After his role as Musa in foremost TV series Paradise Park in 2000, Saeed Muhammed, popularly known as Funky Mallam won over the hearts of many. Touted for his fine interpretation of a half-educated Hausa kiosk owner or gatekeeper, the Edo State born, but Kano State indigene has continued to gain prominence in the movie industry as a comic actor. In this interview with NEWTON-RAY UKWUOMA, Funky Mallam who is currently in the cast Glo sponsored, TV series, Professor Johnbull, bares it all, delving into the present issues in Kannywood. Excerpts:
Let us into your background
My real name is Saeed Mohammed. People call me Funky Mallam. But I call myself Saeed Funky Mallam. I come from an extended family. I am a real Nigerian because I have been in almost every part of the country. I was born in Auchi, Edo State, started primary education in Agbor and finished in Umuahia, Abia State. My father was a cattle dealer. Unfortunately I lost him and my mother in 2000. I inherited his character and values. These have helped me become who I am today.I am half Hausa, half Fulani. My dad and mum were from Kano and Adamawa States respectively. That makes me a complete Hausa-Fulani. But I also have some Eastern background at the same time by virtue of growing up with them. You know, the first people you grow up with will definitely influence you.
What brought about your entrance into the movie industry?
I have always had passion for the entertainment industry. I started writing movie scripts as a teenager. As a kid in Agbor, Edo State, I used to go to the cinema houses to watch Chinese movies, and then practise some of the martial arts moves after the movies. Because of my skills in martial arts, kids called me the Shaolin man. The expression, talent and passion were there, but there was no one to help. When Nollywood started growing at a commercial rate, I saw an avenue to hone my skills. I went to Port Harcourt and then Lagos after my graduation from Bayero University, Kano. I wanted to sell my scripts to filmmakers but I couldn’t find them. I would use movie covers to trace their offices at Iddo/Oyingbo area before they were moved to Alaba International market. But no one accepted to buy my scripts until I met one of my old friends in 1004 where I was squatting. He led me to Mr. Femi Lasode, the producer of Sango. Though he didn’t accept my script, he believed in me and through him I got my first acting role as Musa in Paradise Park, a sitcom. That was in 2000.
Musa in Paradise Park, was a retired Hausa sergeant in the Nigerian Army. He was portrayed as an illiterate person, who uses “I” instead of “you”. I was able to interpret that role by changing the language to a proper Hausa pidgin. It is not the way I talk, but when I took the role I had learnt the language, I had to get close to the Hausa people that run kiosks. I learnt to talk the way I do in movies by staying around them. Nowadays, people don’t know that I speak proper English. Most people don’t believe that I actually studied Mass Communication in the university. Some times when I go to places, people are like, “You’re this young? And you speak English?”
The first time Paradise Park was featured in 2000, people loved it and I became popular – popular without money. Some times when I wanted to go to Victoria Island from Ikoyi, I would pretend I wanted to jog. You know, when people see me jogging, they’d be like, “Well done, Musa!” With my track suit and a bag containing my corporate wear, I will jog from Ikoyi to VI. When I get to VI, I will find a tap, to wash my face, then I’d head to a bank to cool off in the air conditioner while pretending to want to make transaction. When the AC cools me, my hustle will continue.
What are the merits and demerits of playing Musa
The advantage is that I have a monopoly on that role. I am not in competition with anybody as long as Musa role is concerned. I think when you interpret a role well you are likely to escape competition. In Nigeria, producers are prone to type-casting. And they often want someone who can almost always deliver a role well. It has carved a niche for me because even if you don’t know me, when a role like that is being mentioned somebody who knows me might likely recommend me. However, the disadvantage is that you are likely to be stereotyped. And that will not give you the opportunity to explore other roles. You become confined to one role. But with time I have been able to break the jinx and to get other roles.
What other roles have you played?
I started when I played a yopiyopi guy in Family Ties; in October One, where I played a Hausa man, an emotional part; then in The Department, where I played the role of the son of a multimillionaire who returned to Nigeria after living abroad; and in North East with OC Ukeje, where I played the role of an educated fellow. There is a comedy I was featured in with Klint D Drunk, where I played a Warri guy. The movie is not out yet. I have done quite a number of movies with different characters.
What has been your favourite role so far?
I am looking forward to playing an action comedy or action movie, a detective fighting criminals.
What other things have you achieved for yourself?
My progress in the industry was very slow. It didn’t come at once like for some people. But I thank God because I get better every year; I get more connections; I get more people accepting me. That has been good. I have gotten to a level that I have to thank God. Now, I am a Glo Ambassador. I am an ambassador of Madugu Hotels. I have my own TV talk show. I have lands in Abuja that I have not developed. I can say I am comfortable.
How did you feel playing Mai Doya in Professor JohnBull?
It was not difficult playing Mai Doya in Professor Johnbull. It is something I love doing. I have even improved my skills in that particularly character. Sometimes I don’t have to follow the script entirely. If what is written in the script is not funny I try to make it funny.
What do you think about Kanayo O Kanayo and Mercy Johnson’s roles in the series ‘Professor Johnbull’?
I wasn’t taken by surprise by Kanayo because he is an icon and a godfather in the game. This is what he has done for years. He sees everything as part of him. I particularly respect him more in “Professor Johnbull” because not everyone would deliver the role the way he does it given the short time we have to rehearse and the peculiarity of his role. Giving somebody a script and he instantly tries to get the whole technical words within a short period of time without too much rehearsal is certainly only what a man who is a professional can do. We get the script on set.
Mercy is natural. She remains a darling in the industry. Mercy is one of the rare actresses who take any role given to them and do them with so much dexterity. She always kills it with her kind of English. I think she has been consistent. I think she has been taking that kind of role recently. Nevertheless she enjoins doing it. She is even tired of other roles.
Comments on RahamaSadua’s ban from Kannywood
I saw the musical video[I Love You] by ClassiQ last week on Youtube. A lot of those who supported her, don’t see the reason she was banned. Yes, I know that banning her is not the solution in a situation like this. People make mistakes and when you give them an opportunity to talk and apologise they might get better. However, what I want our people to understand is that Kannywood and Nollywood operate with different rules. Though Nollywood is the umbrella body, Kannywood has its own code of conduct. A lot of the things allowed in Nollywood are not allowed in Kannywood because of the culture, tradition and environment. When you say, “Hey, I have to do what I want to do because these people are hypocrites” you are not being fair to yourself. You don’t have to be a hypocrite to expose a hypocrite.
According to the code of conduct of Kannywood, what codes in clear terms did she break?
The hugging. In Kannywood, people don’t kiss; they don’t hug and men and women don’t hold hands or have any body contacts unless they are married. It is an immoral act in Islam to hug the opposite sex. I believe even in Christianity, there are rules. It is because our people are copying America too much that our rules are changing. So, sometimes we forget where we come from, we forget we have spiritual guidelines.
Would you say that she was banned because of the hugging and body contact?
Yes, it is the mingling that actually warranted the ban. If she had stayed a little distant from him, I don’t think there would have been any problem – that she sat in-between his legs, that they held hands.The clerics believe this will make their daughters wayward. They don’t believe in copying Western culture. It will sound crazy to some people, but if you look at Korean films, they don’t kiss or hug. It was only recently that Bollywood films started light kissing. Wherever we find ourselves, we should obey their rules.
You earlier said that banning her was not the solution, what, in your opinion, would have been the right punishment?
I think they should have given her an opportunity to apologise and may be a light punishment so that others will learn from it. But when I tried to talk to some of the stakeholders, they told me she had been banned on two or three occasions. At that point, I couldn’t say much.
How do you see Kannywood?
There has been a rapid growth in Kannywood. But recently they had a major setback. Some of the scholars and elders recently pulled their support from Kannywood because they see it as a platform of exhibiting all sorts of immorality and giving bad signals to the younger ones. A lot of people see most of the girls in Kannywood as wayward girls; people who don’t have home training. But that is not the case and that is why the Rahama Sadau’s case has become so worrisome. This is a time when some people are trying to convince the elders and scholars that Kannywood is used to educate people about the society and that it is not used to promote immorality. This is a bad development.
Is this one of the reasons the federal government’s plan to build a film village in kano was rejected?
Yes. The elders had raised similar issue before this happened. Stakeholders have also been trying to persuade scholars to consider the project. This is why this situation is a setback. People should not allow stardom to get into their heads.
Are you saying there is a call to revive the plan?
I believe going against the movie industry in Kano is not healthy. Because ideally, the government ought to create jobs for the youth and if you are not doing so, you should not criticise what they do without creating an alternative. In the event that the youth have no alternative source of livelihood, you are creating another development issues as they might channel the same energy to crime. But where you have a mechanism that caters for them, you can also checkmate it. The film village in Kano is a good idea. I believe that with the right mechanism, abuse can be censored. I am not in support of an outright rejection of the plan.
Would you want it sited elsewhere other than Kano?
Let it still be in Kano. Kano is like the Lagos of the North. The chunk of the Kannywood stars live in Kano. Kano is where the movie in the north started. This is in fact why the word Kannywood has its origin from Kano.