Ibrahim Chatta can be said to be one of the lead actors in Yoruba movie industry after Odunlade Adekola and Femi Adebayo. The versatile actor who recently acted in ‘Darkest Hour,’ ‘Iboji Obinrin’ and ‘Ajaloleru’ decided to broaden his knowledge by going back to school. The self-taught consummate actor in this interview with SAMUEL ABULUDE, speaks on his career, how he mastered the art by studying on his own and dealing with controversy.
How did the love for theatre begin for you?
I was born in a town called Bacita in Kwara State. That town has the biggest sugar manufacturing company in West Africa, government-owned. So I had the opportunity to go to school with Indian kids, Hausa, Benue, mixed languages. This is why a lot of actors come to our town then. I had the opportunity to meet our veterans. I saw late Duro Ladipo on stage, I also saw Iya Mero Sabitiyu then but I was inspired by Muka’s father (Eyinwunmi Ray). When I saw him, I wanted to be like him. I didn’t even know that one could earn money or that theatre had different departments, that you could be a director, make-up artiste, lighting man etc. I just wanted to act like him. So each time I watched him on stage, we’d gather our wrappers to make curtains and redo the play. My love for the profession was since that tender age and I never deviated because I knew this is what I wanted to do, I never had any doubt. Now, I talk about my retirement and my people will say no, you cannot retire at 50, you’re still very young but I’ve spent all my life acting.
Having dropped out of school so early, how did you develop this command of English?
I taught myself simple and correct English. If you are observant, you’ll realise that I pick my words carefully and consciously even when I speak Yoruba. Apart from when I read lines out of a book or script and render it like we do on the screen. Even when we have to improvise, I’d form my lines in my head before saying them. All of these are different from having a conversation like I’m doing with you now, then I’m always conscious of my words and tenses. And we mostly only think about speaking English wrongly, we don’t consider the wrong Yoruba we speak sometimes. It’s very possible to commit blunders in Yoruba or any other language so I pick my words calmly and carefully.
Since you have such understanding and are faring well, what prompted your going back to school?
Because it’s the most important thing in life after knowing God. In fact, you can’t know God without education so education is the most important thing in life. I taught myself a lot of things; I’m a collector of books and I read very widely. When I was young, I cultivated the habit of reading. If I bought puff puff on the roadside, I’d read the paper it was wrapped in. I read a lot, I’ve learnt that the major lessons in the world are written in books so I love reading. If anyone comes to me today that he or she wants to start acting, I’d ask him how much he has studied and what school he or she is attending. It will get to a point in life when there will be no opportunity for the uneducated, so education is paramount. Education and knowledge are two different terms, an educated person may still lack knowledge.
When you act scenes that you need to cry in, what do you think about?
I don’t think about anything, I just follow the scripts. That’s what I say to the younger ones. Some will be asked to think about the day they lost their virginity, when their fathers died, no! In movies, we cry for different reasons. For example, if the story goes that I am impoverished all my life and I win a prize of $200 million and the script says I should shed tears of joy, tears of joy and that of grief come differently so we need to follow the script. If I lose a child in a movie and I become childless, that is grief. If I need to shed tears of joy and I start to think about days of grief, it won’t come out well, the audience won’t feel it; it has to come from the inside to connect with your audience.
The first thing to do is believe that thing you’re playing, you have to believe it. For example, you shoot me in a film, I feel pain even though we use toy guns, if you poison me, I feel pain that is believing in the role you’re playing. That way, the flow will come naturally. This is me in front of you now, the ones you see in movies are not me, those are the characters I was asked to play. Once I’m in front of the camera, I’m no longer the same person, whoever you see is the character, sometimes beating a lady, crying over a lady, jilting or being jilted, that’s not me, that’s the character I’m playing. So if I meet an actor on set from the English sector, it doesn’t mean anything, we’re all humans. It doesn’t change anything and doesn’t make me a stupid person.
How serious are you with the plan to retire in two years?
I’m serious, really serious.
Do you think you’ve achieved enough and are fulfilled as an actor to retire?
I will not be quitting movie making. I’ll still be grooming the younger generation and be making films. One thing you can’t do alongside another is acting. You can be a producer and still do other things. There are a couple of things that I still wish to do, like going to film school though I did some crash courses on film but I want to go into the school itself and study somewhere like New York Film Academy or MET (Film School) in Germany or going for music lessons or classes. I also wish to go to the gym at least once in my lifetime. A lot of people call me, ‘I want to be an actor,’ what kind of actor do you want to be? You know, stardom is very different from professionalism. A stupid idiot can become a star if God wants it to be so. When I told my colleague, Muyiwa Ademola and Odunlade Adekola, Odun said: “Egbon, God will judge you, have you seen anyone with your kind of gifts?” It’s not possible for a person to have my gifts but I can imbibe my culture into other people to learn my ways.
Despite approaching the golden age, you still have a youthful look. Is there anything deliberate you have done for that?
I’ve never been to the gym all my life. I think the secret is God. It’s the gift of God. Another thing is that I’m always conscious about my health. I drink a lot of water, the first thing I do in the morning is ask for hot water and while still sitting on the bed with my feet on the floor, I have a drink of hot water before going to say my prayers. I’m a Muslim and I believe in the potency of ablution water. The Qur’an describes it as An-Nur ‘ala Nur (Light upon light), it brightens one’s face. Then water in itself performs lots of wonders in the body and I drink lots of water. Before my father died, he had my kind of physique but I still believe it’s a gift because my younger sister is not as slim.
How do you cope generally with unfavourable stories in the media about you?
I feel very bad. It makes me cry a lot of times until I told myself to leave everything to God. People say God’s judgment is delayed but I’ll still wait on the judgment of God. I work every day and I hope to get better at what I do. Everything I’ve done in my life is for acting, keeping beards, shaving my head, I did everything for acting. Naturally, as a Muslim, what I really want to do his to practice the Sunnah but for the job I do. The person people see on the screen is different from who I am. I always look forward to my birthdays to read what my colleagues write about me and the young actors; those are the people that know who I really am. I’m not trying to praise myself but they look up to me and I do well by them.
My last birthday, I don’t drink or socialise that much, I was at a location, I took time out in the midnight to pray and thank God for another year. By the time I woke up in the morning a lot of people had called me and left me texts, Oga Bello, Yinka Quadri and a host of others. I was reading their messages and I was crying. I love my colleagues a lot but there are some that I wish I was their real fathers, like Femi Adebayo and Abdullateef Adedimeji, you know they are both Abdullateef, I love them.
People wrote a lot of wonderful things on my birthday on Instagram as texts, these messages are usually very overwhelming and awesome. The people that wrote negative things, don’t they see these things? If I’m such a bad person, it’s not possible for all of my colleagues to love me and write good things about me. Sometimes, I feel like the things they call me are beyond me because I feel I’m not that good.
When I turned down City People’s award, I turned it down because it wasn’t credible. They nominate people for awards without inviting you and someone will just tell you later that there was an award ceremony and your name is there, why would my name be there? Some people said it’s because Lateef is in the same category, no! It’s possible to have Oga Bello, Yinka Quadri, Muyiwa Adekola, Lateef Adedimeji, myself and Niyi Johnson in the same category and have Lateef win. Getting the award doesn’t show superiority, it’s possible that the act in a particular movie is just on point.
There’s no boss in the movie industry, it’s just like language, it widens by the day. You just have to continue practicing everyday of your life. So when I read the things people write about me, it saddens me. I’ve experimented a lot of things for acting, I’m not an Ifa priest but I’ve learnt the “Oju Odu merindinlogun.” I’ve learnt the Qur’an and studied the Bible. I studied all for acting, I didn’t go to school but I made sure my pronunciation and diction comes out well, all for acting.
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