Antar Laniyan is an actor of repute. In this interview with CHIOMA PIUS, the director of the attention-grabbing TV soap, the Super Story series, says there is need to raise the bar in the movie industry.
Can you let us into your background?
My name is Antar Laniyan and I came into the industry that later became Nollywood as a young boy, though I wasn’t a street boy.
My parents believed in what I was about going into so they did not stop me from doing what I wanted to do. There was nothing like ‘don’t do it’, even though nothing was coming in.
The Baba Sala, the Duro Ladipo, those were really there though that there wasn’t anything in the industry. They were just there, doing it because they loved what they were doing. I became a professional in 1979/1980 when I met Ben Tomoloju and we started the Kakaki Art Corps.
As early as that time, we were already appearing on LTV8. I remember in 1981, we started NTA Channel 7 at Tejuosho. After that I decided to go to the University of Ibadan to study Theatre Arts. Since then many people have commended me that I am good on TV and that encouraged me.
When I was in secondary school, before I met Ben Tomoloju, I was already winning laurels for my school whenever we went out for any competition. I remember one day at the Lagos Baptist Secondary School when my principal called me and asked me what I wanted to become in life, and I said Baba, I wanted to become a soldier.
I once lived in the Army barracks and as a small boy then, I loved their uniform, their parade, I loved everything about them even the way they carry gun.
Baba now said, ‘don’t you think you should be making a mistake because I see you more like an entertainer and I am sure that I would hear more about you in future’.
But unfortunately the man died, he didn’t really wait to see his prediction. He did not wait to witness what his boy has become. Even though there is no money in the industry, I have never been employed by anybody and God has been rewarding my efforts.
How has the journey been so far?
Rough and tough. Money was not coming in and at a stage in life your parents think otidagba (now you are big enough to take care of yourself). But the money was not forth coming. Maybe that was why I didn’t belong to those guys that go out with so many girls, because I don’t have money to spend on them. I just found out that I was always on my own, my wife was the art itself. It was tough and rough, but with prayers and hard work I have been able to get to where I am now.
What are the challenges you have encountered so far in the industry?
Everytime we wake up we face challenges. So there has been nothing that has gone pass through me or I have gone pass that has not been challenging. If you give me a script now as an actor, you have given me a challenge; if you give me a script now as a director you have given me a challenge. It is like saying come and fight a war which I must win because the moment I don’t see it like a war, something inside me would say that people are already saying you are good now, so you may not even rehearse you will do better. I see everything I do everyday as a challenge, a war that I must win, backed with prayers. That is my own idea.
Of late, you have not been visible in the movie industry.
That is not true. Yes it is true that I have been directing Super Story and that has taken my time. But outside Super Story, I still do one or two things. The only thing is that I am always selective. I pick my script, I read it, know my director and even know the producer because I don’t want to ruin the name I have spent years to make. What I do is that I just try to make the face uncommon while the name is there because the moment the face is common people get tired of you.
Why did you have to go into directing soap opera, why not producing your own film?
I have always been producing my films. I started producing in 1993. I produced my first film, Mojere. In fact, there was no censor’s board then, it was after that film that censor’s board came into being.
Do you agree that there is nothing like Nollywood?
Well it all depends on what you and I see as Nollywood. Nollywood is just a body of artistes, entertainers, directors, and producers. I think we should have a name, except that person is saying that we should look for another relevant name instead of Nollywood, because if there is nothing like Nollywood, I won’t be sitting here and you won’t come here. Maybe that person wanted to say that the name Nollywood is not relevant. The Hollywood could be relevant and I don’t know what the Indian’s see and say they belong to Bollywood and you know we Nigerians like to follow others, so we now decided to borrow from them too. But we could do better with another name, fine. However, the industry must have a name. As it is in America and India, so it should be here too.
But in the United States, Hollywood is a place but here in Nigeria, we don’t have a place called Nollywood.
Okay fine, let all the artistes start living in Ikorodu, so that we can be bearing Ikollywood. That is why I said maybe there is a mistake in the name, but we must have a name to bear like ANTP which is Association of Nigerian Theatre Art Practitioners while NANTAP is National Association of Nigerian Theatre Art Practitioners. We need a one body name, maybe that is what they have not thought about.
What is your view on the state of the industry?
I would say we are improving. But I will appeal to my colleagues that we should take our time and work on our technical aspect of the industry. We all see that when you mention the name TK people want to listen to you because the man takes his time to do whatever he does, technically you cannot write him off. Also technically and artistically you cannot write off Tunji Bamishigbin or even Tade Ogidan and Amaka as well. If every other person can just follow the steps of these people I have mentioned, the industry will grow.
But some of us don’t belong to this industry. We just gate-crashed and believe we must do something and because they think after spending so much, they can achieve their aim. Very soon those who belong will stay and those who don’t belong will go. So the practitioners will stay. I will stay because I work hard and I don’t believe in mediocrity.
What do you think is the way forward?
We really must work hard and try to get more training, workshops, seminars, because some of us still need training. Some of us don’t have that basic skill, that is why we are what and where we are today. We need control, to really control who a director is, who an actor is. We need the act and ability to perform, if possible we can invite Hollywood and Bollywood directors to come and help us out. That is if we cannot go there.
Who are your mentors?
As a businessman or as an artiste because I want to be an actor first.
As an artiste.
Ben Tomoloju because he picked me raw. Despite my belief in being a military man, he made me see that, ‘look, there is a future in this industry and you have it in you, don’t waste it’. He even said, ‘you have the talent if you waste it God will not forgive you’ and that won it. Look at it today even though I don’t have money I have a name which I am seriously protecting because I don’t want any stain. I run away from scandals. I don’t drink, womanise, or smoke. In fact, I pick my friends. If you invite me to a party by the time you give me two to three bottles of water, you will hate me.
Looking at your colleagues that you started together in the early 80’s, will you count yourself as an achiever?
Artistically yes, but monetarily no. I don’t have money, but I still thank God that I am where I am today. But it could be better if God could just give me money and let me achieve what I have in mind, as in having a theatre school, a place where people will come and perform, just to contribute and mentor young ones and let them refer to you as their role model whether you are alive or dead. I just want to mentor people, that is one thing I would want to achieve in life.
Have you won any award?
I have won many awards. I won Life Achievement award in England in 2003. I have won several awards before. I have won REEL awards before. When they gave me the Life Achievement award, I said to myself what again, except that I should stay alive and win more awards. I also won the Best Director award of the Nigerian Film Corporation. I wont forget that, I cried. I didn’t know that somebody somewhere was noticing.
Are you married?
I am married to a good and lovely wife and I have two boys, but I call them soldiers. Though I married late. My wife is a nice person, she is understanding and took me for what I am. She knows that she has a rival and that is the art.
Why did it take you so long to marry?
Because I got married initially to acting, I didn’t have time going out with women, not to talk of choosing one as a life partner. So all along, time was just going. The only things making me happy then were things that had to do with entertainment, and there was no money then.
Will you encourage your children to follow your footsteps in the film industry?
Yes, for continuity. If they do ,I will be happy. But I will not be the one to disturb anybody or dictate to them, but if anyone of them just say ‘daddy I want to do what you are doing’ I will be happy, because nobody dictated or forced me into what I am doing.
Can you share some of your fond memories with us?
There was a time in 1986 when we were rehearsing for a movie that will be shot in Italy. It was true that I stood at Costain bus stop waiting for bus, it was true that I was with my rehearsal bag, but it wasn’t true that I was there eating boli ati epa (roasted plantain and groundnut) and a newspaper wrote that. When I investigated and called the person that wrote the story, he said he was just having fun.
He said ‘I saw you at Costain, so I said look at this fine actor waiting for bus, no money’. He then said to himself that is no news, what could be news, okay ‘let me add that he was eating roasted plantain and groundnut. It was fun.’
Your embarrassing moment?
Was it embarrassment, it wasn’t embarrassment because I was in a car with my wife and an admirer from inside a Molue (commercial bus in Lagos) just shouted Antar Laniyan! The next thing she threw me a kiss and my wife said Se o fe jabo ninu motor ni? Won o ti e rope mo wa ni bi (Do you want to jump from the vehicle? She did not even think I am her) and we just laughed over it.
So with that, how do you cope with your female fans?
Maybe without them, one will not exist. It is good to be loved, but it is me that know that there is a limit and try to create a gap. I hug, shake hands, but then when I see that the intimacy is going beyond what I want, I put a line so that she does not cross it and I don’t cross the line too. I love them but the only thing I cannot do is to take them to bed because I have a wife.
Where or how do you relax?
When I am not on location and in the office, I am at home with my family. I sleep on the rug, watch television or tell my two boys to sit on me, ‘let’s do horse riding’. That is what I enjoy. I enjoy watching great directors and enriching my knowledge by reading books on directing.
Your best outfit?
I like putting on casuals, I just like being simple. It was my wife that insisted that from Monday to Thursday I must put on trousers and shirt but weekends native wears and I know she is watching me. Otherwise I don’t know which cloth is for which day. But if am invited to any public function and there is a dress code, I follow it, I wouldn’t want to look odd among other people.
What is your favourite food?
I like Asaro (poridge yam). If I must eat rice, I want it with vegetable and I also like the inner part of meat.
Are you working on your own soap?
Yes, very soon I will do that. The script and everything is ready but we are looking for money.
I don’t like owing people. Wale Adenuga would not owe you a kobo and I want to cultivate that idea. Since 2000, Adenuga has not owed me a dime. I finish my work and he pays me. I love the man for that.
What is your advice to the young ones who want to go into acting?
The acting itself has a lot to do with talent. You can only help that talent by being tutored, by having the basic skills, by getting the training.
Because you need to be schooled about the job so that they can bring the talent that you think you have out of you. If you have the talent, go to school, get the training. If you cannot go to school, get somebody who knows it to train you, then you will come out shining.