Veteran ac­tor, Ba­batunde Omid­ina, aka Baba Suwe, has been off the radar for a while. He speaks with and on his ca­reer, the NDLEA saga, his late wife and other is­sues

IGE TO­FARATI JOY MAR­CUS

The Punch - - CRÈME DE LA CRÈME -

Can you re­call how you started your ca­reer?

I started my ca­reer when I was in sec­ondary school. I was born in In­abere Street, La­gos Is­land, and that’s where I be­gan my ca­reer. I started in a small way but at a point, I was told to reg­is­ter with the As­so­ci­a­tion of Nige­rian The­atre Prac­ti­tion­ers. When I got there, I was told that I was too young to be reg­is­tered. They also said I had to join one of the ex­pe­ri­enced the­atre prac­ti­tion­ers and learn from them. I then went to (join) the Osumare The­atre Group. I told them that I had a group that I had been per­form­ing with prior to join­ing them and I was asked to bring mem­bers of my group. I then took my boys and we al­ways joined them for re­hearsals.

Af­ter we had spent some time with the group, I de­cided to leave with my boys and we con­tin­ued hav­ing our re­hearsals at the place we of­ten used be­fore join­ing Osumare. In the course of our re­hearsals, more peo­ple joined us and we grew. Sub­se­quently, we had our first ma­jor stage play ti­tled, Baoku, at Amu­tan Play­ing Ground in La­gos Is­land. There were so many peo­ple in at­ten­dance, even more than we ex­pected, and we got a lot of ac­claim and com­men­da­tion.

From there, we moved to LTV 8. While at LTV 8, we had gone for a stage play, and af­ter the per­for­mance, some peo­ple walked up to me and asked if I was the one in cos­tume that just left the stage. I told them I was the one and they asked if I could per­form at their sta­tion, which was NTA Chan­nel 7. They also in­vited me to the Na­tional The­atre where we used to have 10-minute per­for­mances. We were then told to per­form at their sta­tion. Their pro­ducer then was called Gani Ka­sumu. They re­ally loved our first per­for­mance and we ended up record­ing 13 episodes of the pro­gramme. That was how the ‘world’ got to know about Baba Suwe and we be­came very pop­u­lar. Peo­ple loved to watch the pro­gramme, Erin Keke, at 7pm when it was usu­ally broad­cast. My fame spread out­side the coun­try and peo­ple be­gan call­ing me from dif­fer­ent places in the world for dif­fer­ent pro­jects. There is no tele­vi­sion sta­tion in La­gos I didn’t per­form at in those days.

Did you start wear­ing cos­tumes from the be­gin­ning of your ca­reer?

Yes, I did. My men­tor was Baba Mero and I re­ally liked him. I re­call that back then, when­ever peo­ple saw my posters at NTA Chan­nel 10, they were of­ten con­fused as to whether it was Baba Mero they were see­ing or some­one else, be­cause we dressed alike.

How did you come up with the name, Baba Suwe?

I was in­spired by Baba Mero and other ac­tors who added the pre­fix, Baba, to their names. I had a girl­friend then called Suwe; so, I de­cided to give my­self the name, Baba Suwe, and it was well re­ceived by my fans.

Did your par­ents sup­port your act­ing ca­reer?

My fa­ther went to do some spir­i­tual find­ings to know if the pro­fes­sion would be favourable to me. He was then told not to stop me from act­ing.

Did any­body serve as a guide to you when you started act­ing?

There was no­body that put me through. Even when I was with Osumare The­atre Group, they were do­ing tra­di­tional plays while I’ve al­ways been a co­me­dian.

Con­sid­er­ing your young age when you started act­ing, didn’t any­body try to take ad­van­tage of you?

There was never any­thing like that. I have been very blessed by God and he gave me such a won­der­ful gift that wher­ever I per­formed or re­hearsed, peo­ple al­ways loved what I did.

I re­call that we used to have our re­hearsals at the Na­tional Mu­seum in La­gos, and when­ever we were there, we used to at­tract a huge crowd.

Can you re­mem­ber some of your con­tem­po­raries when you started act­ing?

I re­call that I acted with Lere Paimo at Glover Hall on La­gos Is­land.

Which movie led to your break­through?

I would say the play, Baoku, was my break­through. I loved it and peo­ple also en­joyed it.

Can you re­call the first time you trav­elled out of the coun­try?

I was at home one day when my wife, Omo­ladun, told me that some peo­ple wanted to take me out of the coun­try. I ini­tially said I wasn’t go­ing be­cause I wasn’t sure of their in­ten­tions. They came back again and said they wanted to take me for dif­fer­ent per­for­mances in Lon­don. I still re­fused but they con­vinced my wife and she started beg­ging me to fol­low them. I even­tu­ally gave in and fol­lowed them. We were about eight ac­tors, in­clud­ing Idowu Phillips (Iya Rain­bow), on that trip. When we got to Lon­don, they also liked me there.

Shortly af­ter I re­turned to Nige­ria, some other peo­ple came and in­vited me to Amer­ica. Since that time, I have gone to so many coun­tries on dif­fer­ent oc­ca­sions. As a mat­ter of fact, I was re­cently in Amer­ica.

A lot of peo­ple re­gard you as a stereo­typ­i­cal ac­tor be­cause you only acted in come­dies. Did you at any point want to act other kinds of roles?

I never felt that way be­cause peo­ple re­ally en­joyed my brand of com­edy. Back when we used to have stage plays, there were usu­ally a lot peo­ple in at­ten­dance. When I started, I didn’t know that I could grow so big but I am thank­ful as to where God has taken me to.

You of­ten act as a but­ler or gate­keeper in movies. Can’t you ex­plore other roles?

I have played other roles such as a king and other se­ri­ous roles.

Is there any role you would love to play but have not had the op­por­tu­nity to?

There is none. I have acted in so many movies that I can­not even re­call them all. There are even many that I have for­got­ten about.

Who are your favourites among the young ac­tors mak­ing waves now?

I believe that the sky is big enough for all the birds to fly. I feel like all the ac­tors are try­ing. There is none of them that I don’t like. There is no one I can­not act with and they all re­spect me be­cause they know I am a mas­ter in the game.

Have you ever acted in an English movie?

Yes, I have. I re­call that there was a time we went to Cal­abar to shoot a movie though I can­not re­mem­ber the ti­tle of the film now.

It is be­lieved that Nige­rian English movie ac­tors of­ten look down on Yoruba ac­tors. What do you think about that?

They can only do that to you if you don’t re­spect your­self. There is noth­ing they do that we can­not do. There are lots of Yoruba ac­tors that can even speak bet­ter English but they just de­cide to do more of Yoruba movies.

How many movies have you pro­duced?

I can­not re­mem­ber them all be­cause they are over 40 but they in­clude Alfa Nla, Aye­dun, Baba Jaiye Jaiye, Baba Lon­doner, Eku Meji, Ojo Ale, Ag­befo, Oju Oloju, 2 ge 4, among oth­ers.

What were some of the chal­lenges you faced while pro­duc­ing movies?

All my movies made great im­pact when they were re­leased and they al­ways did bet­ter than other films that were in the mar­ket at that time. As a re­sult of that, there was of­ten a lot of hate from other peo­ple in the in­dus­try. When you rise in your ca­reer, there will al­ways be peo­ple who don’t like you; and it’s still hap­pen­ing till date.

I have been trailed by a lot of ru­mours. At a point, they said I couldn’t walk and was be­ing car­ried about.

Piracy is also a very huge prob­lem and we have cried out over it many times; the gov­ern­ment re­ally needs to come to our aid. These pi­rates don’t al­low us reap the fruits of our labour.

It’s been a while you’ve ap­peared in movies. Do you still get scripts?

It just hap­pened that way but no con­di­tion is per­ma­nent. Very soon, you will start see­ing me in movies. You know when one is ill, one would need to rest prop­erly. How­ever, when­ever I go out, peo­ple still show me so much love. To those peo­ple, it’s like they see me ev­ery day in movies.

I re­cently went to Osogbo and the crowd that greeted me was over­whelm­ing. And that’s the same thing that hap­pens ev­ery­where I go.

At the height of your ca­reer, you ap­peared in most Yoruba films. How were you able to man­age your time at that pe­riod?

I was just do­ing my job, and that’s why it’s good to work in a field you know about. There’s no time any­body ever called me and I turned them down; pro­vided they were ready to pay good money. I am al­ways pre­pared to act, even at short no­tice.

It is be­lieved that the pay in the Yoruba movie in­dus­try is poor. Was that your ex­pe­ri­ence?

There are peo­ple who are friends; and when I was ill, I knew my real friends and en­e­mies. There are some peo­ple who will only come around you when the go­ing is good.

How­ever, if your friend calls you to shoot a movie, you may not want to charge them as high as you nor­mally do be­cause there would have been things they had done for you too in the past.

Is it true that you don’t make use of scripts when you are on set?

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