Why I Don’t Like Being Called ‘Saka’......... Hafiz Oyetoro
Hafiz Oyetoro is one actor that is synonymous to comedy. Popularly called by fans as Saka, a character he played in the much celebrated TV comedy soap, House Apart, the slim bodied and fair in complexion father of three is sure one person that is a strict disciplinarian, in contrast to the character he plays in most movies.
Osaremen Ehi James recently had an exclusive chat with this Theatre Acts Lecturer at a movie location in Lagos, where he talked about who Saka and Hafiz are. Excerpts.
Who is Hafiz Oyetoro?
Hafiz Oyetoro is a Nigerian, born in Iseyin, Oyo State. I had my primary and secondary education in Iseyin as well, his first degree in Dramatic Arts at the University of Ife (now Obafemi Awolowo University) in 1986. I had my Masters in UI in African Dance but majored in Dance Research in 1993/94, I am presently a Lecturer at Adeniran Ogunsanya College of Education, and I married with three kids.
How did you get in acting professionally?
That was during my university days, I started with Comic Palace Production where we moved about, when i finished, and I continued at NTA Ilorin where I served, presently, I am teaching Theatre Arts.
Was it stage plays you started with or home video?
It was purely stage performance, home video came later and was not popular then, it was basically live shows everywhere. When home video eventually came, we joined them.
Can you recollect your first Major play or Home video?
I can't really recollect that. I was in Ibadan then during the time of M7 camera, i particularly remember that when i was serving at NTA Ilorin, my first major screen drama was a Yoruba soap titled Irewolede. It was a popular soap in Kwara state then, when i finished from NTA Ilorin, i came down to Ibadan and stayed for about 15 years, during which i did my Masters, i was doing stage performances also, i joined Laffomenia group and i am still a member of the group. After that, we started screen production produced by Tunji Fatilewa (TFA) tilted 414 connection, a TV soap. One of the very first major movie i performed in was Irawo though i can't really remember the name of the producer, i have never watched it.
(cuts in), Why?
I never knew if it was released or not, i just knew i acted in the movie. I left Ibadan for Lagos around that time, so i did not know if was eventually released to the market.
That was what year?
Around year 2000, but i had been coming to Lagos and going back to Ibadan in 1997 to 2000, it was in 2000 i finally relocated to Lagos.
Ok, did you get the Lecturing job in year 2000?
No, i was a part time Lecturer at Ogun State University (now Olabisi Onabanjo University) between 1997 to 1999, i was part of the experimental Lecturers when the University started its Performing Arts course as a Certificate and Diploma Course then. Dr Tunde Awosanmi, who is now a Senior Lecturer at UI now and myself were going there to lecture. By the time it was upgraded to degree, i had left there to Lagos. I started lecturing fully again in 2001 when i had finally settled down in Lagos.
How has it been since then?
It has been very fantastic, great and fulfilled, i thank God for been very good to me, it was when i got to Lagos that i got married, got most of my major jobs that took me to limelight.
What is that job that gave you the limelight?
Hmm, i must first and foremost say that, before you get to limelight, there must be preambles you must go through, like hard work, consistency combine to give you limelight. Area C, a TV comedy series based on the Nigerian Police would be what i can say brought me to limelight. It was the second most watched TV comedy in Nigeria then, at a point in time, myself and my friend, Onidapo, the present Head of Department of Theatre Arts at Adeniran Ogunsanya College of Education. We had the idea of a TV series, we created and wrote House Apart, where i played the role of Saka and he played the role of Sule. I would say House Apart and Area C were the screen production that brought me limelight.
How did the name Saka come up?
It was just a character that i played in House Apart and because it was a popular soap, everybody started calling me Saka.
Are you comfortable with the name?
Hmm, i am gradually beginning to be comfortable with the name. I am naturally a quiet and shy person, especially when i am not on set. I really don't feel ok when they call me Saka, the truth is that i am just getting to cope with the name.
First, Hafiz is not actually Saka, Saka is one lousy, funny, noise making character while Hafiz is a very quiet person. Saka is just a contrast of who i am, we are two different people.
So, why did you take to the comic side of acting?
I am a trained total theatre practitioner, i can play any role, it just that here in Nigeria, when you play any role and people know you well with that, they what to keep using you for same role. I have been very conscious of that now, if you get to my office, you will see a lot of scripts i have diplomatically rejected on my table, they all what me on same role, i don't want to be stereotyped with same role. But i must be relevant as a theatre practitioner, i produce, direct and write, i create and develop concepts, i have not done anything outside the theatre, i lecture theatre, i consult for production houses. Once in a while, i still let the people know that i am still relevant, that is why i come out to be involved in one or two screen productions.
But is it not the fact that you fit in too well in the comic side that producers offer you that role? In Opa Kan, you acted a serious role (as Chief) but there was a fusion of comic of you in that character.
Well, as an actor, i can play any other role but i must obey the instruction of my director. That was the way he wanted it, and as a disciplined actor, i must obey that and not go beyond his instructions. Yes, an actor can contribute and interpret, but must conform to the directorial concepts of the director to be a good actor. When it comes to playing other roles, i can do that, i have been playing major roles while i was in school during our convocation plays. You can ask and confirm from my Lecturers at Ife. But as a person, i always want to be at a place where i can make people happy and give them joy. Here in Nigeria, there is so much hustling and bustling, discomfort, sadness. People need to be cheered up, relieved of the much tension they go through, that is my own side to it. You can relieve people via crying but people don't want that, that is why comedy is selling fast in this country because people want to let off their problems and move ahead with their lives. That is why this theatre guru says that life is tragedy to those who feel but it is comedy to those who think. If something terrible happens, and you begin to feel its pain, you won't move forward, but if you think and believe it has happened and nothing can be done about it, you would move forward from it. I think presently in Nigeria, we need something that is light and tension relieve in nature than the too serious things. That is why i am not feeling too bad about my comic role anymore; i also want to add value to the society. I feel happy to make people happy.
As a Lecturer and an actor, you must be very busy, how have you been able to do it?
I thank God for it and also Adeniran Ogunsanya College of Education for encouraging me, as a Lecturer, it is not only theory i teach my students, i also teach them the practical of what i am teaching them. I need to let them know the reality on the field by being conversant with what is on the field, and that i am doing with my acting. Adeniran Ogunsanya College of Education encourages practical in our teachings, it is one of the best of Colleges of Education and efficient in the country. Whoever that comes out of the college is completely groomed to face the on-field and life challenges. As a theatre Lecturer, i must be on the field, it is easy for me to combine both because it is still the same theatre i am involved in. I plan my lectures and other programmes not to affect each other. If i need to be at a location and lectures at the same time, i just call the producer to fix my shoot for another time, i don't play with lectures with the students.
As there been anytime in class where the student don't take you serious because of the comic character you play in movies?
No, no, i play my roles. As an actor, i know when i am playing a funny character, and i know when i am playing the role of a Lecturer. My students know the different between Saka and Hafiz. When i am working, i am working, when i am making people laugh, i am doing that. They are two different things, my students know the difference.
Does that apply at home too?
Yes, my wife really understands everything. As a matter of fact, when they are playing Saka, we are watching Saka. Daddy, Mummy and children are watching Saka. They don't see Hafiz when they are watching Saka, but when we finish watching Saka, they see Daddy. We are two different people.
So, where do you see yourself in the next five years?
I want to see myself as the most valuable person in the society in the next five years, a person that will contribute immensely to the benefit and value to humanity and the society, both in Nigeria and the world in general. I want to be seen as an instrument that add moral, cultural and all the positive values you can think of.
How do you relax?
I listen a lot to people, play with my children, i read books too. I am a Lecturer, i do lots research, go on the internet to learn and know more thins to enhance myself, i chat with people too. And sometimes, i play badminton.
Lastly, do you see Nollywood as improving with the taking of films to the cinemas?
It is improving, no matter the quality of these films, we are improving. Remember in those days, during the finance syndrome, where every bukas were finance houses, at a point in time, those that can stand the test of time remained and now exist, while those who could not fizzled out. Let us be having as many movies as possible, whether good or bad, when the time comes, our audience will determine that. Very soon, those professionals that can produce good movies will stay, those who can't, will go away, it is that simple. See, we have to go through these experiences to move further. In the process, we will correct ourselves and Nollywood would be better and improved.
When are you going into production?
When i retire from teaching, i cannot say it now.
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