Popular actor, Ibrahim Chatta, has come a long way as an actor and moviemaker. As one of the most respected thespians in the movie industry, Chatta, who clocked 50 years days back, speaks to Adeola Otemade on life so far in the movie industry.
You clocked 50 years some days back, how do you feel attaining the golden age?
To be sincere, I have really enjoyed God’s grace. I said this because I never attended any school and never had a secondary school leaving certificate. Just recently, I got enrolled in a college of education in Ikire, Osun State. But before now I did not even have SSCE , but look at me today, I have wined and dined with crème de la crème of the society. It is what I do that paved way for me. The journey was tough, rough, and palatable at the beginning. I didn’t just get here in one day; it has been the grace of God. I don’t like saying hard work brought me here because it is only God that can make things fall in place for you. I see myself as one of the lucky people alive. Some people will say Ibrahim is underrated, Ibrahim is more than what he is getting, but they don’t know my story; they don’t know what I have been through.
You are also celebrating 35 years as an actor. Could you share the experience so far with us?
My life as a film-maker could be described as nothing to something because I practically came from nowhere; I started as nobody. The days when I would go for rehearsals, direct stage plays and I got nothing in return. Those were times I couldn’t visit the barbing saloon to barb my hair because I couldn’t afford the money; when I would go for days without food. I am grateful that things have changed today. I can feed myself and feed other people. There is a saying in Yoruba language, “iriri aiye kan o le tini titi ko ti ni pa, ogbon lo ma n fin nko ni.” It was a learning process for me. That time, things were very rough for me, I was not getting paid; it was a learning process. Today, I have learnt so much, it has made me very strong. Today, I can tell you that I am a very strong person based on the experiences of life I have had. The experience prepared me for this journey and brought me to this level.
Despite your educational limitations, you have made a name for yourself through acting. How were you able to rise against all odds to become what you are today?
I have always possessed the ability to adapt to any situation around me; it’s one of the gifts Allah blessed me with. We live in a very dynamic society where things change very fast. The only thing that is constant in life is change, so I cultivated the habit of changing with time, going with trends. Also, I am one of those that enjoy Allah’s grace so much. I believe in God. I am a firm believer of the Islamic faith. I pray and my keep my faith in God. So, as time changes I find myself changing with time and adapting to the changes around me.
You have been talking about retiring from acting. What propelled this decision?
There is a point in every man’s life when he needs to take a break from the hustling and bustling of life. The past 35years have been full of challenges and life-changing experiences. Like I said, these happenings shaped my perception about life and I will continue to be guided and live by this perception of mine. This leads me to the decision to retire from movie making and acting. My decision to retire did not stem from the fact that I have reached the peak of my career, but it’s a time for me to give back to the society, invest and train the younger generation so that they can do it better than we have done.
So, you will be walking away from the movie industry?
I won’t be going away from the movie industry. People don’t understand the idea yet. Right now, I have a film company that I am running. There is a saying when you get past a certain age; you leave the reins to the ones coming behind. Actors don’t get old; they are like good wine, the older it gets, the sweeter it is. That’s why we see Uncle Olu-Jacobs, Oga Bello, Uncle Jide Kosoko getting better at what they do with each passing day.
But these people have not retired.
Some people are now saying Ibrahim, how can an actor retire? You are not a sports man or a civil servant. The truth is that I don’t want to continue running around, moving from one location to the other; you will hardly have time for other things. I am trying to create time for other things that I love to do.
What are those things you love to do?
I like farming and I have started the business. I have a film company and I do not want to leave it completely. I have invested so much in the film company; I have purchased film equipment, professional film equipment and we are working towards being an intermediary between the film-makers and the people that will bankroll their project. We are working on having a film company that will give the younger generation the chance that we never had. So if you have to go to location everyday as an actor, you won’t have the chance to do all of that. So for the record, I am not going away from the industry, I will still be making my films and will also work with people that share the same dream as I do.
Could you share some of these dreams?
I want to be shooting movies with good equipment and working with a good budget. When people invite me to be part of a movie, I always ask them where they intend to take the film to. Where is your market? A lot of times people complain about the market. They say the market is bad and not encouraging. I tell them to create their own market. I really want to make films with people that want to go places. Hopefully, one day I will get to feature in Hollywood movies as well.
Are you satisfied with the current state of the industry?
To say the state of the movie industry is satisfactory is not true. Although, some people are doing well and stepping up their game in the industry and you have to give it to them. When you look at people like Kunle Afolayan and Kemi Adetiba, who is new, though she has had her years of practice but she is doing well. There are handfuls of other new generation film-makers that are doing well. This is the time we need to think about how to get funds to promote what we do, how to sell what we have and raise the game. I think film is an avenue to sell our culture and sell ourselves to the outside world. Having said that, there are people that are doing well relatively but if you want to compare the work of my time to the time of Ogunde, Ade Love and the like, we have really gone ahead. There is one thing we have lost as actors and film-makers—passion. People come into the industry because they want to be famous not that they have passion for what they are coming to do. There are too many half-baked or not even baked at all on set and it’s really painting the movie industry in a bad image. These people do not know what they are doing. But as it is now, times are changing in the movie industry in terms of professionalism and content development. The works of all these veterans remain relevant and that’s because they had the passion for the job. The current state of the industry, I would say we are moving and getting better than it used to be.
It has been argued in certain places that Nollywood movies lack content and professionalism, how would you react to this?
We have failed in certain areas because people just want to put something out there; they just want to show anything without considering if it has quality content. There are five categories of movies you can make: tragedy, tragicomedy, melodrama, comedy, and farce. You have to know which one you are doing. You can’t just muddle up everything. We are Africans; you have to tell your story in a way that people will learn from it. There has to be a message you are passing to people. I love to teach in most of my movies: either I am teaching about God or morals or passing a message people can relate with. Our films lack content these days because we have too many people that are not supposed to be doing the job. I am not here to judge anybody, but our movies lack content because most people don’t even know what they are doing. Sometimes you are on set and you discover that the director does not know what he or she is doing.
So, what do you think is the way out?
Do your best and train yourself. Learn, relearn and unlearn till learning takes place. You are only as good as your last show. Be unique, don’t do it the conventional way, think outside the box, come up with relatable content and others will pick it up from where you stop.
How would you react to the recent tax policy the Lagos State government introduced in the entertainment industry?
It is very important for the citizens of a country to pay their taxes. That’s the only way the government will be able to do their own responsibilities. Paying one’s tax as a movie person would enable film-makers to have a say in the way things should be done. I have a registered company and I pay tax. Actors, producers, film-makers should pay taxes too. When these taxes are paid, we can ask the government what they do with our taxes. We can challenge the government more on how we want the industry to be structured. We can ask for funding and structure that would further enhance our business. I have been an actor for 35 years and I have never been funded by the government on any of my projects. That is really bad. Even if the government is not funding my project, it should provide an enabling environment for me and other colleagues to do our business and thrive. My latest film was pirated and nothing happened to the people who pirated my work. Film-makers work hard to make money to fund their movie but the movie gets pirated and nothing goes back into the pocket of the investor. After all the stress and hard work we put into our work to produce a movie, it is very sad to hear that your project has been pirated. I believe that if we all come together, agree on the issue of paying our taxes and to tell the government what we want, then we can hold the government accountable.
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