There’s no arguing the fact that Taiwo Hassan Babatunde (aka Ogogo) has paid his dues in the movie industry. But how did he start, what has kept him going, what are some of the problems he has faced and those that he is still facing, how does he see the industry and many, many more?
In this exclusive and extensive interview with YES INTERNATIONAL! Magazine’s AZUH ARINZE, the handsome actor spoke like never before on the above issues as well as many others. Simply put, this is one of Ogogo’s longest, deepest and most interesting interviews ever. Enjoy…
You started out as an actor, but now combines it with being a producer. What was the turning point and what was the turning factor?
There was no turning point or turning factor. It’s simple. I just loved it and I believed I was capable of doing it. What really happened was that when I started my acting career, there was nothing like home video then…
When was that and how was it like then?
That was in 1981. There was nothing like home video, only travelling theatre, moving from one place to the other. It was later that cinefilm came, but it was very expensive, buying films, processing abroad and all that and those who couldn’t afford it, turned to reversal films, a cheaper but less qualitative medium until home video came in the very late eighties (80’s). I think it evolved out of the harsh economic situation then, because as at that time, the price of film shot up from say N2,000 to N10,000, alongside other production materials and processes. Most people couldn’t afford it and there was a lull in film production until home video came with the Yoruba movie industry. Even then, it was not done for sale, but shown at movie houses. It remained so until 1990/91 when people started selling it and saw it as something that could be used to supress the “financial-tension” then. I didn’t produce all those time, but took part in many productions. Till 93/94 when I bought my camera (M3000). I didn’t produce because I realized that most people couldn’t afford to rent standard cameras, U-matic and co, coupled with the fact that there was a lot of dishonesty and backbiting. Those who could afford to rent U-matic cameras will never tell you the real rental price while others that knew of cheaper means of getting cameras kept that to their chest. Even when we were still buying films, they will never disclose where they bought theirs and will do all they could to discourage your venturing into the industry. When I bought that camera, I rented it out for productions. Until 1993 when I fulfilled my desire by producing The Wicked Boy, my first production.
How do you see acting as a profession?
I believe, we, the theatre practitioners, are messengers of Almighty Allah because it is easy for us to point out the ills in the society, against the government, in homes and things like that. We are just like preachers. That’s the way I see it.
The standard you met and the way the industry is now, do you feel comfortable with that?
No, but we are still growing. I won’t want to compare us with Hollywood or other Western countries because they started a very long time ago, in the 1860’s 1780’s, long before civilization came to us.
When did we start?
Around 1970; and look at what we’ve achieved. I think the first Nigerian movie I watched was Dinner With The Devil and Son of Africa or something like that. At least, in the industry today, we now export some of our movies, and to a certain level, can compete with one or two movies over there (abroad). I think we should be given kudos for that. The only edge that they have is this computer thing, which I, personally, and as a Yoruba actor, I am not crazy about because I believe in the natural craft. I believe it’s the only way you can get the very essence of my message in the form I want it to get across. But speaking generally, we are growing and will definitely get there.
What informs your productions?
Happenings in the society, what is going wrong. That is why I read the papers everyday. My past experiences with people, trying to correct recurring social ills. I think, generally, it’s the need to change people positively from what they are. Yes, that’s what informs my productions.
Earlier, you referred to yourself as a Yoruba actor, why did you choose to be one, instead of cutting across and also trying the English medium?
Because that’s me. I am a full traditionalist, a Yoruba man to the core. That is where I started and I believe it’s the easiest way for me to pass my messages across to my people. It is to satisfy my English audience that I subtitle my movies in English. But one thing I believe is that we can’t all sleep and face the same place and if the Indians had derailed from their indigenous language, I am sure their movies won’t be as popular as it is today. There is nothing in English language. After all, I read Mechanical Engineering at Yaba Technical College and worked under Lagos State Water Corporation for good 13 years. So, it’s not as if one doesn’t understand English language. I just feel comfortable with my chosen medium of expression.
What are the names of your children?
(Smiles) Rashidat and Sherifat. May God bless them.
What about your wife?
She’s Olubukola Ajoke Hassan.
How did you meet?
I always believe that no matter what, there is always a man for a woman, and a woman for a man. We actually met each other at my former place of work, Awo Ademola Fabunmi’s Group. She was a very good actress then. We started our friendship in the year 1983, got serious along the way, Then, I made her realise that there are certain things I dislike about theatre arts; that I can’t allow both husband and wife to face the same way; I will be on location for days, sometime weeks or so. What if I don’t have money for house maid and both of us, myself and wife, are not at home, who looks after the children? And with nobody to look after them, what do you expect them to become?
The Wicked Boy!
(Laughing) I don’t want that because I cherish my children a lot. So, I made her realise that before we got married. Now, she runs the family and takes care of the children. If she must work, it shouldn’t affect her domestic responsibilities which she agreed to. Hence, her absence from the industry.
What is she into now?
By His grace, she owns and runs a hairdressing salon of her own.
When did you get married and what was the attraction?
The major thing is that I love her. She is the girl of my choice. Though, I had dated other ladies, we dated for the longest period of time. We met in 1983 and got married 1994. 11 years of courtship.
Talking about you and other ladies, you always played intimate roles with the late Bimpe Adekola (Ireti)?
How did your wife take that; any effect on your marriage?
It didn’t and cannot affect my wife. My wife knew Bimple Adekola (Ireti) and Ireti knew my wife very well. Acting is what my wife was once involved in, like I said earlier, so she knows the secret behind it. She cannot feel anything like jealousy or that something was going on between Ireti and I. She knew we were just acting. So, Ireti was never a threat to my marriage.
But some people believe you had an affair with Ireti…
(Cuts in) -Ehin Ohun ti oba koju si emi ole ko ehin si e lo mi (What you perceive to be this may not be so). It was inside this very house that we are talking that we taught Ireti acting. She was my girl, my sister, my baby. Let me put it that way. She was my baby, I nurtured her and she cannot be in this group and we have a part she can perfectly play in a production and begin to look for someone from another group. Forget that we got fixed up in others and mostly played couples. Ours was not the first. It is done abroad. If you are conversant with Indian films, you’ll know about Dharmendra and Emma Myles, Rachel and Amitabh Bachchan and others. Though some people made that mistake about Ireti and I; that we will get married. But we had nothing like that in mind. We both knew why we were in industry. I am happily married and she was a very serious-minded person. So, there was nothing between us except a business relationship.
Still on relationship. How did you and Yinka Quadri (Kura) meet?
The best way I can put it is that you get to meet someone through another person. Yinka Quadri and Rasaq Ajao (Araosan) had been friends for a long time; long before I met Yinka (Kura). They are both from Dosunmu in Lagos Island where their fathers owned shops. Yinka’s father sold towels while Rasaq’s father sold machines. The shops were beside each other, but Rasaq stays in Ebute Metta here while Yinka resides in Lagos Island (Eko). We got to hear a lot about Yinka from Rasaq and he about us. That was how we met and started our friendship.
When and which production finally united both of you?
That was in 1985 and the production was Ola Niyonu. I was and still am very good in this Oriki Orile. So, they call me Olohun Iyo (the one with the golden voice) Whenever they (co artistes) want to enjoy me, they will just shout Ogogo duro! (Ogogo stop) and that was how I became known as Ogogo. It was recitation that brought Yinka Quadri and I together. That was how Yinka Quadri and I became friends and since then, though the mouth and tongue quarrel, when it comes to our friendship, the understanding is there.
So, you are claiming you’ve never had any major quarrel?
I know what you want to hear. You want me to tell you of a big fight, abi? Okay, one thing is that it has never happened and I hope it will never happen because we both have maturity on our side. This is a man I love with all my heart, so whatever he does that I don’t like, I either overlook or tell him straight and vice versa. So, it’s hard for us to quarrel.
Initially, you were three, but it seems Rasaq Ajao has dropped along the way, what…
(Cuts in) He has not dropped. We all are still friends. We still go out together and do things together. It’s just that he has his own group and all that, but we all are still friends.
Back to Kura, he is generally believed to be rough with his Dosunmu background and approach to things, while you are considered the opposite. How do you cope with him?
You want me to say what is not true? One thing is, if you understand your friend, know his moments of happiness, sadness and annoyance and he reads you the same way, nothing will come between you. It will be hard. Kura, as you guys call him, is a levelheaded person, very cool headed. It’s just the roles he plays that makes people assume he is rough. He is an entirely different person.
What are the names of the groups you have both worked for?
He was with Adetutu International something and I was with Awo Adeola Fabumi (later changed to Oduduwa Theatre Organisation in 1995).
Are you still in the same group now?
We are not in the same group, just in the same base.
You know there is something called caucus within caucus. That is what is happening. Though he stays at Pedro and I, at Onike, hardly will a day pass without us meeting here. We all gather here to discuss our productions, stories and in some cases, relax. That is friendship and how it is because this is our base.
You were with the Lagos State Water Corporation?
Yes. I worked with them as a mechanical engineer after my diploma at the Yaba Technical College for good 13 years.
How was the experience like working with the Water Corporation and at the same time acting?
It was okay. I don’t have any regret. That’s one thing with me. I never regret doing anything in my life because whatever happens, I take as the will of Allah. My life is that simple. When I was at Water Corporation, all the bosses I worked with always expressed satisfaction with my job because they said I took it seriously. They so liked me that the one I worked with before I left once advised that if I had any production to undertake, I should inform him because I was having problems combining the two then. I didn’t want to be absent at work so all my scenes were recorded on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays because I didn’t want to be found wanting in my job. After my first effort, The Wicked Boy, second, Elewon (Prisoner) and the third, The Merciful God, I decided to quit. I just resumed that January in 1994 after 13 years on the job and told my boss I wanted to go.
What is the name of the boss?
Mr. Oyenuga, a very nice man. He was a military man before he came to Water Corporation. He advised that I should complete my 15 years on the job before going, but I explained that that was the best time for me to go. So, I resigned on the very day I clocked 13 years on the job.
What made it the best time for you to go?
I took into consideration a lot of things. By that time, I had already become a star, in quote, so I couldn’t go to work in buses or Molue and I didn’t have a car of my own. So, I had to resort to going to work in taxis and coming back too. How much was my salary then? Aside that, when I go to work, not because they beg me or anything, I “dash” my colleagues money and do “faaji” with them. At the end of all these, I now reviewed everything. How much was I collecting as salary? Was it really worth it and the answer that came to my mind was it’s better I quit this work and face acting full time, which was what I did. And I’ve never had any regret since then.
How much was your salary then?
My salary wasn’t much. I don’t think I got up to N2,000 then.
You never got more than N2,000?
I didn’t even get up to N2,000. When I left there, I was on level six, as a senior craft man.
And this acting that you’ve come to love so much…
(Cuts in) Yes, this job that I’ve come to love so much. I believe I am ordained to do it. You now why? Because I was born in the year 1959, October 31st. I was born on the day television, WNTV, was being commissioned in the whole of Africa at Ibadan. So, I believe I came into the world to meet them doing what I am ordained to do and thank God I am still doing that today.
Kindly describe the circumstance that led to your doing what you are ordained to do, acting?
Actually, nobody pushed me into it or something like that. It was more of an invitation by my Oga in the industry, Awo Ademola Fabunmi. His father was the late Alaba of Lagos. It happened that he does rehearsals at Oshilake in Ebute Metta, here, but there was nothing between us except good morning and good night. I was not involved in theatre then. I was at home, the year was 1981 and saw a messenger from him that I should please come and assist him in a production he was undertaking. Somebody I hardly spoke with except to exchange greetings, and to make matters worse, I knew most of his group members were my siblings’ mates and those he sent to me, we are friends today. People like Abbey Lanre, Suraju Ologun and others. They were about 40 with him there. My first reaction was: “What is wrong with his people?”.
What did they want you to do then?
They wanted me to write and recite in the production they wanted to perform at the National Museum that year. But instead of only taking part, I wrote the line for them, but the guy they gave the part couldn’t recite what I gave him and it was a day or so to the performance. So, I was forced to play the role after much persuasion from the leader, Awo Ademola Fabunmi. I performed for them as Akiigbe and the audience was so impressed with me that I was immediately contacted to do jobs for some other groups. That was how I joined the Awo Ademola Fabunmi-led group and started my career in acting in the year 1981.
Owo Blow is considered one of your best movies so far. How did you come about that story?
We recorded it in year 1995. I am not the owner of the script. I was only invited to act.
By who and how?
I was at home when I got a visitor, Niyi Wuraola. He was my colleague at Water Corporation. He told me he had left Water Corporation and was now into movie business. In short, he wanted to produce a movie and I was to be involved, to play the role of Owolabi. He came to discuss it along with the fee. He was and still is my very good friend so I told him that just for the fact that you are into movie production, I won’t charge you any amount, just give me what you feel is okay and will not affect your purse. Ask him, he will tell you.
How much did he eventually give you?
I won’t like to disclose that. But he thanked me and dropped the script. I didn’t get to hear from him afterwards. The next time I saw him, I was down with fever and admitted at Larry Clinics. He told me they had already started shooting. So, I had to digest this same Owo Blow and the clincher, I was due on set the next day. I refused because I mean, here was I, sick, undergoing medical attention and to digest something as voluminous as the Bible for shooting the next day. It was not possible. But he made me realise that the director, Tade Ogidan had made it clear that without me, they were going to shoot another film entirely. So, I was forced to discharge my self involuntarily with an agreement that I would be coming for treatment every night. That was how I started shooting Owo Blow.
How was it like working with Tade Ogidan?
The first thing Tade said when he saw me was. Thank God, bobo yi, otife pami (meaning you almost killed me). You know the way he talks? In fact, I enjoyed working with him. He has completely won my heart. He was one director I never saw angry for the almost three months we spent shooting. I, alone, spent two months and almost 22 days. I never saw him get angry. He was always asking after my welfare and all that. He even used his own personal money to cater for me. I mean, he is a director that deserves the best. I give him the respect any time. He is a worthy director.
You’ve done quite a number of productions?
Which do you feel challenged your acting skill most and why?
One thing is that I was brought up on stage with the orientation that I should be able to take and execute any role. But one thing I can do very well, but I will never do, is to play the role of a jagun jagun (warrior) and begin to recite incantations. I will never do it.
I just don’t like it.
Because it is against your religious belief?
Well, that may be one reason, but I just don’t like it.
Who do you look up to in the industry?
All those people that did one thing or the other before or after me in the industry because I believe in whatever anybody does, you get to gain one thing or two.
How do you relax?
Whenever I get the little time to relax, I engage in the game of draught which you met me doing or play snooker and at times, go to swim because I consider myself to be a very good swimmer.
Give us a brief description of Taiwo Hassan and Ogogo?
There is no difference between Taiwo Hassan and Ogogo. Ogogo is my stage name. It is a name known as Oriki Orile in Yoruba land. You know Ogogo Omo Kolodo and so on, so I will say Taiwo Hassan Babatunde Ogogo is a complete gentleman, avoids anything associated with violence. I am just myself, nobody else.
Finally, your ultimate goal in life?
That I use all what Almighty Allah has given me for the betterment of the society.