what you do after, but when the process is going on we don’t have time for such stupidity.
Empowering young talent in the industry, someone of your caliber, how do you do it?
We do that often, if you go to our website you will see that before we started the project of Dazzling Mirage, we invited young talent online and they all came here, we assign them roles according to their capacities in acting social media, so till today they are dazzlers.
Is Mainframe Production a one-man business or what?
It is not; in fact, I am not the owner of Mainframe. It is Rasheed Adewolu Ladoja that owns it, the Board may not be meeting regularly but I am just managing it for them, THE MAINFRAME facilitates the avenue for me to express myself. I started it and asked them to support it. I had the idea and they love the idea, it was articulated and incorporated. Mainframe has gone beyond me, now when you mention my name, someone can ask, is it of Mainframe productions? That was why I didn’t use my name initially, in fact someone can bring an idea or project and want to execute it under the umbrella of Mainframe Production, but we will just make sure it conforms to the standard we had.
The name Mainframe, where was it coined from?
It means the main Pillar that is holding a structure. It was translated by Dr Larinde Akinleye an Adjunct Professor of the Department of Communication and Language Art, University of Ibadan after identifying that then in Yoruba Origin there was Opomulero lineage with the panegyrics of Opo Roso, Opo Gbaja, Omo Onikoyi, Ikoyi Eso Ipeleme Loju Ogun, which is actually what we are doing in the entire Nigerian Film Industry, we are the Opomulero, we have given it dignity in the lineage of ikoyi people. They are the commercial people, ‘Eso Pelemo’ very fashionable with a lot of dignity. I myself, I dress fashionably, I design my clothe with the fabric of Art and Culture of the Yoruba People combined with modern trend, so you could say in the line of my work I am so proud with dignity, whenever I go out I am always adorn with my originality not only here, even abroad, whenever they say on Phone that TK we are to meet you I will tell them that you won’t have any problem with identifying me because I am the only one that has this cap on my head and there are no two of us, so whenever I come out they will say you must be TK.
Can you give us a Synopsis into Dazzling Mirage Plot and the Meaning of the Title?
We have adapted the story from a Book written by Dr Olayinka Egbokare from the University of Ibadan, and it came with that Title -Dazzling Mirage. We are just maintaining the Literary material and the Film, the meaning is a bit abstract but anybody can give it individual interpretation, it is essentially a love story with a life style of a young graduate who is living with Sickle Cell condition who has to live through the Stigma and dream to have everything that is considered good irrespective of her condition. She dares to achieve these things; her character teaches that Sickle Cell Disorder would not stop you from being successful in life; the Stigma that they can’t live beyond 21 years or have normal life is a total lie. We had to create more awareness and encourage us as Nigerians and Africans in Diasporas to know our Genotype and go for Genetic Counseling.
Have you ever featured in any Movie before?
Yes of course, an International film – MR JOHNSON, I played the role a House boy – Jemisu to Mr. Playsma who later went to play 007. Occasionally, you can see me in Tinsel because a character was created in Tinsel that looked like TK and I was asked to come in and play the role.
With all said and done, behind every successful man like you there must be a woman and is your woman into the Media or what?
I don’t talk about my private life, of course I am married with children, and none of my family is interested in the Media. You see, my family has tolerated me enough and sacrificed a lot. The first sentence my children learnt that usually pains me is this innocent saying “Ijo wo le tun ma de” [when will you come back]. They actually say that because we don’t speak English in our House so from childhood they notice the pattern that they have to share this man with someone else. They know that I will go but they just want to know when I will be around again. It has become a ritual that whenever I am travelling we will all come together and I will recite Ayatal- Qurizziy and the end we will all say Bissimilahi and go our different ways.
Advice for younger ones?
I want to say that they are lucky; first they need good education and have skills and passion for whatever you do and then continue reading and then you can’t miss it. And I insist that they have good character because without that you cannot go far, the sub-total of that is that you must have good reputation and goodwill because your audience will always consider on who you are and what your character is.