Stage or screen: Antar Babatunde Laniyan is king
It was the actress, Aisha Abimbola, who kept talking about him during the last interview she had before she passed on last week.The actress, who has been buried in Canada, credited the dependable and notable actor and director, Antar Laniyan, for being responsible for her emergence as an actress.
“He discovered me, gave me a chance to act and today, by the grace of Allah, I am fully in the business,” she said, even as she also disclosed that there are quite a number of her colleagues who owe their emergence as actors to the tall, dark and well-built actor and director of vast credit and one of the very few in the professional class.
Born Antar Babatunde Laniyan on May 26 to the Laniyans, who are both late, the actor, film director and producer hails from Osogbo, the Osun State capital. He was christened after a creeping creature that is “bigger than a lizard,” called Aworiwon or Antar in Yoruba. The story was that he stayed longer in his mother’s womb, “about 18 months,” and there were fears that his mother was going to lose him in her womb. The family sought help from an herbalist, who later demanded for an Iguana as one of the sacrificial items to be used to prepare a concoction that his mother would take to be able to get into labour. Antar was born afterwards and the mum had no choice, but to name him after the animal.
“You can hardly find people bearing that name. It is very unique and it has to do with the story of my birth,” he enthused.Inspired by a performance he watched during the 1977 Festival of Black Arts and Civilisation (FESTAC 77), his journey as a performer and actor began in 1976 in early school. Antar, whose other career wish was to join the military after early school, recalled how his late father nicknamed him ‘Antar D Sango’ after he showed his father a picture of him playing the thunder god in a stage play.“I was everywhere acting as a child. I represented my secondary school, became president of the dramatic club and won laurels for the school during drama competitions,” he recalled.
“I was the man in every show that the school put up. My effort as a dramatist caught the attention of my school principal who encouraged me to take to the arts after my secondary education.
“I recall telling him that I wanted to go into the Army and he laughed and said that I have a future in acting and that I will go far,” he added.However, Antar started professional theatre practice in the early 80s under the mentorship of culture journalist, activist, essayist, poet, singer and former deputy editor of The Guardian, Ben Tomoloju.
“Pappy Ben,” as Antar and other mentees call their mentor, it was he that discovered, honed and prepared Antar for what has become a life time career for the award-winning actor of vast credit.Throughout the interview, Antar was lavish with thanks to Tomoloju for grooming him into a dependable thespian that he has become today. He speaks of his encounter with the founder of Kaakaki Arts Ensemble.
“I met Pappy Ben during one of the schools drama competition that were held amongst schools in Lagos. He was part of the Judges, even though he was in charge of the drama group from Saka Tinubu Memorial High School.“He invited me over to see him and when I met him, he talked to me and a few others into joining his drama group, Kaakaki Arts. So, I joined and he started training people like me, Jahman Anikulapo and Tunji Sotimirin and it was not long after that we started performing and as we did, it was reported in the media.
“We became very popular, as people were reading about us and seeing us on television performing. That was how it started for me until Pappy encouraged me, after my HSC, to head to University of Ibadan to study Theatre Arts.”It was almost a walk over for Antar when he secured admission to study Theatre Arts in Ibadan, because, as he quipped: “Ben Tomoloju had already prepared me; I just needed to sharpen my skills and get more training and I got that fully from the university under great names, like the late Prof Dapo Adelugba, Dr. Femi Fatoba and the living legend, Uncle Bayo Oduneye.
“Whilst there, I took part in a number of memorable productions, including Moremi, The Man Who Never Died and Murder in the Cathedral. I had a wonderful time in Ibadan.”From Ibadan, Antar, who has directed several episodes of the Super Story series and who has featured and directed a couple of Yoruba language movies, launched full time into the world of make believe.
He grabbed all the lead roles on stage when acting on stage was the main stay. When attention shifted to the movies, producers would not complete casting without finding out whether Antar would be available or not. He was that sought after and busy.Married with children, Antar, star of Black Val, Alagbede, Firipemi, Aruga and the epic film, Sango, by Femi Lasode, revealed that his happiest moment is when he wins an award or gets commended for his contribution and whenever work permits him to spend quality time with his family.
Asked to state his career ambition, Antar, who is driven by hardwork, discipline and passion for the profession, noted that his career ambition is to set up a full-fledged academy for the performing arts.
“That is what will give me professional fulfillment. I want to be able to train people and groom them to be able to make a difference in the industry. “I currently train and I have been training people on speech, acting, directing and so on. But I want to formalise it. Get a good place and put necessary facilities in place. Funds have been delaying the take off, but I know it is possible.”
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