Up North For A Reason
Chances are you have seen one or more trailers of the Up North film or perhaps remember, Banky W play the role of an athlete in a recent film trailer that has people making comments on social media.
At a time when people are sceptical of engaging with the Northern part of Nigeria due to the non-ending violence that threatens to consume the once-peaceful people of that region, Up North reflects the North in a way the media barely shows you.
In the film Up North, Bassey, an arrogant young blood, who has just returned to the country, is sent to the North by his wealthy father to perform his mandatory service to society, the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC). His father’s intention is to get him to take over his estate and business after the one-year service. But Bassey has other plans.
To get Bankole Wellington (Banky W) to accept the role of Bassey took months. That’s partly because he was approached to play the role without the script given to him.
Accepting any role, Banky, who is also an award-winning singer and record label executive, says is dependent on him connecting to the plot.
“I select roles based on the script. For Up North, they actually tried to get me to do the role for a few months without sending the script but I turned it down every time. Finally Editi Effiong, the executive producer cornered me and was talking. I said, ‘Bros, I asked (to read this script) three months ago.’”
Justifying that delay, Banky says: “I have to read the script and see if it is something I feel strongly about and (can) connect to. Immediately they sent me the actual script, I knew I was going to do it.”
But all that went on with accepting the script was not the only thing that happened.
About the same time the shooting started, Banky, who was recovering from the cancer tumour surgery, had a setback. He could not get back in shape in time and his healing scar opened on the first day of the shoot.
“It was extremely challenging for me when we were starting production, I was recovering from the cancer surgery. I was prohibited from working out for a while in the months leading to the shoot so I couldn’t even get into shape the way I normally would have or work out… What is funny is, the first day of running, my scar actually opened and started bleeding but then, we had to let that heal again.”
Yet, his resilience got the better of him.
“They had a stunt double for me, that worked on the first day for about 20 minutes, because I was at that point where I said, if we are trying to tell these things for real, my character has to do it for it to be believable.”
The entertainer, and now a politician, says his visit to the North was an eye-opener.
“Living in Lagos and growing in that part of the country, the North almost feels like another country. It gave me the opportunity to see the beauty and live with the people for a month. In fact, one of my favourite moments was when we went to Yankari game reserve and I got to see giraffes and other animals I didn’t know were in the country. Seeing the festival (Durbar) was another experience.”
This is the first time that Banky is acting opposite his wife, Adesua Etomi-Wellington.
“I know and it was painful to see,” he said laughing. “Having been in front of cameras for a long time, I have played different roles. At the end of the day, you are just trying to put yourself in the mind-frame of the character and deliver a better performance.”
Unlike previous roles, Ibrahim Suleiman rightly earns his moments in Up North. He is Sadiq, a street-smart adult, who got an education so he can woo Zainab, a brilliant girl he is in love with.
Having lived most of his life in the North, Suleiman’s seamless acting can be said to be because he was on familiar grounds. His belief that he thrives more when he plays a supporting role could explain another reason why his acting was effortless.
“You get to develop your character based on the main character’s vibe… The different people you play with have a different vibe so your character is always different from who you are because you’re playing next to someone who’s a different person every time.”
The popular notion down south is that the Northern Nigeria is conservative. Male-female relations are perceived to be created only when absolutely needed. This belief is reinforced by a scene in the trailer where Sadiq, a northerner tells Bassey, a southerner, that he cannot walk up to Zainab.
But Suleiman insists some notions of the North being conservative may have been misplaced.
“I wouldn’t call them restrictions. I would call them guidelines. So, there are guidelines in the way that a father interacts with his children. In a sense, there are just ways that things are done.
“You don’t exactly walk up to a girl in public when she is having a moment with her father unless there’s already a relationship between yourself and her father. There is that respect, and it is important to them.”
Michelle Dede is Idara, Banky’s sister. She represents the loyal daughter who oversees her father’s estates until the return of her brother. “In most cases, I think in Nigeria usually what tends to happen is that it always goes to the son. She doesn’t have a relationship you know, she works for the family company and has put her life and soul into that,” Dede says.
She adds, “Now as much as Idara is someone who has worked very hard and wants to sort of take over the family business…she loves her brother very much and isn’t going to rock the boat in that respect.”
In an era where there is a sudden awakening to women marginalisation and the acceptance of the equality campaign, she says of her character:
“One of the things that I loved about it is that she is not a weak character. A lot of times in a lot of films, you tend to see women as weak. You don’t see weakness in the dark but from certain moments where she goes to Bauchi and you do see a moment, not necessarily a weakness but there are moments of regrets.”
In this regard, she says that it was an honour to be “able to portray a woman that was good at her job done and that is doing what most men do in Nigeria,” that is managing her family’s properties properly.
For the multi-talented actor, who is the last child of her parents, she notes that she had to take some things into consideration. “How exactly am I going to do this especially because I’m playing the role of somebody that I’m not older than in real life? So it was a bit tricky but talking to the director, she took me through it.”
“She believes in synergy, in collaboration. she’s open to ideas, is open to suggestions. There were scenes that we realise that we could make it (dialogue) even more beautiful or more functional or more realistic… she gave us opportunities to flesh out the characters.”– Ibrahim Suleiman.
Tope Oshin was first contacted to become the producer of the film together with two others – Anakle and Inkblot). But due to a change in the production schedule, she was chosen as the director, a role she was reluctant to play at first. “And then, when I got used to the idea that I was going to direct, my passion moved in a different direction and even stronger.”
Speaking on the diversity of the characters, Oshin says that one of the uniqueness of the film was the feature of the sitting governor of Bauchi state, Mohammed Abdullahi Abubakar. Oshin ensured that he was used effectively to achieve her intended aim.
However, Effiong explained that they encountered a problem after selecting the cast. An unnamed Hausa-speaking actress was supposed to play the role of Ibrahim’s love interest but was nowhere to be found two days before the shoot.
“Two days before we were set to shoot Zainab’s scenes, the Hausa actress for that role still hasn’t come in. Two leading Hausa actresses ghosted on us. They didn’t give a reason. They just didn’t respond to calls and emails. Will forever be grateful to Adesua for saving us! Thankfully, Adesua Wellington took over”, he tweeted.
The beauty of the North quickly replaced this glitch. Spending a month and visits to places such as Yankari Game reserve, Durbar festival left all the interviewed cast in wonder.
“Even I who directed the film never knew that we had lakes, bodies of water and the beautiful sky… We were showcasing the beauty of other parts of Nigeria as we’ve never seen before.”
Beside this, Up North recorded other special victories. Shooting in a stadium and the Durbar festival were some of the biggest achievements.
“We had the challenge of shooting within that festival live. We didn’t recreate the Durbar you know. My challenge to find out how to shoot my characters within that space whilst telling my story with the rush and not losing any piece of it because you only have that once a year… It was beautiful, it was powerful,” she adds.