Mrs. Taiwo Ajai-Lycett is a Nollywood actress who has seen it all. The 76-year-old actress displays tremendous agility and passion for the art and acting. In this interview with Newton-Ray Ukwuoma, she recounts her experience in the movie world among other issues.
You are aging quite gracefully?
Yes! Thank you. I am grateful to God. It is His grace.
At 76, what do you consider the most important virtue?
A free conscience, an open mind. I try not to burden myself with anything. I don’t keep a grudge. I try to relate well with people. I guess that’s my secret.
What do you know that most young people probably don’t know about life and success?
I would probably mention the fact that you are sounder and at home with yourself, less desperate. You know better what life is about, what kind of life you want; you know how to get what you want. Most young people are desperate, despondent and frustrated but when you have gone through life like I did, you know that there is nothing impossible that your determination cannot make happen.
At my age, you should have identified what the real enemy of man is and that is fear. You should have also known how to expunge fear from your thinking. So, you just get up and go and know that it is your attitude that is important. Most importantly, I would say that you know the importance of enthusiasm and optimism. If you can maintain a sound and optimistic spirit especially when things are not so good, you will be fine.
Oloibiri is one of your recent works beside the history, what else made you accept the script?
First as you’ve said, the history behind Oloibiri was one of the reasons. I am very interested in current affairs, especially how actual social themes can elevate our lives and inspire us. Oloibiri, to my mind had all that. Oloibiri is a metaphor for Nigeria. You would think that having discovered black gold as far back as the 1950s, everything would be all right and that we would have money and a great possibility of transforming our lives and country, giving us more hospitals, better roads and all the good things of life, but no. You find that about sixty years down the lane, not much has happened in those directions sadly. And it is so bad that you can even see the suffering and the effect of wrong decisions taken, and still been taken, in the land. By accepting the script I wanted to add my voice to the discourse.
How soon should we expect the movie in CDs and DVDs?
Soon, I guess. Those guys are working hard. And I believe when the movie is released to the public, people would begin to have a rethink of how our country has been run since the discovery of crude oil.
During the course of the movie production, did you visit the actual Oloibiri in Bayelsa State and how was the experience?
Yes, I did. The movie was shot there. And I must say it was a very depressing experience and I was hoping that with people seeing the movie, it would prick our conscience and help focus attention on the beautiful people of that terrain.
The young people languishing away around there with no future, who have little or no infrastructural facilities for their use much less enjoyment. I was hoping that film would make politicians do something about the state of things. It is so bad that we do have politicians in that part of the world in government and nothing really happens to them and that is a mystery.
I was going to say criminal even, because they are there with their own people and they do not see that they can do something to help. So the problem is ours; it is a real one and it’s about intellectual bankruptcy, lack of vision and personal greed, of just wanting to improve your own condition and not thinking about the collective good which is always the more important part as it would rub off on you also.
What’s the point of making yourself the big gun, using the money to build houses that you are not going to live in, fixing only the roads to your place and putting money away in soak-aways? It is absolutely stupid, dumbest thing adults can be seen doing and it doesn’t show any sort of intelligence at all. In a country where we don’t have constant electricity, what electricity do we have when we can’t industrialise and can’t manufacture even the most basic of items.
In a country where we have almost 24-7 sunlight and we don’t have the resources and will-power to tap into solar energy. People are calling themselves rich and importing Ferraris and Bentleys and everything! That is a country of very dumb, stupid, idiotic and downright insane people because you cannot have a refined mind and live like that. Or does anyone still argue about how rich we are? If we are not rich, then can they tell us from where they are getting all those billions they are stealing?
Let’s talk about the movie industry. Do you think the industry is hitting the right mark by making great movies?
I would say we are beginning to hit the mark. But after saying that, I must quickly add that our producers/directors are still not particular about detail. I always say the devil is in the detail. You know, we are so arrogant about these things; you cannot re-invent the wheel; these things already exist and all you need to do is collaborate with other people and make great movies while thinking through your ideas to the last detail. But we are not doing that yet, it’s too superficial for me.
There is the gloss and everything, when you look at our films, even the ones making the mega bucks that people are screaming about now, some people still say they lack substance. That is sad but because they are making money everybody would say they are great as that is the main criterion in our own assessment of the film industry.
We need to achieve a level of quality. Yes, I’d agree we are making progress, we are going ahead but we are not looking at the details. We are going for glamour, noise over substance and that means we are not ideological enough.
Glamour is fine but we need to start making movies that are ideological about our situations instead of shooting movies that mirror Hollywood films, that’s not success as far as I am concerned because the film of a particular region has to focus on and project the issues, culture, problems and triumphs of that location.
How did you find working with celebrated cinematographer, Tunde Kelani on the advocacy movie, Dazzling Mirage?
He is a sweetheart, and that’s one of the movies we should be doing. It is another film I am not seeing around but many people should be made to see it because it speaks to people. It is like the Ebola movie, 93 Days. Ebola was tragic, we lost a great, brave woman, lion-hearted woman, who saw danger to her family and the teeming population and confronted it to guard the population.
That woman has not been lauded enough in my opinion. You only need to take time to go through her profile, especially when measured against the immeasurable danger she averted to realise she was an incredible and angelic medical professional who saved millions of us from a potentially grave situation. But while Ebola is a one-off, the issue that Dazzling Mirage focuses on, the Sickle Cell Anaemia, is something a lot of people are living with daily and it is another film I would like many people to see so as to get familiar with and begin to show understanding and compassion for people living with that disorder.
What other projects do you have lined up?
I am presently in a couple of productions. What I’m trying to do is to start coaching, not just about the art but about the philosophy of the art. What is our function and role in the society? It is not just customer feel. It has always been said that Africa does not have the luxury for art for art’s sake but as things are now, no country has the luxury for that on account of the changes going on in the world right now and with the speed at which they are going on.
What I want to start doing is to train people on the social media and others. Those who are interested can come and train and we will eventually do master classes. Another project has to do with the TAL In Concert. Professor Segun Ojewuyi, myself and some other people will be involved in that.
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