Saturday, 29 November 2014

I co-authored Tunde Kelani’s Biggest Movie, But He Did Not Pay Me – Baba Wande

Baba Wande
Baba Wande
Veteran actor, Kareem Adepoju, fondly referred to as Baba Wande, in this interview with ADEMOLA OLONILUA shares some of his life experiences
How did you get involved in acting?
I started acting when I was in primary school and I began with Baba Oyin Adejobi. Back when I was in Ansarudeen School, I was part of the pupils sent to the residence of Baba Oyin Adejobi to learn how to act. Then people would gather to watch us perform after the training and whatever money we made was used to pay our Malim (Arabic teacher). We acted plays like Adam and Eve, Joseph and his Brethren,among others. That was where I developed interest in drama. My family trade is tailoring and I was also involved in it but after leaving the modern school, I joined Oyin Adejobi. After my primary school, I travelled to the East to continue my education because that was where my mother was at the time. Due to the nature of our family business, it allowed for extensive travelling. After I was done with the modern school, I came back to Osogbo where I fully joined Oyin Adejobi. Then, my father had died.

When you were in the East, how were you able to communicate?
I understood and spoke Pidgin English fluently, so communication was not a barrier.
Didn’t you find any of the ladies appealing during your stay there?
Not at all, besides I was not really in the heart of Igbo land. I was at Agbor. I did not find any lady appealing there.
As someone that has spent 50 years on stage, did it occur to you that you would go this far in your career?
I just loved acting and always enjoyed it, I never knew it would turn out to be this big. Then, whoever was into acting was referred to as an unserious element, a lazy fellow with no future ambition. Even parents were against their children partaking in acting and many people I started with had to quit because their parents told them to do so. However, my case was different because my parents did not disturb me even though they did not like the profession. They didn’t stop me because I was still actively involved in tailoring which was our family craft. My father was hardly at home because he usually travelled to Ghana to get materials and he died when I was still young. So, this gave me a chance to do whatever I liked. I was about 20 years old when my father died in 1960. He died shortly after he came back from one of his trips.
What are some of the fond memories you have of your father?
I remember he used to talk to me not to be troublesome and that I should always remember the son of whom I am. It is the same advice that I passed on to my children. I told my children not to keep bad friends and desist from taking alcohol because I don’t drink, smoke or even eat kola nut. I have never taken alcohol in my life. Even if it is for acting purposes, I always use milk as palm wine and any malt drink as stout. As for kola nut, I just don’t like it.
After your father’s death, who was responsible for your upbringing?
I was fully into acting then and was taking care of myself. I did not need anybody to take care of me at that stage as I was already a man.
You are popularly called Baba Wande instead of your real name, Kareem Adepoju. How did you come about the nickname?
A professor based in Ilorin wrote a book titled Eleyi ti afi t’omo, which was later adapted to a play on the television. I played the role of Otokiti in the play. Otokiti had a wife and a daughter called Wande, and that is how they began to call me Baba Wande.
Some people believe the movie, Ti Oluwa ni ile, brought you to limelight, would you agree to that?
Only few people would say that Ti Oluwa ni ile made me popular. Those that had been watching my films for years before Ti Oluwa ni ile would tell you that I had been popular on the television before the film. Before then, I had done plays like Orogun Adedigba, Kuye, Ekuro oloja among others. I had been popular through television series before the advent of films. When we talk about films, they are right to say I became popular with Ti Oluwa ni ile. But people had been watching me on stage and on the television before the film came out.
How was the transition from stage plays to appearing on the television and eventually making films?
Oh beautiful. I started with acting on the stage but the advent of films killed stage plays. The sad part is that the crop of actors we have now did not pass through stage play where actors are supposed to train. They would not agree anyway because they are popular and they have money.
You seem more at home acting fetish or wicked roles in movies. Are you like that in reality?
Baba Wande is an actor who can interpret any role given to him but Alhaji Kareem is different from Baba Wande. It is when I am on the stage or on location that I am Baba Wande. In real life, I am a gentle man. Most times, people call me a comedian. I know it is a God-given talent to make people laugh. I do not do it intentionally.
Didn’t it ever occur to you to become a professional comedian?
It did not occur to me because I did not know I was funny. People always say I am funny. It is just my nature to make people laugh.
What was your aspiration in life as a kid?
Funny enough, I did not have any ambition as of then. Even as a pupil in Arabic school, I knew from an early stage in life that I loved to act. I never knew it could become a career that could put food on my table. I never dreamt that I could earn money from it to fend for my family. Of course, I knew I would act, I thought I would do another job by the side. I never really gave it a serious thought but I had hope in God that whatever he wanted me to become in life would come to reality.
What then happened to your tailoring profession which was your family vocation?
I did it for a while, then I left it to face acting full time.
With the disdain society had for acting profesion in those days, were you still proud to call yourself an actor?
Of course, I was very proud. I did not care about what they were saying then. I am always happy whenever I act and anything that gives me happiness is okay by me. It was fun when I started my acting career. Then people always greeted me whenever I passed by them and they called me the name of the character of any of the characters I acted. It was a happy feeling but at a stage, we all had to choose a permanent stage name because not all the roles that one acted were good.
Being an actor has undoubtedly brought you fame, but has it made you a rich man too?
It brought mainly popularity, not wealth but it is because of the country we live in. If Nigeria was a country that takes care of actors, we would all be living in affluence but the reverse is the case. It is those who did not work that are enjoying the fruit of our labour.
What do you mean by that?
We have the issue of pirates who frustrate us. The marketers also are there; they sell our movies but deny us our entitlement.
What can be done to change this situation?
Nothing can change because we are not united. The artistes are not united and the only way we can better our lives is by being united. Although there are associations, there is still no unity. In our industry, we have the Igbo, Hausa and Yoruba factions; can’t we speak with one voice? Even the Yoruba faction is not united, so nothing can change.
Why did you decide to live in Osogbo unlike most of your contemporaries who are based in Lagos?
It is because we are different and unique. Those of us who live here are not inferior to those in Lagos, although our business sells more in Lagos than anywhere else. The actors there are closer to the marketers than we are.
But don’t you think that may have affected you financially?
It is possible that if I were in Lagos, things could be better but I prefer where I am. I prefer to stay with my people.
How have you been coping with female admirers?
It is natural for ladies to flock around us because of the nature of our job. I have not had any crazy moment with ladies because I respect myself. I try my best to keep to myself.
Was there any time you felt like quitting especially when your profession was looked down upon by the society?
The only time I felt very low about my career was when I wanted to get married. Parents of those I wanted to marry refused to release their daughters to me for marriage. Because I was an actor, they thought I was not responsible. Though they later realised their mistake, I had moved on then. Besides that, there was never a time I wanted to quit. I am in love with what I do and you don’t give up on something that gives you joy and feeds you.
You sound so passionate about your job, what endears you so much to the profession?
It is simply because I always make people happy and anytime they see me, they make me happy too. I make them laugh and I love it.
Is any of your children taking after you?
They are all gainfully employed by the government. Some of them help me with my production when they have the time. I cannot force any of them to become actors. But thank God, they are doing well.
And you are not pained that none of them followed in your footsteps?
I am not pained at all because they are all doing fine in their chosen careers. Artistes suffer and I don’t want them to partake in such. But if they can study the business side of it, nobody can cheat them the way some of us have been cheated.
So, you have been cheated in this profession?
Yes. For instance, I once gave a marketer some of my works to sell for me and he cheated me. I took the case to court but after some time, I got tired of attending courts, so I let it go. The popular film, Ti Oluwa ni ilewas the work of two of us but it is only one person that is selling it today.
But why did you not drag him to court?
It would mean going to court every day, how many years would I spend on earth when I spend most of my time in court? Let God be the judge.
How did you come up with the concept of the movie?
Tunde Kilani, a producer, director and cameraman is my friend and he asked me to come up with a story we could jointly develop and I wrote the story. He too contributed a lot and that was how the film came to be. Nobody could have envisaged the story would grow into a big film like that anyway.
What is your relationship with Tunde Kilani right now?
He is still a friend even though he is selling the movie and I am not getting my entitlement. Even when I needed the film, I had to buy it from him.
Why didn’t you sign a legal document before going into such a joint venture?
Then we would not have any film if there was an agreement to be signed because I had a story and he had the money. If I brought up any legal issue, we would not do the film because he would think I was being too smart.
You still call him your friend after this?
When I wanted to celebrate my 50 years on stage, I went to meet him and he gave me N50,000. He is still my very good friend and if he has a production, he normally invites me. Although occasionally, I ask him about my entitlement because he is the only one that is selling the movie and he tells me that he did not really make money from the film.
And you do not get hurt each time he tells you that?
I don’t let it bother me. The sad part is that I have many big stories but I cannot do a joint production with anybody again. I should have sourced for someone to jointly produce another big movie but I doubt they would want to do business with me because they know I am now wiser and I would involve lawyers this time.
Don’t you think you are depriving your fans from sharing some of your vast experience and ideas because they learn from your films?
They have been suffering for it for a while because there is a crisis in Association of Nigerian Theatre Practitioners and that is why I said we are not united. It has to do with the matter of the presidency of the association and those in the Lagos State Chapter made a rule that only those in Lagos can be president. If we support those they are against, they would not invite us to movie locations again. I haven’t featured in movies for sometime and my fans are suffering from it and there is nothing I can do about it. I am not bothered because I am involved in several television programmes.
Your job is time demanding but you have been able to raise a family. How were you able to do so?
I believe it is the Lord’s doing. I tried my best to provide for my family financially and also made sure my children were well educated.
How did you meet your wives?
My first wife is from Ekiti State. She came to Osogbo to do something and we met. We talked and shortly after we got married. My second wife is from Osogbo, I saw her, liked her and married her. I have a united household. I like the fact that they are very religious women, they are good Muslims.
Besides acting, what other businesses are you involved in?
I have no other business. Even tailoring that is my family trade, I had to quit it for acting because I did not have the time to do both.

Via - Punch

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