NOLLYWWOOD: The misery behind the glamour
Unknown to many, the life of the average Nollywood actor or actress is nothing more than a projection of what their business is called make believe. It is a life of paradox whereby on the screen they live very large with beautiful homes, exotic cars, well tailored suits and beautifully embroidered native wears. And when they discuss business or contracts, the sums involved always staggering. Most times, they are in billions of dollars.
Their familiar faces naturally endear them to their numerous fans,who struggle to touch the helms of their dresses when they walk on the streets. Most times, they are mobbed by crazy fans who see them as idols after whom they truly wish to model their lives, all because in their esoteric profession, they are accorded roles that depict them as rich and highly influential.
In reality, however, many of the so-called superstar actors and actresses live from hand to mouth and can barely meet their individual needs, not to talk of the needs of their dependants. Many of them are known to have gone public in recent times to beg for money to treat even minor illnesses.
Unlike their counterparts in Hollywood, our screen heroes have not been able to translate their super hero status in movies into their real life conditions, mostly due to no fault of theirs. Popular actor, Ahmed Oduola a.k.a. Dento, died last year after a prolonged battle with stroke. To save his life, Dento, whose face graced many grade A Yoruba movies, needed just N250, 000. For months, Dento and friends went round with cap in hand for donations, which came in trickles and later proved inadequate to keep the veteran actor alive. Before his death, another famous actor, Lekinson, had also died as a result of his inability to meet his medical needs. In his life time, Lekinson was very famous for roles that saw him controlling large business conglomerates. A few months ago, Nigerians woke up to the shock of the rumour that Nollywood actress, Ngozi Nwosu, known as Peace and one of Chief Fuji’s wives in the popular TV drama series, Fuji House of Commotion, was seriously ill. The rumour was confirmed to be true when the once chubby and robust Ngozi appeared in public. In place of the vivacious Ngozi was a frail woman that found it difficult to exchange the least of pleasantry. She later came out to explain that she had kidney and heart-related issues. Her decision to come out, she said, was because of the widespread speculation that she was HIV positive. “I don’t have AIDS ooo,” she declared. But to stay alive, Ngozi needed the sum of N6 million, and it was not a sum that she or anyone close to her could afford. To save her life, friends and colleagues had to go public again. For months, her friends issued different kinds of appeals to the public to help save the life of the versatile actress. It eventually took the intervention of Lagos State Governor, Babatunde Fashola, who gave a lifeline of N5.5 million before Ngozi could be flown to the UK for treatment. Shortly after that sad experience, movie watchers across the country were shocked when news broke that popular actor, Kayode Odumosu, aka Pa Kasumu, was critically ill. But the mood soon changed when another story had it that the veteran actor could not afford to pay his medical bill, said to be in the region of N12 million. The veteran actor later made a passionate appeal to Nigerians to come to his rescue. “The problem is with my heart and liver. It had been there for a long time, but for God who so loves me, when I met that doctor at LUTH, he was able to curb the ailment from getting to the kidney. So now it’s just the heart and the liver,” Pa Kasumu explained. Yet again, it took the intervention of the Lagos State Governor to give Pa Kasumu another shot at life. While Ngozi Nwosu and Pa Kasumu were lucky to have the support of a state governor to raise enough money for medical help, not many of their colleagues have been that lucky. Although they operate in a movie industry regarded as the third largest in the world after Hollywood and Bollywood, only a few Nigerian actors and actresses could be said to be successful in the true sense of the word. This sad trend has become a source of worry to stakeholders of the industry on how best to ensure that practitioners, especially the veterans, get the best out of their sweat. Former President of the Association of Nigerian Theatre Arts Practitioner (ANTP), Jide Kosoko, is sad that nothing is working in the industry. According to the veteran actor, most of the problems bedeviling the industry occur because it is not regulated. He believes that things would improve in the industry if the practitioners speak with one voice under a single governing body. He said: “There are lots of things involved in this. But the bulk of the problem is that the industry is not regulated. We don’t speak with one voice. If we have a body that can bring us together, whether you are Igbo, Yoruba or Hausa, it would go a long way to take care of our problems. “If we continue to look up to politicians as some of our people are doing, then the problem will continue. The few that are able to do good jobs are those who can run to Abuja. It is true that we need government’s support, but there are things that should be done first. For instance, a bill is waiting for attention in the National Assembly. “We had an idea of a Motion Picture Council, which is expected to take care of all artistes in Nigeria. Whenever that is done, it would take care of many things from production to marketing and other related issues. I tell you, what we have now is parlour drama. Although some people are making good efforts, but a lot more is needed. We have Kunle Afolayan and Tunde Kelani, but more people need to get involved.” On the poor state of practitioners, especially within the Yoruba genre of the industry, Kosoko called for better planning by practitioners. He said his effort to introduce an insurance scheme during his tenure as the president of the association failed because of the dismal response to the scheme by the actors. “The association cannot continue to pay the bills for everybody. As president, I realised this and tried to introduce an accident insurance scheme. But it failed because only about two per cent of our people responded. I tell you, our people need to realise the need for them to begin to plan for themselves. We need to do more for ourselves. We don’t have to wait until we are struck down by one illness or the other.” Popular Yoruba actor, Yomi Fash-Lanso, blamed the trend on what he termed a lack of structure. According to him, while the Nigerian movie industry has the potential to be a money-spinning one, it has remained stunted because there are no structures on ground to guide the stakeholders. There are lots of things “I tell you, this industry can be very big if it is well money for the economy. But because there are no structures on ground, we have been groping in the dark.” Fash-Lanso also blamed the lack of cohesion among the stakeholders for the problem in the industry. “I don’t think that we can achieve anything until we all come together. And that is what people like us have been preaching for a long time now.” But in the words of entertainment writer and publisher of E24-7 entertainment magazine, Biodun Kupoluyi, the prevailing condition in Nollywood is unfortunate. Kupoluyi, a film critic and actor himself, said it was rather unfortunate that the actors have not been able to interpret their popular roles and translate them into real life situations. “I feel pains when I see these people. Believe me, I really wish they are able to interpret and translate their roles into reality,” he said. Kupoluyi expressed surprise that the female actresses seem to be faring better than their male counterparts, but quickly added that many of the females have found the industry as a good platform to use what they have to get what they need. He also lamented the failure of the male actors to seize the opportunity provided by their relationship with politicians who are willing to sponsor their productions. “It is unfortunate that rather than seize the opportunity, these actors would rather want to get peanuts for their pockets, instead of doing something that would help the industry as a whole. “What we see these days is the desperation of artistes who want to be assistants to politicians. Some have even gone further by coming out openly to display this desperation. It is really unfortunate. “But perhaps the biggest problem we have now is with corporate Nigeria. These companies should begin to see the potential in this industry. They need to get involved with their money and make sure that they supervise from the script writing, to the shooting and even the marketing.” But award-winning actor, Femi Adebayo, does not see anything wrong with the discrepancies between an actor’s role in a movie and his real life condition, saying that an actor is only trained to interpret roles, irrespective of his background or class. Adebayo said: “I don’t really see anything wrong with this. As an actor, it does not matter whether you are rich or poor. You are only interpreting the role given to you. Therefore, it is nothing whether a man is poor in real life but acts the role of a wealthy man in movies. It is not about who you are, but the role you play.” While admitting that more still needed to be done about artistes’ take-home, Adebayo said the problem of poor pay is not restricted to the acting world. He said: “Wealth is a relative term. For instance, I am comfortable in my own little way. No doubt, our take-home can be better, but the bulk of the problems responsible for the seeming poor state of our people is piracy. These people reap where they did not sow, thereby robbing us of our hard-earned wages. However, things can be better with us if we get it right.” Findings by The Nation revealed that at the root of the problems in the industry is lack of proper structures and regulations to guide its operations. According to sources, the practice in the industry, especially in the Yoruba genre, does not give room for talents to grow. A notable actress, who asked not to be named, said the industry is replete with practices that do not encourage proper development. She said: “The Yoruba movie industry still lives in the 19th Century. The leaders do not encourage the young ones to grow. For instance, unlike other industries, the pay is not regulated. It is only the established actors and actresses that can negotiate what they want. “You can imagine, sometimes, all you are paid is your transport fare and lunch; like it was done during the era of Hubert Ogunde. In the industry, we call it bami se (help me do it). “The practice is that you help me to shoot my own movie and I would help you whenever you want to shoot your own. You know, that was the traditional way of assisting themselves in those days. We ought to have gone beyond this, but that is not the case.” This situation, The Nation found out, has helped to further pauperise the practitioners, leaving them with huge fame and large fan base but little or nothing in their pockets. While they have become household names across the country, they have not been able to match the fame with wealth. The situation has also given rise to the situation whereby actors and actresses rush to become movie producers rather than stay committed to their role of simply interpreting the characters. Explaining the situation, the source said production has become the only way through which actors and actresses can survive the harsh conditions in the movie industry. Unfortunately, only a few connected artistes, especially the ladies, can afford to raise enough funds to produce movies. The trend, Kupoluyi explained, is dangerous for the growth of the industry. “It is a sex thing. It is a reflection of our society. The girls are doing better than their male counterparts; not because they are more talented but for the simple reason that they can raise money from sponsors of movies. Few men have such opportunity. And it is because they have a platform that their male counterparts don’t have.”
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