Hassan at 60 … salutes to the ‘Ogogo’ of moviedom

Hassan

Popular Yoruba actor, Taiwo Babatunde Hassan, clocked 60 in October, but activities to mark the diamond age kicked off yesterday. And as is the tradition now in moviedom, there was a massive shindig for the actors’ actor, who is popular as ‘Ogogo’ and whose debut role on stage was playing ‘Akiigbe’ (an ewi chanter) in a stage play at the National Museum in Onikan, Lagos.

The 60th birthday commemoration for the tall and well built actor kicked off with a novelty football match and climaxed with a 60th anniversary gig attended by a quality crowd.

“This event today will remain memorable in my life. I thank God for the privilege of seeing this day in my life. God has been so kind to me and I thank him for making me who I am today.

“I also thank my colleagues, friends, family and fans for their support all through the years,” Taiwo said, shortly after the novelty football match in his honour.

A gifted performer, who studied Automobile Engineering at the Federal Technical College, Akoka in Yaba, Lagos, the engineer-turned actor, who is better referred to as ‘Ogogo,’ is regarded as one of the most successful actors in the Yoruba language genre of the Nigerian motion picture industry.

Tall, dark and good-looking, Taiwo is known to enjoy mass appeal both within and outside Nigeria. Even his colleagues in the industry say the Ilaro, Ogun State native is one of the very few Nigeria’s screen personalities roundly adored that have proven in no small measure that they could be relied upon.

Little wonder his face lights up several Nigerian home videos produced in Yoruba.

A former staff of the Lagos State Water Corporation (LSWC), Taiwo had just started work at LSWC when he developed an unquenchable passion for the world of make belief. Though born into a family of traditional masqueraders, from where he said he learnt praise words or what the Yoruba’s call Oriki, he explained that until he took part in that stage production at the National Museum in the 1980s, he never had the opportunity to express his in-born talent.

But that opportunity to perform in the stage play was what he said reinforced the fact that the talent he possessed was a special gift from the Almighty.

Shortly, after that debut performance, Taiwo formally joined the Awo Fabunmi Theatre Company, having worked out a way of combining acting with his job at the LSWC. With the group, Taiwo took part in a number of stage productions.

The more he engaged the turf, the more popular he became, and he actually alluded to this fact. But with time, Taiwo outgrew the local theatre. He yearned for ‘big time’ action, and as they came, he found it difficult to combine acting and welding pipes or fixing damaged water pipes at LSWC.

There was a particular production- Nkan Omo Olubadan- that kept him out of work for days. He didn’t think it was right to cheat on his employers. Besides, he wasn’t earning enough that would make him totally committed to his job as a civil servant. This was why he moved on after about 13 years as a senior craftman on Level Six.

The first step he took was to turn in his resignation letter, so as not to draw flaks, and the rest, as they say, is history.

Born in 1959, Taiwo’s decision to embrace acting full-time coincided with the commencement of the Nollywood revolution. He teamed up with a few friends, including the popular Yoruba movie actor, Yinka Quadri, and together they formed what in Yoruba movie circle is liberally called the ‘Odunfa Caucus.’

O.C., as the Odunfa Caucus is also called, is a body Taiwo said was formed to guarantee those in the ‘collective’ some acting chops, adding: “We didn’t form the group to intimidate anyone. Neither did we form the group to isolate ourselves. We just thought that we could use the platform to help ourselves achieve much.

“We felt that we could pull resources, not just money, but our talents, to make a difference. And whether you like it or not, it has helped, because almost all the members of the caucus have produced one best seller or the other, and that is because we talk to one another and also assist one another.”

Taiwo’s first screen credit was in Wicked Boy, a movie he also produced. The second was Elewon and the third was Merciful God. But he hit the limelight when he interpreted beatifically, the lead role of ‘Owo Blow’ in Owo Blow, directed by Tade Ogidan. The depth of his interpretation was what earned him the best actor of the year diadem at the 1997 edition of The Movie Award (THEMA 97).

Taiwo turned a hit from here and hardly could he walk the street without being mobbed, as he became a household name. Even virulent critics who heaped inks on him for allowing himself to be rubber stamped into playing basically romantic and emotional films waxed new tunes.

From their description of him, being a lover boy in every Yoruba movie, Taiwo was rechristened ‘a rounded actor.’ Indeed, it was from one ‘positive review’ to the other for the devout Muslim, who is married and blessed with children.

In his movie pouch are such acclaimed flicks as Delicate Cane, Tears of Joy, Idajo Olorun, Legal Wife, Eleran Igbe, Ore Ijiji, Iya Ibeji and Ojo Ogbo, a movie he entirely dedicated to his mother, who he described as his ‘pillar of support.’ He said of Ojo Ogbo: “I dedicated that movie to my mum. It was my own way of thanking her for doing so much to bring me up. My mum is a rare gem.”

On why he has not crossed over, like his colleagues in the Yoruba circle, who could act in English as much as they act in Yoruba, Taiwo explained that his decision not to cut across has nothing to do with whether he could communicate well in English or not.

He said: “I just didn’t think it is necessary. I mean, I am a Yoruba man and this is where I started. Besides, I believe it is the best way to pass my message across. So, it is not as if one cannot communicate in English; I just feel comfortable getting across in Yoruba.”

Asked in an earlier interview if acting has been rewarding, the amiable and smooth talking fellow, who plays the game of draught, snooker or loves to swim when he is not busy, affirmed: “In so many ways.”

But outside the financial gains, he admitted that acting has opened “so many windows of opportunities” for him, noting: “It has given me the opportunity to travel around and be exposed. It has made it possible for people to want to assist me without asking me for a dime.

“Though we are most times harassed to part with a few coins, but I consider that very normal. I mean, it is like people wanting to have a bit of the action. But acting has been rewarding. You are appreciated everywhere you go and respected too.”

But asked his career ambition, Taiwo, who disclosed that to get to this height, he had had to sip from the creative pot of some veteran actors, such as Chief Lere Paimo (aka Eda) and Chief Bayo Salami (aka Oga Bello), replied: “It is to continue to use my God-given talent for the betterment of society.

“I want to be able to contribute to society, using my talent. I want to also help the needy and do anything that will make society a better place to live in.”

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