An Eagle in Nollywood – Day 5

Segun Odegbami
The Eagle finally lands on Planet Nollywood!
5 days to Christmas.
It is the eve of my first major shot at cinema stardom. The scene of my special appearance in ‘Ayinla’ is to be filmed in 24 hours time.
I am preparing hard.
Tintin comes to town.
Tintin is a media and communications consultant based in Lagos. He is my new friend. I like him a lot – young, wickedly handsome, lively, brilliant, on top of new technology,  immensely gifted, creative, and a real guru of the broadcast media.
I am in a depressed place in my mind when he arrives, the product of second-hand pressure. I have been worrying that Tunde Kelani (TK), is worried. The menace of area boys and miscreants everywhere in town, whilst trying to film, has been making life miserable for everyone. I am worrying about Abeokuta. This is the same town TK intends to market to the world through ‘Ayinla’ as the new Mecca’ of cinemtography. Can’t these hoodlums see the damage they are doing?  Ogun State Government must quickly establish a special place where filmmakers can go to, to get adequate security support for future film and other projects.
Tintin is completely oblivious of my movie involvement, and also of the mood around me in Abeokuta. He walks into it all like a man with a blindfold.
First words out of his mouth, on alighting from his car in front of my house, are jolting. The filming crew must not hear him. The prevailing mood is too pensive. TK is frustrated. Kunle Afolayan is angry. Everyone is depressed. Abeokuta, our fantasy paradise, has been under the seige of miscreants.
And then, in the midst of all these, Tintin loudly and innocently arrives and proclaims: “I love this town”.
Ha! Love ke? Abeokuta? Who is this?
I am looking at him and thinking: Tintin does not know anything. He is fooled, like we all have being, by the surface-look, the quiet and peaceful ambience of the residential estate where he meets me.
Tintin must be thinking he is making a good impression and goes on:  “driving into town is breathtaking. You cannot miss the beauty of the landscape; the undulating hills and valleys stretching out as far as the eyes can see, by the Muhammadu Buhari Estate on the Sagamu entrance into town”.
This Tintin is in love, truly.
“Who owns those empty houses”, pointing at some uncompleted houses in the GRA. The man cannot be serious.
“There is something about Abeokuta that makes it different from every town I know in Nigeria. The moment you enter the town all the tension and pressure imported from Lagos dissolve and evaporate. The streets are clean and uncrowded. They calm you down. The sanity and casual pace of life suck you in. Chief, I am thinking seriously about moving here to join you o”.
Ha, Tintin. 5 minutes in town and you are singing such lullaby. I can understand, though.
Coming straight from a city that never sleeps,  a city groaning and bursting at the seams with the weight of competing forces – an exploding population, impossible and chaotic traffic jams, hustle at every turn, deafening noises and mega environmental pollution, and an ocean of okada riders and area boys that make our Abeokuta-experience look like Kindergatten stuff.
Tintin’s romantic melody about Abeokuta starts to make some sense. His words are true, despite our troubles with hoodlums during filming ‘Ayinla’.
They jolt me back to reality. In the heat of some local challenging social problems, we are forgetting to appreciate the bigger picture of what Abeokuta offers that we (TK, Seun Oyefeso and I) saw some years ago as we traversed Ogun State on my theatrical but very fruitful political odyssey.  I remember vividly.
We were constantly fantasising about Abeokuta; how, through the arts and entertainment – film, music, dance, sports, drums, theatre, sculpture, literature, culture, poetry and other artistic expressions, we would position and promote the town as a deserving capital for a new Black civilisation to be established in the world.
Our ambitious plan was to plant the seeds of a socio-cultural, political and economic revolution in the Statè, by building a solid relationship with our Black and African Diasporàn ‘brethren’ in all parts of the world through projects that will bring them back to their roots in Africa, and re-settle those interested, provide opportunities and incentives for them to invest, to work and to live in a land they can rightly call their homeland. Ghana has embarked on that route in the past 2 years!
Abeokuta has the ambience, the knowledge-base, the cultural institutions and traditions, the human and intellectual capacity, and the resources to justify our belief that it can be achieved within a short time with the right kind of leadership, vision and political will.
We fantasised about reviving and repackaging the FESTAC ’77 project and goals; of recreating the festival with an ingeniously new funding methodology;  using it to catalyse and facilitate the design of a new cultural, infrastructural architecture that will transform Abeokuta into a global destination of choice for a cultural pilgrimage for all Black people!
We were like prophets.
As if we saw the future, in the past few months, our plans then have become relevant. The Black Lives Matter movement, and the global fight against racism, inequality and social injustice, have become trending global struggles. Sports and politics that used to be 2 parallel lines, have now become Siamese Twins. Sports have become a very powerful tool in the global struggle.
What all these things mean is that in our little heads and for our little town we were dreaming right – Abeokuta can become the epicentre of a new and very powerful cultural army in the world. It has all the basic ingredients. One only needs to visit the old sections of Abeokuta, look deeply into history and surviving traditions, and take lessons from local cultural and spiritual institutions in order to stimulate a  revival of a once-well-established and very sophisticated society and civilisation in history.
So, Tintin’s coming to town is a divine commission,  to re-set my mind temporarily dislodged by the troubles that TK has been facing. So, he comes, re-ignites the fire, fans the embers, revives the flames, and departs.
‘I love this town’.
His words continue to ring in my ears. They are magic words, and Tintin says them with innocent sincerity. He is ‘rewarded’, of course, with an unforgettable evening. Outdoors in my little compound in the sequestered serenity of Ibara Housing Estate, I fete him with Charcoal-grilled fresh water fish, boiled same-day corn, the freshest palm wine in the world (trust me), some good company and elevating conversations under the half-moon of mid-December!
The following morning is the day of my filming. Tintin announces his new Egba residential ambitions.  He is unable to resist the temptation of the squirrels and the rabbits scurrying in the surrounding bushes that are also full of ‘singing’ birds. The tranquility, peace and leisurely pace of life under Olumo Rock have won him over. He has decided to set up both shop and home here in Abeokuta.
Tintin returns to his Lagos base a very happy man, his unplanned assignment to restore my waning spirit in the ‘Ayinla’ movie, accomplished.
Things start to happen very fast.
All schools in Ogun State are shut immediately by the order of government due to a second wave of the Coronavirus all over the country.
In Abeokuta, there is a virus-fatigue. As far as the public are concerned, the virus does not exist. Wearing of masks in public is a rarity. A gentleman asks me the other day to mention one poor person I know in Abeokuta that has caught the virus, or died from it.
“Corona is for rich people o”, he declares and walks away.
I hope we all do not pay the price of this disrespect and carelessness.
So, after all this rigmarole, how is the landing of the Eagle on Planet Nollywood?
My advertised role as Vice-Principal of Abeokuta Grammar School in a scene in the movie is no longer feasible. All schools are closed for the year.  A completely new plot has to be scripted into the movie and a new scene created in order to accommodate the ‘joker’ in TK’s pack of screen cards – me!
TK is smart. He knows he cannot leave me out of this movie no matter what. The noise of an Eagle landing in Nollywood has reached even to the moon and back. ‘Ayinla’ without ‘Mathematical’ will be incomplete, like sauce without pepper. We have even consulted with the gods of theatre and obtained their blessings. Remember our trips to the Autonomous Republic of Ijegba, to Ososa and to Ipara.
A new plot is introduced to the script. I do not know what to make of it. I notice it does not give me the space to put on the full array of my acting skills.
I am thinking.
This TK cannot be serious. We shall see.
The day of filming my scene has arrived 5 days before Christmas. The preparations at the Sports Lounge in Panseke area of town takes the whole day. The heavy trucks, cranes, the army of technicians, set designers, make up artists and the ‘waka pass’ audience all throng to the location. That’s the nature of filming – the preparations take more time than the actual filming.
Later in the evening, after sunset, the time finally comes to play my ‘lead’ role. The set is beautiful. The lighting is fantastic. I am in my full royal purple regalia. Even Tori (Adelanwa) travels all the way from his home in the hills to bear witness to my performance.
TK is all over me and all over the place. I am taken  through my lines, as if I need any coaching😜.
I am called up, “Chief Ishola”. That’s my name in the movie.
I climb onto the podium. It seems like a million eyes are trained on me. The lights, a full audience of guests in the set, the large technical crew of cameramen, audio specialists, and many others with or without functions, are all focused on me.
Expectations are high. I have made too much noise about this role and my prowess. Too many people are interested in what I will do. The smile on my face is plastered and cosmetic. The words I have been memorizing all evening freeze half way between my brain and my mouth. I am struggling. Kai, Universe, don’t disgrace me o.
I open my mouth. Words start tumbling out. My heart is racing.
“Cut!”. TK’s shrill voice cuts through the suspense on the set. I pass out.
After all the weeks of preparation and prayers and fasting; after all the noise I have made; after visiting Kongi and Jimshow; Kai, this TK is wicked.
On the outside, I am cool and calm.  Inside, I am trembling like a leaf. I survive!
Then it is done. The 30 minutes come and go quickly. The shoot is like a minute. I keep asking myself: is that it? All my ‘noise’ about an Eagle landing in Nollywood with a bang, is this it? What is all my lala koko fefe for, if this is all to it?
Any way, I believe TK still has some ace up his sleeve. I am waiting patiently.
The good thing is that at the end of the day TK appears to be very happy with everything.
For me, being a part of filming ‘Ayinla’ has been an incredible experience, even with my limited days on the set.
Finally, I depart Abeokuta 3 days to Christmas.
I am carrying an unbelievable catalogue of pictures in my head of unique moments watching the legendary film maker from very close quarters on this greatest of his projects. I can already see what’s coming through TK’s relief and excitement on the phone on Boxing day when I call to speak with him.
TK swears that the movie has been everything he dreamt it would be at the start, and even more. He thinks we have an international blockbuster in the kitty.
So, in the end, I am glad too.
This Eagle has landed on planet Nollywood. I am not sure if it is with a bang or a thud. Either way,  that he safely lands is enough to hold on to until ‘Ayinla’ comes out of the production furnace.
The movie will be released, I am told, by Easter.
I can’t wait to see how the Eaglè fares in his minute of fame on Planet Nollywood.
Segun Odegbami
Calm after the storm!
Happy New Year to all.

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