Popular Kannywood actor and producer, Ali Nuhu, speaks to MOBOLA SADIQ about the challenges facing the movie industry, how he handles fame, and other issues
Some people don’t consider Kannywood as part of the country’s movie industry; it is Nollywood that is popular. What do you think about that?
I think it’s because Kannywood movies are produced up North and there’s a sort of dichotomy; many practitioners in Kannywood do not practise in the South. I think that’s the reason why it is so. But we all belong to the same industry.
Are there challenges peculiar to Kannywood?
Yes, there are challenges, especially now with the shift from the normal home videos we used to make to movies for cinemas. First, the structure for distribution which happens to be the multiplex kind of cinemas that you usually have in southern Nigeria, especially in a place like Lagos. There are so many malls and almost all them have cinemas.
In northern Nigeria, I think it’s only Kano that has that [malls with cinemas]. Then, Abuja to an extent. You know, people in Abuja are elitist; they hardly even see Nigerian movies that have English dialogue, let alone ones with Yoruba, Hausa or Igbo dialogues. They usually go for Hollywood blockbuster movies so this is the first constraint.
Two, when you talk about the kind of equipment that are being used, it’s not like we don’t have people who use high-end equipment. There are quite a few (who use high-end equipment) like 15 per cent of the practitioners and that’s because of the cost. Everybody is trying to minimise cost because they don’t have a specific structure that ensures you can get return on investment.
Also, there’s the issue of people not wanting to go for capacity building. This is a business; time changes and there are innovations. People need to be going for courses so they can step up their game. I think these are the kinds of constraints we face in northern Nigeria.
You mentioned that there are many cinemas in Lagos and some other southwestern states, are you saying it’s only Kano that has cinemas?
Yes. It’s only Kano that has cinemas and we are trying to get investors to come over to northern Nigeria because we have cities where they can make if they have such structures. Secondly, they will provide job opportunities for our youths and for even the filmmakers; their businesses will flourish more than before.
If you consider history, northern Nigeria used to have a cinema culture. So if we can revive that culture, I think it’s going to benefit the economy of the country in general.
Won’t the security challenges in the North scare away film investors?
I don’t think so. When people talk about security challenges, this baffles me because the security challenges we are talking about happened like three or four years back. Now, people go to malls and other places to hang out in northern Nigeria. The situation is portrayed in a way that makes it appear like people don’t even go out of their homes once it’s late or attend gatherings. Besides, when you talk about these cinemas, most of them are situated in malls and those malls are highly secured. We have a very good security network.
Most countries have only one movie industry but Nigeria has Nollywood and Kannywood. What does that mean for the country?
Even in Nigeria, we have only one industry. When you go to India, it is called Bollywood. But do you know in Bollywood, there are Kollywood and Tollywood because there are movies with dialogues in other languages? They have Telugu movie industry and Kannada movie industry.
There are people from regions that cannot perform in the Hindi language but because a large portion of the audience understands those languages, they make movies to entertain those people.
And when we talk about Hausa, Yoruba and Igbo, movies are being made that are of lower budgets compared to the industry where dialogue is in English, because they have their target audience.
These movies with English dialogue come once in a while, but the movies with dialogue in local languages keep you busy and that’s why we have this dichotomy.
Kannywood actors rarely collaborate with their counterparts who make movies using English, Yoruba or Igbo dialogue, why?
First, there is the issue of culture and religion. Some actors will tell you that they won’t go overboard or do anything their culture or religion might frown upon. That’s important for most actors. Then for some actors, it’s the language barrier. They are talented and can do their job in the language they are comfortable with which is Hausa – their mother tongue.
They feel they don’t have to go the extra mile and make themselves uncomfortable by speaking languages they cannot speak fluently in. For some actors, it’s like that. I think it’s an individual thing; everybody has the style they want to adopt.
Do you think culture, religion and belief hinder some Hausa actors from expressing their full potential?
Yes, it does. Because we are Africans and there are some things we cannot do. And this is not just in the Hausa community or society, even in the Igbo and Yoruba societies, there are some things you would do and soon, they would be blown out of proportion.
In the South-West, for instance, children at a young age are encouraged to go into the movie industry either by their parents or guardians, but northerners frown on such. How has this affected the industry in the North?
I don’t believe this because my son is an actor. Sani Danja’s daughter is an actress; Adam Zango’s son is a musician, and there are so many more. We have so many kids acting in the industry, so I don’t think that is true.
As a movie director and filmmaker, do you think our movies are predictable?
In those days, they used to be. But now, our scriptwriters and directors have buckled down as a lot of people have gone to film schools. The practitioners have gone for some capacity building by going for some courses or learning more about the particular field they belong to.
I think that used to happen in the past. Today, you will see Nigerian movies in the cinema and you don’t even want to leave for a second because you don’t want to miss anything.
Did you study filmmaking in Nigeria?
I didn’t study filmmaking or acting. I am a graduate of Geography from the University of Jos, but I went for courses related to what I do. I went for a course on filmmaking in the Relativity Media School in Los Angeles, United States of America. I went to the Asian Academy of film and television in India, and the University of Southern California for a course on transmedia storytelling.
These exposures have helped me. The kind of movies I make now is quite different from the ones I used to make before. A lot of people can now vouch for me.
Some people believe that you can’t be a top actor if you don’t reside in Lagos or Abuja?
I reside in Kano and I’m very comfortable operating from here. I just came back from Lagos where I finished shooting a film. I’ll be in Lagos again next month to shoot a film called “The Buglers”, and I’ll be in Port Harcourt in December to shoot another film. So these scripts keep coming. I had to even turn down some because someone wants me on a movie set in Abuja next week but I can’t be there because I’m going to London and I’ll be busy.
Wherever you are, if people know you as a good actor, they’ll certainly come calling. So my popularity is not dependent on my location.
Despite being married, do you still get advances from women?
That happens to me. Some even happen in the presence of my wife. I was in Saudi Arabia with my wife and we were walking on the street, then a lady gave my wife her phone and said: “Please, I need a picture with your husband.” The lady’s best friend asked my wife: “How can you take the phone from another woman to take a picture of her and your husband?” My wife said, “This is what he does for a living; he is professional and I just have to understand. Taking a picture with him doesn’t make any difference because she’s not taking him away. After taking pictures with him, she might not even see him again.” So it happens.
So what’s the naughtiest thing a female fan has done to you unexpectedly?
I walked out of a mall or shopping complex in Abuja and a lady hugged and kissed me; I was so embarrassed.
It happened again at an airport in Dubai; a South African lady saw me and clung to me.
Have you ever thought of relocating to Lagos?
I’ve never thought of moving to Lagos. The city is too crowded and traffic congestion is a major problem. It’s just not a comfortable city for me.
However, financially, I think it’s about the best city in Nigeria because whatever you do, people value it. But the inconvenience of the traffic is not something I can stand so I have never thought of moving to Lagos. So even with the paparazzi and all the side attractions in Lagos, I still prefer to stay in Kano.
Why don’t you flaunt your wealth online?
I don’t want to live a fake life, I want to be myself. I don’t have a bodyguard with me because that’s like attracting unnecessary attention to myself.
As a role model in society, I tell upcoming youngsters that they are not coming to this profession to become rich. They should have a passion for the job and the wealth will come. Do the needful but don’t flaunt your wealth. I don’t just believe in that because of the way I was brought up. Upbringing matters a lot in the way people behave.
Do you feel intimidated by your colleagues who flaunt their wealth?
I don’t feel intimidated because one thing I know is that if you start living that life, then you have to live up to people’s expectations and the day you don’t live up to their expectations, you’re gone.
That’s when you become fake. You struggle to make those things happen and when they don’t happen, you fall into a state of depression and that’s your end. I’m not bothered about the fan base that flaunting of wealth attracts.
What’s your most memorable moment as an actor?
My most memorable moment will have to be the first time I was given a role, a speaking role in a firm. I can’t forget that. When I was coming up, I was given roles and just playing a minor. We were just extras.
And all of a sudden, you are given a role where you have a dialogue to deliver. That’s the height of it all because you begin to feel like your dream is about to come true. So that was an important moment for me.
What do you do to relax?
I take out time to go on vacation.
What’s your opinion about Nigerians practising homosexuality?
Everyone is entitled to their opinion. But whatever you do in life, try to see that it doesn’t hurt society. If you start anything and you think it will trend, you don’t know what the future holds. One has to be very thoughtful of the things one does because of the coming generations.
What role would you not accept in a movie?
Any role that demands me to go nude in a movie, I won’t be part of it. I will not also play gay roles.
Would you play romantic roles?
There are some romantic films I can do but even for romantic films, there’s a point where I have to draw the line because I’ve done some that were very passionate in the past and they brought negative comments and criticisms (for me), so I’m being careful. Even if I’m promised something attractive for it, I wouldn’t be moved.
What projects are you working on?
I’m working on a couple of projects in which the dialogue will be in English. I also just finished a Hausa film on drug abuse. That’s what I’m currently promoting.
Who do you admire in the movie industry?
I think it’s Omotola Jalade-Ekeinde. She’s been my number one. I’ve always liked working with her. I think we’ve done two projects together and I’m looking forward to doing another one with her soon. It’s Omotola any day, anytime.