The fortunes of the Nigerian movie industry, a. k. a Nollywood, has developed so fast in the last decade, making the industry one of the fastest growing in the country. Actors and actresses have never had it this good. To the extent, are now regarded as heroes and role models by the hordes of fans that trail them everywhere they go.
The road to prominence was rough and tough. At the beginning, artistes were regarded as scrums of the society. Acting was seen as a profession for layabouts and lazy people. Indeed, any young man or woman who decided to take up acting risked the wrath of their parents.
In truth, actors and actresses of those days were poor. They wore tattered clothes and lived by the day. They were mostly uneducated and therefore unfit for any good job. The only asset that was common among them was the large retinue of wives and even larger numbers of children.
That was however in the past. Today, actors and actresses are one of the biggest earners. They live in posh houses and ride sleek cars. Their parents no longer suffer from wants and neglects as it was in the past.
Also, the profession is slowly being flooded with intellectuals. Professors, Doctorate degree holders and others who find the passion to get on stage too hard to resist. The list includes Dr. Larinde Akinleye, who lectured at UI until his death last year, Prof. Ayo Akinwale of Unilorin, Peter Fatomilola (UI), Dr. Kola Oyewo, Tunji Sotimirin (Unilag) etc.
In an exclusive interview with Sunday Sun, Sotimirin, a lecturer at the University of Lagos, who is also an actor, said the lecturers are not new comers to the industry. He said they all have a long history on the job. According to him, the likes of Akinleye, Oyewo and Prof. Akinwale have all been part of various theatre groups earlier. “These people have all been active in their various theatre performing groups even before they became lecturers. The late Dr. Larinde was a producer and actor with the WNTV of those days. Prof. Ayo Akinwale was also a broadcaster and actor of longstanding. Kola Oyewo was with the Kola Ogunmola and Duro Ladipo groups etc. I have also been part of the UI theatre group with people like Sam Loco, Clarion Chukwurah and others. So, when you find yourself teaching, it doesn't mean you should give up your first love. You don't say you'll abandon it because you are teaching.
“The support for this profession, which people now get from parents and guardians started around 1989. It was around this period that the arts started receiving good recognition. The universities also began to give some focus to the discipline in their curriculum. The truth is that the admission of students into the theatre arts departments in universities has helped to correct certain misconception about the profession. They now realise that it is discipline that prepares you to hold your head high anywhere you find yourself.”
Citing himself as an example, Sotimirin said the arts have done him real good in life. According to him, his first international passport was procured for him by the Federal Government in the early 80s when he represented the country at an arts event.
“My first international passport was procured for me by the Federal Government when I was still in school. Since then, I've been travelling on the bill of the government. I want to believe this kind of thing has really encouraged lots of parents. The same thing is happening in the home video sector. People are now beginning to see the benefits. Businessmen are now investing in the industry.”
Though artistes are now famous and most are even the wealthy breadwinners of their families, Sotimirin lamented the absence of 'content' in modern day actors and actresses. The man, popularly called Otunba by friends and admirers said quality should not be sacrificed for fame and wealth.
Describing the state of the movie industry, Sotimirin said: “I have observed that those who evolved from the traditional settings like the Yoruba theatre groups know how to tell stories. Though, they are not, necessarily good producers. The problem with the production of the scripts is that there is an influx of mediocres to the industry. There are few professionals who are doing it right. It is now common to see a young actor or actress who has featured in only one movie turning into a producer the next time you hear his name. Such things are not good for the industry”.
Sotimirin was among the class of Nigerian acts that glamourised the stand-up comedy genre of performing art. At a time the likes of John Chukwu, Bisi Olatilo, Yinka Craig and a few others introduced jokes to the job of Master of Ceremony (MC). But Sotimirin took the job some steps further when he held the first one-man stand-up comedy show in 1989.
The show, which he tagged Molue, a satire of happenings in the country, held at the National Arts Theatre in Lagos. The outpouring of accolades after that show went on long after it had ended.
Building on the success of Molue, Sotimirin followed up with another one-man show, Gboromiro, and later Ojoro Cancel. “After the Molue show in Lagos, John Chukwu climbed the stage to spray money. He said he had never seen that type of thing before. Afterwards, the German Cultural Center took it up and sponsored it in Lagos. We also took it to Ibadan. Ojoro Cancel was a reflection of several generations of the political leadership that we've had in Nigeria.”
Sotimirin is not only a lecturer and actor, the stocky former footballer also sings. Matter of fact, he has two albums to his credit. His debut album, entitled In my time, was released in 1986. It was followed by another album he called Opeleke.
As a university lecturer, the first thing he tells his new students is to drop whatever attitude they may be carrying. Attitude, Sotimirin said, ruins the career of any promising actor.