Amitabh Bachan Is My Mentor – Otunba (Dr.) Sola Fosudo

•Ace actor Sola Fosudo played host to our editor, DESMOND EKWUEME in his Blessed Fruits Foundation office in Satellite Town. He speaks on how he came into acting, combining it with his teaching job at LASU, his best films, best food and best place he has ever been. Excerpt…

Yoruba Films Are More Authentic -Sola Fosudo

Can we meet you sir?

My name is Otunba (Dr.) Sola Fosudo, I am teach at the Lagos State University, Department of Theater arts and music and I am also a performing artist in other I do some acting and play directing on the stage, and some production also. I am also the founder and president of the blessed fruits foundation that takes care of widow and orphans in Nigeria.

That means you are a man of many parts? You are a Lecturer; actor; president of a foundation. How do you cope combining these tasks together?

(He laughs) Well, I don’t know what you mean by cope, you know? I don’t resume here at the office in the foundation, there are people who work here. So what I do is to supervise and coordinate their activities, even though we have a team of managers, a volunteer management staff, who are not on salaries; who are not paid, we are all concerned about the plights and conditions of widows and orphans. So they are assembled as people who are interested in touching lives, we meet once a month to decide on policies and to approve grants, you know? The programmes we want to do, but there are people who work in the office on a daily basis. Secondly, I said I teach Theater arts, I am also a practitioner of theater, so there are no duplications in this, I am doing one and the same thing. Also I don’t teach from morning till night or seven days in the week or thirty days in a month, I teach based on time table and once in a while when I have to go on locations to shoot, since it’s the same drama that I am going to record, I just do it. So I don’t see any big deal in it the way you are putting it, but you are not first person that will ask me that kind of question. But my answer has always been that I am not doing anything outside the scope of my profession. If I were to be a medical doctor now and I am practicing as an engineer, or as an accountant or some other profession, then one can be wondering, but I studied theater and I am practicing theater.

Your foundation, how have you been able to raise money to do most of the things that you have done in terms of welfare?

Well, you know, God sent us to do this and when God sends you, he provides for you. If you trust in Him, He will provide, it’s just that you shouldn’t be expecting more than He’s provided. What He has provided should be what you make use of and when He wants to expand the scope of what you do, He will do that. So the way I will answer that question is that God has been providing for the foundation through some people that we also ask, we call them “Patrons” and “Patronesses”-Men and Women, who also have hearts of gold, you know? Who have a heart to give, it is not everybody that is inclined to giving, but we go through a selective process, identify certain people and give them letters, telling them what we are doing and those who are drawn to participating in the dream, they key into the dream and send us donations and we also use some of our resources to support what we are getting from those who give to the course of the foundation. So that’s basically how we have been surviving.

You talked about dream, how did the dream about Blessed Fruits come up?

Well, I will give you some magazines, so you can read from it. Sometime, about five six years ago, the foundation is five years plus now, I was praying and I ask God what he wanted me to do and I had an inner voice saying I should read a particular portion of the Bible, Isaiah 1:17, I got the message when I got to verse 17, because they had been signals, previous signs about me doing something for widow and orphans and so on, when the voice told me to read Isaiah 1,I was actually asked to read the whole of Isaiah chapter 1, I got the message in verse 17, that was in 2007, I was to be 50 years in 2008, so I decided to use my birthday celebration to launch the foundation and I belief a lot of people would want to give me things, so I told them not to buy me gifts; anything you want to give me just convert it to money, I want to put it into this foundation, to kick start it and like I said, God is so faithful.

Who are the people that are patrons of this foundation?

There are so many of them, I can’t be mentioning names, I mean and most of them are members of my church and a few of my friends. Maybe you are thinking that they are some political people and all that. The political people that you will try to invite and they won’t come, unless they know that it’s going to be a show for them, I even invited a few associates of my, they are not too many though, who are in government and some other people that I extended invitations to in government and they never come.

Can you let us into your family background? How was it like growing up?

My family background?My recreation or procreation?

Your procreation…

Ehmm, I am from a family of six, and I am the second. Both my parents are late, but they were Catholics, Christians and they taught us in the way of God and prayerfulness. In fact, two of my siblings, one of them is a priest, the fourth boy, he is a man now, is a Reverend Father and the last girl is also a Reverend Sister. I believe also, that the rest of us are also making effort to, you know? Everybody is trying to make heaven, but it is by grace. If God is gracious to you, and he knows that you will try if He sends you, He will send you, but then you also have to fulfill your part. My most senior brother is a businessman; I am teaching and also a performing artist. The third lady is married, you know? She works at college of medicine, here in Lagos; the fifth guy (the one after the priest) teaches in Lagos State Polytechnics and the last woman, like I said earlier is a Reverend Sister. Most of them are over fifty now…

How did you get into acting?

It is a long story! I guess I have been doing it, while I was in primary and secondary school, but then it was just fun. You know? You belonged to the dramatic and cultural society, we did school productions back in those days, it was when I was in teachers training college, after I did a school play, one of our teachers then who directed the play Mrs. Osoyin, the wife of the late Professor Bode Osoyin, who was a theater artist and a playwright/director, who invited her husband to see the play, back then in 1976/77. Professor Osoyin, saw the play and called me after the production and told me “look, you are a man of the theater, so you better consider going to read theater, when you leave the teachers’ college”.So that statement was instrumental to my choice of a career, even though it was not immediate, because when he told me that, I had other plans, but when I couldn’t pull those plans through, that I went back to him, a year or two after, and he guided on what to do, so eventually, I came into the profession.

Acting has brought you more fame than teaching;you are actually famous for your acting, however, what would you have been doing if you were not acting or teaching?

Well I wouldn’t know. Nobody can know what he would have been doing, if he were not doing what he or she would have been doing now. Just like one of my poem says: “that how life is”, what is happening to you that you see, if it were not happening to you now, something else would have been happening. But that something else, you can never know, so you can’t be guessing. But if I were not acting, maybe I would have been a Pastor as well or maybe I would just be a teacher, but i don’t know. The fact that somebody studied theater art, does not mean he or she should act. It’s not everyone who read theater act that are acting and known. So it is what God wants for your life that will actually happen. So it is all providential.

Would you like any of your kids to go into acting?

My second son is in University of Ibadan studying Theater art. He is in his final year and he has been acting and writing. It’s notabout me allowing them, for me also, it was not about my parents allowing me, it was about God’s plan. I am enlightened enough to know that I should allow God to direct them on what they should be.

Some kind of revolution is going on in the industry (Nollywood) right now, you have new artist coming up and a host of other things, how would you describe the industry at the moment?

I don’t know about any revolution…

The revolution is new people who don’t have any theater background coming into the industry and climbing up there. It wasn’t like your time where you had to go to school and study theater arts, yet these guys come in and they are up there…?

Well, I don’t see that as any revolution and if you see that as one, I don’t think that is. I think revolutions are supposed to bring about change and development, you know, in a radical way? But, what they are doing, I don’t know whether you would describe it as bringing change or development, so the way I will answer that question would be, ok let’s wait and see how long many of the will survive in the industry. Those who are not trained and come into the industry as you said, they are doing well and they are up there, let us wait and see whether it will last.

How many films have you acted so far?

I can’t count that, though I can’t say they are many, but I can’t count that.

What particular film shot you to limelight?

I can’t say that any film shot me to limelight. It was a particular soap opera that shot me to limelight.

Which of them?

I think the one that did the magic most was ripples. Ripples because it ran for five years, every week on national television (it was a network programme), that’s a lot of visibility for any artist. But before then I had been on the programme (Mike Enahoro’s programme) that ran for about a year also on network. And so gradually people also begin to know you. So it becomes easier for them to identify with you, especially if they think that you are doing what is right, so by the time the video films came up in the late 80s or early 90s we were already doing soap operas. In fact what lead to video films was the popularity of soap operas. Because there was a vacuum in people going to cinemas to watch film and now people had fallen in love with TV soap operas, they rush to their homes every evening depending on the programme time, you know they were so many of them at that time, “Mirror in the sun”; “Supple blues”; “fortunes”; “Checkmates”, in fact they were so many and they were featuring a fresh generation of artists, of which many of them were trained, you know, even though there were a few who were really not trained. That was the real revolution, which brought about some kind of development, which now metamorphosed into video films, because there was a vacuum left by cinemas and people were yearning to watch cinemas in Nigeria and up till today we still don’t have that cinema culture.

Do you have a role model?

Of course I have several role models. My first role model was an Indian actor, Amitabh Bashan, because, when I was young, I used to watch a lot of Indian films (as a rascal), those day some of my friends and I would run out of the house and go watch Indian films in the old Cinema houses we used to have in Lagos-the Super Cinema; Odion Cinema; Galaxy Cinema, there was one in Ajegunle…

Orege?

Yes Orege cinema, you know, we go there to watch a lot of Indian films. I had this very passionate liken foe Amitabh Bashan and eventually when I went into drama it was very easy for me to adopt his style. Apart from that I also have a lot of mentor in the Academics; social life. Wole Soyinka was also one of my mentors; he was my teacher at Ife. Bode Osoyin that I mentioned is a mentor; Professor Kole Omotosho, who is now in South Africa is a mentor.

What are you working on at the moment? What big project should your fans be expecting from you soon?

I am not working on any film right now, or do you mean the one I am acting in? I am supposed to be going to a location now, I don’t know whether you would call that a big film. I am going for a location now that is why I wanted us to do this very quickly, because we are starting the recording today. It’s a Yoruba film, but the last time I really acted a big film was when I acted “Family on fire”, produced by Tade Ogidan (you know when you say big film or big production, it depends on who is producing or directing it), or else if you involved in any film it will be just a regular film or production.

Do you sometimes reject films when called upon to act?

It is God that selects for me, because the people who contact me to do films can’t just contact me if God is not involved, even at that no road side producer can just meet me and say they want to act a film. Some of them have tried though, but by the time you tell them your fee they run away. And it is not as if I mention some outrageous fees, it’s just that the industry has really deteriorated to the point that they pay artists all kinds of useless fees.

What is your fee sir?

How can I tell you my fees? I don’t even have a stable fee, more so I can’t be saying my fees on the pages of the newspapers.

How comfortable is Fosudo?

Comfortable how?

Comfortable in the Nigerian context of wealth?

(He laughs) I am happy. I am a contented man and God is providing for my needs; He is my Shepard. I am not lacking; I am able to pay my bills; my children are in school and I think that is the most important thing…

If you are called upon to take a political appointment will you?

Well, it depends on the type of political appointment. If it is appointment, why not? As long as it is not elective,because, I know that the Nigerian idea of politics is deadly. Politicians do a lot of things to get elected and I am not going to do those kinds of things. I could support a candidate morally or financially, if the opportunity comes up. Gbenga Daniel was my friend, I campaigned for him, I even gave him some proposals, but you know politicians? Well I am not really disappointed.

Pick one film that strikes you most, like this one could be my best any day?

I think it will depend on the audience and their reaction to the films. One film that the audience has not forgotten over the years is “True Confession”, it was a classic.

If you were to choose one person that you would like to be on set with, who would that person be?

Hmmm, there are so many of them who are not doing badly. I enjoy acting with Liz Benson, because she is a natural and also very talented. I have also worked with Genevieve and I think…what is her name? Some of them are now younger people and I don’t even know many of them anymore.

What is your take on provocative dressings worn by actresses on set? How do you react to such?

Well, I will look at it in two ways. One it could be described as one of the tricks of entertainment, because it is not only done here in Nigeria, but I think one should not overdo it in such a way that it becomes an issue of immorality and I think that is the stage that we are getting to in Nigeria, where almost all out films are now portraying, almost portraying nudity and nakedness. This is applicable not only in dressing, some of the dialogue and the activities too are questionable morally and most of these are happening in most movies. We also watch American films where these things take place, because it is part of the drama, because Drama is the reflection of life and there is nothing you see in dramas that are not an appropriation of life; that is not derived from what you see in real life. Nothing is strange, but an artist, both people who write and direct is supposed to be an arranger or a modifier of that same life, you are drawing from life to give back with your creative walk, so you are supposed to rearrange and to modify in such a way that you will not insult the people sensibilities, because most of our people are no trained to even understand most of this thing I am saying. They present it raw and sometimes over exaggerate it, I mean you see people who wear skimpy dresses in real life, but they would now do the skimpy-skimpy.

Twenty years of Nollywood, how would you describe it and what are the challenges it is facing?

Well, the issue of twenty years of Nollywood is a controversy. Like I was in the state house when in one of the parties they did, don’t mind me when I use the word “they”, it is because I am not in the mainstream of Nollywood, it’s just that we were part of it, we actually started it, but they are doing all kinds of things nowthat I am not happy about and they don’t want to chart a course for development. There are so many things they are doing, that like I said I am not happy about.When you say twenty year…you see, Tunde Kelani was at that meeting and they called him on stage to make a speech and he said the industry itself is a child of controversy, here you are saying Nollywood is twenty years and what you refer to as Nollywood is the film industry, but I have been practicing for the past 30 something years. So maybe then, we need to separate the Nigerian film industry from Nollywood, but when you say Nollywood, you are referring to Nigeria’s film industry, but when you say Nollywood as a given name, which was developed twenty years ago…in fact the name was not developed about 20 years ago but 10 years ago by an American and I am not in support of the name.

Why? What is Nollywood? Is it a concept; is it a philosophy; an idea?

In America, there is place called Hollywood; a city called Hollywood. In India, there is a city called Bollywood in Mumbai and there you have artistes; you have studios; artistic life going on. So if somebody comes here from America and say can I want to go to Nollywood? What would you say? You see, we are not serious about our philosophies or Ideology, in the things we do. We are just copying and doing follow-follow and then we follow-follow and we enter pit. Even in our politics; our social life, we are follow-follow people as Fela, the great prophet has said. I would have for instance, if they say I shouldname our film industry, I will call it “Tinapa”. And there is a place called Tinapa and some of the things you find in Nollywood, you will find them there. You can even call it something world, just like Disney world, in Florida and create a place…okay now; there is no government in Nigeria, that even designate even a small village as Nollywood. Some of these people travel abroad, some of them have even been in Hollywood. Some of our actors have been to Hollywood and have seen the beautiful city called Hollywood, and then they come back and keep deceiving themselves. I don’t believe in deceiving myself, be truthful to yourself, even if you don’t want to be truthful to yourself. If I am not in the industry, i won’t mind, because I won’t be part of the deception, but I am there and I know that it is deception. I don’t want to deceive myself.

You act in the Yoruba genre and you act in the English films, you are like a master in both, in which of the genres do you feel more comfortable acting in?

Yoruba…

Why sir?

Its more cultured; its more Nigerian; its more dramatic. If you watch a Yoruba film, you will see everything about our society and life as a people in it. If you watch an average English film, you wouldn’t know whether you are watching an American film or we are trying to copy this people or we are trying to copy the Chinese or the French. It is a confused culture, that does not benefit anybody, but because some of us have studied theater arts and needs to practice, you know the medium is English, so I am saying that the Yoruba movies are more authentic. There is authenticity of culture; norms and of the people. Even the stories are more dramatic and theatric.

One of the problems of Nollywood have been this issue of the Guild, today one person is taking the other to court an all that, what is you take on this?

I don’t even have a take on that. The people who are running around to be president, just want to be president for selfish reasons; for self-aggrandizement, not because they want to create that enabling environment for the practitioners to grow. They are not interested in organizing seminars and lecture and look at how we can chart a new course for the guild or to ask what are we doing? Where are we going etc., these are the kind of questions that leaders should ask.Protecting the interest of the practitioner and looking ahead to do greater and better things, but they are all struggling to do some other things. The only thing they have concerned themselves with is organizing film festivals, just because they collect money to do festivals and when they come like that in the name of an association Government will listen to themand give them money.

In a lighter mood now, sir what is your best food?

Best food? I like Pounded yam with a good Egusi soap.

Where is the best place you have been to in all your years of travelling?

Disney world…

Why sir?

Have you been there? If you go there you would be stupefied by the level of entertainment; the amount of structures, you know the investment that the government of Orlando have made in that big; massive city of entertainment. It is incomparable.

If you were to be the president of this country for just one day what would you change?

The Police…

Why the police?

The Police are crucial in what happens in a society. Maybe I should just say the Force generally, but I think the military are not doing badly;we have problems with the Nigerian Police.

Would you be in support of a state police?

Yes, certainly.

Talking about change, your body ASUU is on strike. What is your take on the whole exercise?

What ASUU is fighting for is for the future of the youths and education in Nigeria. The future of the Nigerian youth is what they are fighting for and it is a welcome development. The truth is there are some ASUU people who have information about how our leaders are squandering moneyand how they distribute money among themselves;they ignore our educational institution that they are supposed to be spending the money on. The president have agreed now to spend N1.3 trillion on tertiary institution in the next few years, if they didn’t fight that fight, that N1.3 trillion will go into the pockets with some people. If they didn’t fight that fight they would spend that money on something else. True or false?People may be saying what happened to their N500 million subventions, but in their case one person takes N500 million home, that is a subvention of one whole institution, which takes care of staff salaries including that of professors… a professor will now take home N350,000 and one man, because he is a member of an Assembly, will now take home N500 million into his house. So we need to struggle to get resources we need to build our education system because posterity will judge us if we don’t speak up, even if we are not in government.

What would you want to be remembered for?

I don’t know…God know what everybody will be remembered for, but I think it is this foundation that i would really pray to God to increase and expand and make bigger and touch more life and people. So that life can get better for the beneficiaries of this foundation, people who are down. These people are there all around us and I believe God will ask us questions if we see them and look the other way or give them attention. Apart from that, I think I will also like to be remembered as one Nigerian artist and teacher who contributed to mentoring people, so it is still part of touching lives. What is important is to touch lives; make people happy and mentor them, not necessarily using money, but using the gift that God has given you.

How do you handle your female fans?

Female fans, how?

Some female fans in their bid to relate with you go beyond being professional, some of them make advances at you, how do you handle such?

Nobody can make advance at me, because there is no room for that.Even when people greet me outside, the way I respond to them won’t give them the courage to even come near, but some of our colleagues, when they greet them they really relate well with them and even give them money sometimes. Sometimes, touts do come to me and hail me, I just look at them and tell them I am not that kind of person and they walk away. It is not my priority, so I don’t think about it or anticipate it.

What has acting done for you?

I don’t know how to answer that question, but since it is my profession, God guided me into it, so I think the first thing I get from it is fulfillment. When you do things and you find fulfillment doing it, maybe if I were working in the civil service, I wouldn’t have been happy or found fulfillment. If I had been a politician may be I would not have been fulfilled, maybe I would have had more money, but may not be happy. Doing what God want you to do, makes you happy; makes a lot of people appreciate you and there you find fulfillment.

Thank you so much for talking to us.

Thank you for your time too.

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