Uzor Maxim Uzoatu
It was quite remarkable meeting with Chris Obi-Rapu, the director of the epoch-making movie Living in Bondage, in the office of Anambra State Commissioner of Information and Public Enlightenment, C. Don Adinuba, in Awka. Obi-Rapu had come in from the United States where he had been for a while putting finishing touches on his PhD in Organizational Psychology.
It calls for revelation that the Nollywood phenomenon being celebrated globally started most inauspiciously with Obi-Rapu being the almost unacknowledged director of the Igbo language home movie Living in Bondage which became a blockbuster that launched forth the Nollywood revolution.
Obi-Rapu reveals that at a recent meeting in the US with Professor Jonathan Haynes, the pre-eminent scholar of Nollywood, the don admitted that he has at last met the missing link in the birth of the movie miracle.
Obi-Rapu directed Living in Bondage without using his real name because he was then a worker in NTA. He instead used the name Vic Mordi taken from his maternal side. He organized a camp for the artistes in Badagry to make the movie, and built landmark sets such as the compelling cult scenes.
Obi-Rapu is back in the country with “a better knowledge and better psychology.” He argues that half-baked knowledge is a big problem.
“I want to re-engineer the Igbo mindset,” he stresses, informing that the Igbo embraced education later than the Yorubas but eventually came out tops. “A group without direction is lost,” he asserts.
He has plans to make movies online and hopes to release the movie he shot with his daughter. He believes that Anambra State ought to be the hub of Nollywood. According to him, most movies these days are shot in Enugu and Asaba where the state governments are not harnessing the benefits fully. He argues that it is incumbent on Governor Willie Obiano of Anambra State to use Nollywood as a joker in the drive to rebrand the state. Already 51 Iweka Road, Onitsha is recognized as the most popular address of Nollywood movies all over the world.
Obi-Rapu discloses that at the heart of the making of the breakthrough film Living in Bondage is the story and tenacity of one young man known as Okechukwu Ogunjiofor, popularly known as Paulo, after the character he played in Living in Bondage.
It was while studying at the Nigerian Television Authority (NTA) College in Jos that Okechukwu (Okey for short) Ogunjiofor came under the tutelage of Obi-Rapu.
Okey found his niche in the course, but had to make do with hawking at National Theatre in Lagos on completion of the course because he could not get regular employment. Okey had the story of Living in Bondage in his head. Other theatre artistes such as Frank Vaughan, Ruth Osi and Wale Macauley who were rehearsing at the theatre could not understand why Okey should be hawking after his training. The personable Ruth Osi gave Okey a note to meet Kenneth Nnebue who was into the marketing of Yoruba movies on VHS.
On meeting Kenneth Nnebue who would eventually provide the funding for Living in Bondage Okey said he needed N150, 000 to be able to make the film. Kenneth told him that the amount was enough to make three Yoruba movies. The self-assured Okey instantly did an analysis of how Kenneth could quickly recoup his money on the investment. Kenneth then told Okey to bring along his certificate to prove that he was “not a nobody.” Okey went home and brought his certificate. As Okey had said he was not willing to shoot on VHS, Kenneth told him he was about to make a trip to Japan to procure cameras.
Kenneth then asked Okey to put the story together while he made the trip to Japan. It was then that Okey made the momentous contact with his former instructor Chris Obi-Rapu to direct the landmark movie. As already stated, since Obi-Rapu was still in the employ of the NTA he could not append his real name to the project. Even so, he went to work “to turn what would ordinarily pass for a concert play into a pioneering movie.”
According to Chris Obi-Rapu, “What made the Nigeria home video industry to take-off was the input from Okey Ogunjiofor and my direction. Nobody had wanted to do anything in Igbo or Yoruba among television producers around then because they felt it was degrading. There had been some shootings of Yoruba and Igbo videos. Mike Orihedimma recorded Igbo home videos in Onitsha, while NEK (Kenneth Nnebue) was recording and marketing Yoruba videos in Lagos. They were poorly produced and hardly ever directed. It is a known fact in filmmaking that it is the director that makes the film. If I had not shot Living in Bondage and Taboo there could not have been any Nollywood. This film business really took off because Living in Bondage was well shot as at that time. If I had not stood my grounds the financier could have influenced the production and direction in a negative way. I resisted him because I knew that he lacked the knowledge of filmmaking. It was a deliberate directorial effort that brought about the home video revolution. It was not accidental.”
The making of Living in Bondage, according to Okey Ogunjiofor, marked “the first time some people were paid in thousands of naira to act on a film. I got N500 because I had not made a film then. People like Bob-Manuel (Udokwu) and Francis Agu were paid a thousand naira each. As a producer and an actor, what I got was only N500.”
As the director, Chris Obi-Rapu was paid N10, 000.
Okey stresses that the formula that pushed him on was that unlike in the western part of Nigeria where the Yorubas always went to the theatres to watch movies the easterners, especially the Igbo, needed the movies to be brought to their homes. The words flow almost childlike from Okey’s mouth: “Since the Eastern part of this country does not have cinema culture, and all of them are rich enough to have video machines in their homes, why don’t I take the film to their homes so that they can watch it?”
Chris Obi-Rapu took up the challenge as the director, and Nollywood is now here. He shot other pioneering movies such as Taboo and Circle of Doom.
Obi-Rapu had worked in the NTA from 1973 to 1995, developing and directing such national programmes as “New Masquerade, featuring the inimitable characters Zebrudaya, Ovuleria, Clarus, Giringory and Jegede Shokoya. He flew to Enugu every Friday to direct “New Masquerade” and flew back to Lagos every Monday.
Popularly hailed as Skippo in his NTA days, Chris Obi-Rapu who hails from Asaba in Delta State is poised to give Nollywood a new lease of life once he is done with his PhD dissertation in the United States.