Since his breakthrough role as Mallam Boka, an herbalist in the 1996 NTA series, ‘Winds of Destiny,' Saidi Balogun has remained a regular in Nigerian movies. Though he features mostly in Yoruba films, he is also at home playing roles in English movies. Born in Enugu State, Balogun spent his formative years in northern Nigeria and speaks Hausa language fluently. Since becoming an actor a little over 34 years ago, the artist who studied Statistics at Kwara State Polytechnic has always lived on acting. Balogun is currently promoting his latest work, ‘Eti Keta' (Third Party) starring Kate Henshaw-Nuttal and Ndidi Obi amongst others.
Your latest movie, ‘Eti Keta' is getting a lot of buzz. What is the idea behind it?
‘Eti Keta' is 70 per cent English, 10 per cent Yoruba, 10 per cent Hausa, five percent Igbo and five percent Nupe. It is a love story full of drama and action showing how far love can take you. It also reiterates the fact that there are many things you do that the third party must not hear about. It's a 100 per cent Ankara movie; everybody in it wore Ankara in all the scenes shot in Nigeria, Ilorin and the US. It is to tell the world that my culture is beautiful and love is strong.
Why did you cast Kate Henshaw and Ndidi Obi in the movie?
I did that to prove that movie has no language. Ndidi Obi, for example, plays a Yoruba girl who can't speak English. Sola Kosoko plays an Igbo girl who can't speak Yoruba much and Kate Henshaw plays a Yoruba girl. I have seen some of their works and I know they can deliver. When I was writing and consulting with Kola Olaiya, Eniola Olaniyan and others, we decided to go for the best. So, Doris Simeon plays a cripple in the movie in spite of her beauty. She is bold and you could see the confidence flowing as she delivers her lines.
You shot a two-man and three cast movies a while ago, wasn't that rather ambitious?
I don't make films for fun. I think we have to be creative to tell people buying our films that we can think.
Why do few Yoruba actors cross to the English genre?
No one is at fault. Or have you seen a law that says it is only a set of people that can produce film in a particular language? ‘Eti Keta' is 70 per cent English and nobody is querying me. This generation of Yoruba actors is learned and besides, movies have no language. Don't blame anyone for this. I think it's up to the creative ability of the artist. You have to ask if they are ready to take the risk or match up with others.
When I was about to make ‘Eti Keta', some Yoruba producers said, "Saidi are you sure you know what you are doing? You are supposed to be a Yoruba actor." I said I wanted to make a movie that will be talked about all over the country. I don't want to make a seven-state movie you can't watch if you can't read.
What challenges did you face while shooting the movie?
Financial challenge. I have spent more than 20 million naira and my car was stolen. But my dream follows my mission and I have a mission to produce and tell the world that Nigerian producers are not just one of them but the best. I am still looking for money though.
Did you train formally as a filmmaker?
No, but I read a lot of books. I will soon go back to film school, however.
Which is your most challenging movie yet?
I have 12 cardinal points which means that I want to do 12 movies different from all you see around. I have done the one-cast movie in which I starred alone. It's the story of a man who wants to see the face of God and was shot in 10 countries. My two-cast movie, ‘Modupe Temi' was shot in 2007 alongside Doris Simeon- Ademinokan
As part of my 12 cardinal points, I am going to produce a movie in which everyone will have tribal marks. The only problem I had with ‘Modupe Temi' was that the marketer said it did not sell after its release and everyone was stunned.
What are some of the issues plaguing Yoruba movies?
The guys who have vision are not those who appear in 32 films and have nothing to show for it. Many appear in movies indiscriminately but people with vision see beyond today. There is also a lot of copying. It is when you use a good camera that they will realise they have to use a good camera too. When you see a movie where an actor turns his head upside down, you will see 10 producers make a film with people somersaulting because they lack vision.
When they start giving respect to whom it is due, they will grow, creative wise. When I picked Daniel Ademinokan to direct the movie, everyone shouted why Daniel? I said he has something that I haven't got. We should learn to respect creative people. We also lack good competition. Eddie Murphy appears in a movie once every two years and is known all over the world; my people appear in 500 films in one year but when they cross to Ghana nobody knows them. If they think they are kings in Africa, let them go abroad and see. I don't want to walk round the world and tell them that I am black, proud and intelligent from Nigeria but also black and blind.