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Celebrating The Iconic Tunde Kelani @ 70: The Screen Salutes Mentor of Mentors

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As ace film-maker, Tunde Kelani, clocks 70, his contributions to the development of the sector speak volumes, writes AKEEM LASISI

Cinematographer and producer of several acclaimed movies, Tunde Kelani, popularly known as TK, clocked 70 on Monday. For many people, it is a time to rejoice with him and shower encomiums on the man regarded as one of the pillars of the country’s contemporary film industry.

For others, it is a matter of a little surprise because they did not know that their darling entertainer was that close to the septuagenarians’ coven. They felt that his slender – if not tiny – frame, tender attitude and his continued relevance and hard work belong to a man in his, say, early sixties.

But the gentle tyrant called age has rung his bell, so that all that is left for TK’s fans across the world is to roll out the drums and celebrate the man who has not only helped to punctuate Nigeria’s usually depressing tendencies with laughter, but has also helped to promote its identity and potential for greatness.

On the platform of his Mainframe Productions (Opomulero), founded in 1991, Kelani has done wonderfully well for himself and the movie world. While Nollywood, as particularly defined by films in the English language medium, began to unfold and exert authority on the global entertainment scene, TK deployed courage and confidence to the production of Yoruba films. This is the genesis of Yoruwood, which has helped to fill the void that would have been created had all Nigerian moviemakers followed the same route.

In what has further proved that good literature can thrive in any language, Kelani has to his credits some of the very best movies that Nigeria has produced – rendered in Yoruba. Among his classics are Ti Oluwa ni Ile, conceived by veteran actor, Baba Wande; and Saworo Ide, written by Akinwumi Isola.

While Ti Oluwa ni Ile thrives on elevated comedy as land grabbers and desperate speculators meet their waterloo, Saworo Ide is arguably Nigeria’s most penetrating political movie delivered in an intoxicatingly rich dialogue.

 

But the essence of a movie like Saworo Ide in TK’s long journey through the arts is far wider. It also exemplifies the fruits of his wisdom in bridging the gap between the film industry and universities. He worked with literary scholars such as Isola, who passed on two weeks ago, Adebayo Faleti, Larinde Akinleye, Laide Adewale (all late) and Kola Oyewo, all who cut their teeth in the academic environment. Of course, the impacts of Peter Fatomilola, Lere Paimo and Jab Adu, who are also what some people would describe as natural actors, are also real in the film.

Related to this is Kelani’s addiction to published texts.  He seems to have the power to smell good scripts from novels and plays. This is how he adapted Isola’s classical romance, O Le Ku,  and crime prose, Koseegbe, into successful movies. He did the same thing with Bayo Adebowale’s The Virgin, which became The White Handkerchief, and Femi Osofisan’s novel,  Maami, which stars Funke Akindele.

 

TK remains the man to beat in this text-to-screen game as another recent movie of his, The Dazzling Mirage, is an adaptation of Olayinka Egbokhare’s novel that focuses on sickle cell. It is thus not surprising that  Kelani’s latest offering, Sidi Ilujinle, is an adaptation of Wole Soyinka’s Lion and the Jewel. In the process, he gets good stories just as he helps to attract attention to the primary materials.

Another major role that TK has played in the development of the country’s movie industry is his insatiable search for new talents. Because he can spot artistic greatness from afar and from the most innocent figure, he has bequeathed an appreciable number of accomplished actors and producers to the sector. It was in Saworo Ide that award-winning Kunle Afolayan and Kabirah Kafidipe first got their major roles, where they played Aresejabata and Araparegangan respectively.

Many will also remember how TK gave Bukola Awoyemi’s talent life when he featured her as Arugba in the film that goes by the same title. Like Afolayan and Kafidipe, Arugba is doing well on the scene, although Afolayan remains the biggest success story in this regard. Now, limelight is beckoning on another emerging actress, Aishat Onitiri, who is the heroine – Sidi – in Sidi Ilujinle, the work recently premiered in Abeokuta and Lagos.

Critics will also remember that it is O Le Ku that gave Yemi Shodimu and Feyikemi Layinka (Bodunrin) first major opportunity to prove their worths as Ti Oluwa Nile did Dele Odule who played the role of a king in the movie.
Many film-makers, including Nobert Young, Niji Akanni, Yinka Ogundaisi, Joke Muyiwa, Tunde Olaoye, Abiodun Aleja and Greg Odutayo’s have extolled the virtues of the birthday boy. So also have other stakeholders such as Jahman Anikulapo, Segun Adefila, Adedayo Thomas, Yomi Layinka, Ropo Ewenla, Bemigho Awala, Hakeem Adenekan, all of who especially explored the Ibadan Film Circle platform to hail him.

Aleja seems to sum up the perspectives of some of them when he describes TK as a tireless film-maker,  Yoruba culture curator, a teacher, a conscious mentor of mentors,  a man with a youthful nature, ever smiling and a film-making brand with global appeal.”

While the Commissioner for Tourism, Culture and Arts in Lagos State, Mr. Steve Ayorinde, described Kelani as a leading light in societal regeneration, saying that the Akinwunmi Ambode government would continue to work with icons of the industry to elevate the sector.

Ogun State Governor, Senator Ibikunle Amosun, in a statement signed by the state Commissioner for Information and Strategy, Adedayo Adeneye, described Kelani as an epitome of the cinema, one who has also used his exemplary skills to promote the rich Yoruba cultural heritage worldwide.

The governor said the story teller and film-maker, who was recently appointed the chairman of the National Film and Videos Censors Board, by President Mohammadu Buhari, is a worthy Nigerian, distinguished Yoruba man and a pride to Ogun State.

“Today, Tunde Kelani is acknowledged for his dexterity in handling the camera and also versed in the knowledge of Yoruba culture and tradition, which he is using to promote our rich culture. Also, with a touch of adire in his dressing, he has relentlessly identified with his root, Abeokuta, which is known as the home of adire clothes. For this, we, in Ogun state, are proud of him as our culture ambassador,” the governor is quoted as saying.

Understandably, Afolayan, producer of top-notch films that include The Figurine, Irapada, October 1 and The CEO, is excited about Kelani’s coming of age. According to him, TK means a lot to him.

He says, “To me, TK is not a colleague. He is a father, an idol, someone I understudied and learnt a lot from. We have been at it for over two decades and the journey is still on. TK has impacted not only me, but also my generation. One can only pray that, even as he waxes stronger in good health, his children, or at least one of them, can continue where he has taken film and this culture business to. And even if none of them eventually treads the path, those of us he has mentored will continue to advance the legacy.”

Also speaking with our correspondent, Khafidipe, who has also distinguished herself, producing movies in company with her sister, Ayisat, on Kaffi Communications platform, notes that TK has been a blessing to her.

“TK always stresses the importance of having a clear focus and being truthful to the focus as well as to the art. He taught us to believe in ourselves and be highly independent though that does not exclude quality collaboration. TK would always say once one is determined, one would achieve the goal. I really thank God that the great mentor – who of course takes us as his own daughters – is sound and fit at 70,” the actress whose films include Iwa, Oga and Malaika, says.

The film-maker is impressed by the love that people are showing him. In a birthday musing, he notes, “My 70th Birthday being celebrated over two time zones and continents, but glued together by love and friendship, is special and memorable. I wish to thank my wife, children, my family, brothers, sisters, friends, professional colleagues, supporters and benefactors for your kindness, love and support for me during my 70 years journey on earth. I appreciate and love you. God bless you all.”

Kelani was born in Lagos on February 26, 1948. According to an online profile, at age five he was sent to live with his grandparents at Abeokuta in Ogun State. He attended the Oke-Ona Primary School in Ikija, Abeokuta and had his secondary school education at Abeokuta Grammar School. During this time, his grandfather was a chief (the Balogun of Ijaye Kukudi) and he was privileged to have witnessed most aspects of Yoruba ways of life, the Yoruba religion, Yoruba literature, Yoruba philosophy, Yoruba environments and Yoruba world view in arts at close quarters.

He was introduced to Yoruba literature from an early stage in his life and was also greatly influenced by theatre as the Yorubas had a very strong travelling theatre tradition at that time. When he was in secondary school, he had the privilege to see most of the great Yoruba theatre classics including The Palmwine Drinkard, Oba Koso, Kurunmi, Ogunde plays and more.

He got interested in photography from primary school. Throughout his secondary school education, he actively invested in and took time to time to learn photography. So, inevitably, he became an apprentice photographer after he finished secondary school. Later, he trained at the then Western Nigeria Television and went further to attend the London Film School.

In the 1970s, Kelani worked as a BBC TV and Reuters correspondent, and in Nigerian TV. For Reuters he travelled to Ethiopia to cover the drought and to Zimbabwe three times to cover independence there.  Once he finished from the London Film School, he returned to Nigeria and co-produced his first film with Adebayo Faleti – The Dilema of Rev. Father Michael. (Idaamu Paadi Minkailu).

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