TRIBUTE: Tunde Kelani @70: Icon of Nigerian cinematography

Tunde Kelani

Nigerian cinematic genius, Tunde Kelani, has been getting encomiums as he turns 70.

Kelani, whose exploits in the film industry have earned him international recognition, is a highly skilled and proficient filmmaker, storyteller, photographer and producer.

Throughout his decades-long career, the gifted, well-trained director is famed for producing films that promote Nigeria’s rich cultural heritage as well as the Yoruba culture.

Aside from his feature films, TK as he is fondly called, has produced award-winning short films, documentaries and also directed music videos.

Regarded as one of the pillars of Nigeria’s contemporary film industry, Kelani produced world-class movies at the time when Nollywood was yet to attain some level of technological know-how.

An advocate of ‘Alternative Technology’ in motion picture production in Africa, Kelani is not one to churn out movies in quick succession.

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Some of his most successful films are literary adaptations and they include: Koseegbe, Oleku, Thunderbolt (Magun), The White Handkerchief, The Narrow Path, Maami and Dazzling Mirage. He has decided to maintain this model for his future films.

It is no wonder that some of his greatest works have endured the test of time.

His critically acclaimed political satire, Saworo Ide, written by Akinwumi Isola, was for instance, delivered in Yoruba language and subtitled in English language.

It was captivating from start to finish despite the language barrier.

It was astonishingly successful. Over 19 years after, its appeal can almost not be ignored.

Ti Oluwa ni Ile, conceived by veteran actor, Baba Wande; and Koseegbe are not any different.

While ‘others’ tell you how ‘fantastic’ everything is, Kelani, never gushes about his works.

In a tribute to the artist, Governor Ibikunle Amosun of Ogun State notes that Kelani’s impact is indeed phenomenal.

“Today, Tunde Kelani is acknowledged for his dexterity in handling the camera and also versed in the knowledge of Yoruba culture and tradition, which he is using to promote our rich culture. Also, with a touch of Adire in his dressing, he has relentlessly identified with his root, Abeokuta, which is known as the home of Adire clothes. For this, we, in Ogun State, are proud of him as our culture ambassador,” the governor is quoted as saying.

For President Muhammadu Buhari, Kelani’s “uncanny story telling skills and his ability to breathe life into scripts and translate literature to movies, thereby enhancing understanding of the rich cultural heritage of the country and consistently updating the narrative of a unified and progressive nation.”

The septuagenarian filmmaker also paved the way for some filmmakers and actors to find their footing in the Nigerian movie industry.

Yemi Shodimu and Feyikemi Layinka nee Bodurin were thrust into limelight after TK gave them a solid platform to kick off a movie career. This was after he starred them in leading roles in his 1997 timeless love classic, O Le Ku.

For this Shodimu remains grateful to TK.

“I can’t believe that TK is 70 because he has accomplished so much for the industry and also discovered so many talents including me. He has put Nigeria and Africa on the world map. He is an icon no doubt and a blessing to this industry. I wish him many more strides just as he has also said that his best is yet to come,” he told this newspaper.

Similarly, Dele Odule’s portrayal of a king in Ti Oluwa Ni Le also shot him to prominence.

One of his protégées, Bukky Awoyemi, who shot into limelight after her stellar performance in Kelani’s movie, ‘Arugba,’ describes him as a living legend.

She tells PREMIUM TIMES, “Tunde Kelani is God- sent not just to me but to many upcoming talents and filmmakers. He is a pacesetter. He helped me become who I am today. He gave me a turning point in my career after giving me a role in Arugba. It was clearly my spring board to success and I remain eternally grateful to him.”

Similarly, current artistes in film and theatre and thousands of consumers of his work in various forms and media revere him.

This is particularly true of Kunle Afoloyan, who played ‘Aresejabata’ in “Saworoide” and Dotun in Dazzling Mirage. Both films were produced and directed by Kelani.

In his tribute, Afolayan said, “TK is not just a colleague, I regard him as my father. Surprisingly every time we meet we don’t talk about filmmaking or the industry. Most times, we talk about life and that has really shaped my orientation about a lot of things. TK is a living legend and I wish him the best of everything as he attains this landmark age. Hopefully, one of his children will carry on his legacy.”

Humble beginnings

Kelani was born in Lagos. At age five he was sent to live with his grandparents at Abeokuta in Ogun State.

He attended the Oke-Ona Primary School in Ikija, Abeokuta and had his secondary school education at Abeokuta Grammar School. During this time, his grandfather was a chief (the Balogun of Ijaye Kukudi) and he was privileged to have witnessed most aspects of the Yoruba culture.

Kelani was introduced to Yoruba literature at an early stage in his life and was also greatly influenced by the Yoruba travelling theatre tradition at that time.

He benefited a lot from oral tradition and went into books, started to experience D.O Fagunwa’s books like Igbo Olodumare, Ogboju Ode Ninu Igbo Irunmale, etc. He was catapulted into another world and that fuelled his fantasy in the arts.

He got interested in photography from primary school. Throughout his secondary school education, he was actively investing money and taking to time to learn photography. So, inevitably, he became an apprentice photographer after he finished secondary school. Later, he trained at the then Western Nigeria Television and went further to attend the London Film School.

In the 1970s, Kelani also worked as a BBC TV and Reuters correspondent. For Reuters he travelled to Ethiopia to cover the drought and to Zimbabwe three times to cover independence.

Once he finished from the London Film School, he returned to Nigeria and co-produced his first film with Adebayo Faleti – The Dilema of Rev. Father Michael. (Idaamu Paadi Minkailu).

On the platform of his Mainframe Productions (Opomulero), founded in 1991, Kelani has done well for himself and the movie world. He also launched the Mainframe Film and Media Institute on his 68th birthday.

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