Toyin Adegbola steps out to serve her people
Not too many people know that there were some home video productions that were made before the phenomenal Living in Bondage, widely reputed to have heralded the video boom in Nigeria, which was released to wide acclaim in 1992.
The Yoruba movie, Asewo To Re Mecca, was one of such well-helmed and acclaimed movies. Produced by Chief Bayo Salami, aka Oga Bello, for Awada Kerikeri Organisation and directed by the accomplished filmmaker and administrator, Afolabi Adesanya, the movie, even though ‘banned’ at some point by the National Film and Video Censors Board (NFVCB) on the grounds that it abused religious sensibilities, sold out among fans of Yoruba movies.
But while the producers smiled to the bank, one of the leading actresses in the movie, Oluwatoyin Oluwaremilekun Victoria Arike Adegbola, nee Babatope, who is known simply as Toyin Adegbola, received accolades.
Toyin became hugely popular for playing delightfully, the role of a prostitute, who visited the holy land. Fans always swarmed on her each time she made a public appearance, and it has continued till this day.
A leading player in the Nigerian motion picture industry and a pioneer in her own right, Toyin has been receiving that sort of star treatment since she made her debut on screen in the optical film, Ejo N’gboro, produced in1983.She clarified that her effort in the movie was her first screen debut and not her performance on yet another optical film, Kanakana, as widely believed.
“I took part in Ejo N’gboro in 1983 before I took part in Kanakana. So, I started long before home video became the in-thing,” she said. However, Toyin and some of her fans would agree that it was after the release of the urban telling Asewo To Re Mecca that the sun set for her, acting wise.
The holder of several chieftaincy titles, including Yeye Oge of Gbagi land, Yeye Lua and Yeye Bobajiro of Igono land in Oyo State, became popular and earned the alias, Toyin Asewo To Re Mecca, the title of the flick that shot her up.
A prolific actress and producer, respected among her peers, Toyin, who retired as a technician with the Broadcasting Service of Oyo State (BSOS), has emerged as one respected screen star, a toast of many and a practitioner that has continued to remain relevant in the scheme of things.
Raised in Offa, Kwara State, but born to a father from Osun State and a mother from Ondo State, Toyin was working as a civil servant- a technician with the BSOS- when she was invited to be part of Ejo N’gboro.After the production, she returned to BSOS and continued her acting runs on stage. It was while at that that she got an invite to be a part of the sterling cast of Asewo To Re Mecca.
“It was among the first set of home movie productions in Yoruba language to be shot then,” she recalled, lending her voice to the ongoing narrative on the emergence of the home video industry. “It was released long before Living in Bondage. I am glad the movie came out well. In fact, after the movie was released, the marketer was so impressed by my acting that he gave me N5, 000, which was a lot of money at that time.
“I was surprised because I was not even the real Asewo in the movie. I was only introduced to prostitution in the movie by the character that was played by Sola Sobowale. “From then on, it was Toyin Asewo To Re Mecca anywhere I went. At first when people called me by that name, I usually got very angry, but after sometime, I realised that I couldn’t help it,” she reminisced.
An actress of vast credits, who though has been off and on the scene, Toyin explained that the reason she is not currently a face on every movie poster is because she has reached a stage in her career where she has to be “choosy about the types of movies to feature in.” Besides, Toyin revealed that she is “neck deep into politics.”
But asked to state how many movie she has done in a career that has spanned over two decades, Toyin replied: “I have lost count; they are too many to count. But I still remember works like Toyin Tomato, Mayowa, Oroli Oko and several others.
“And as a producer, I have produced well over 12 films, including Ijo Nla.” On her partisan politics, Toyin explained that she got involved because she has a calling to serve her people, beyond “serving them on the screen.” She said: “I have been called to serve my people in a different capacity. But no matter how involved I get with politics, I will still find time for my first love, which is acting and filmmaking. Acting is what made me who I am today, so I won’t leave acting for anything.
“Again, I know the thinking is that may be I went into it for money, but no; it is to serve my people. “And by the way, politics runs in my family. My elder brother, Chief Ebenezer Babatope, is a seasoned politician. “I also have another brother who is a leader in the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC). So, politics runs in the family.”
Asked to state her staying power, Toyin said she draws all her strength from God and has enjoyed the support and encouragement of her family and fans. “It has been God and then my family and fans. I will not also forget the role that my late husband, Anthony Kolawole Adegbola, played. He gave me all the necessary support during his lifetime.
“I also have some of my mentors, such as Uncle Feso Oyewole, Chief Adebayo Salami, Alagba Tobunson Odunsi, Mama Grace Oyin Adejobi, Mama Biodun Duro Ladipo, the late Chief Adeyemi Afolayan, aka Ade Love, who invited me to location even when I was in school.”
Although currently in the United States on a short visit, Toyin, who described herself as a “homely person,” prefers to stay indoors if she is not working. “I just stay at home. I am a homely person. I just stay, watch movies, read novels, listen to gospel music and attend to my children.
“Unfortunately, none of them is into acting, for now. Only the last child has shown tremendous interest.”Toyin’s career ambition is to continue to remain relevant in the scheme of things and to serve her people more.
She maintained that she has no regrets being an actress and producer, insisting: “I am happy with what I am doing and what I have achieved so far. I have even been honoured with a merit award from my home state- Osun- and have received several awards, including honorary chieftaincy awards. So, I am content.
“The only regret is the freedom that you don’t have. No privacy. The other challenges we have are producers, mostly men, who get us to do jobs that reinforce certain stereotypes about us. No man will allow his wife to act naked, but this same man, a producer, would ask a lady if she could act naked and whether she could kiss live and direct.
“And because the lady wants instant fame, she will accept without knowing the implication. You see, there are lots of these ladies who came into the industry for the wrong reasons.
“I have always told them that they don’t need to expose their bodies before they can become anything. They can still become stars without exposing their bodies. “All they need do is to be good at what they are doing and to remain focused,” she admonished.
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