L-R: Deyemi Okanlawon, Lala Akindoju, Ishaya Bako, Mo Abudu, Rahcel Oniga, Kenneth Okolie

Vanessa Obioha

With just few days to the premiere of the new EbonyLife Film production, Royal Hibiscus Hotel, the anticipation is steadily rising. Both for the fans and the crew. For the fans, it is a question of if the movie will be as captivating as the some of reviews assert. Positive reviews from international publications trailed the movie after its successful screening at the Toronto International Festival last year.

The Royal Hibiscus Hotel is a romantic comedy about a couple, Segun and Rose Adeniyi (Jide Kosoko and Rachel Oniga), who run a charming, but run-down, boutique hotel in a little town in Lagos, Nigeria. In desperation, Segun decides to sell the hotel without his wife’s knowledge, as a way of settling all their debts. Their daughter, Opeoluwa (Zainab Balogun), is living in London, working a dead-end job while trying to open her own restaurant. When Ope decides to return to Nigeria, her parents are elated for different reasons. Her father wants her to sign the papers to sell the hotel she is destined to inherit, while her mother can’t wait to marry her off. Meanwhile, Ope meets Deji (Kenneth Okolie), a charming young businessman with a secret that threatens her plans to restore the hotel’s fortunes.

Scheduled to hit the cinemas on February 9, five days to popular love celebration day Valentine Day, the cast and crew are postive that the movie will enthrall its audience with its riveting themes on love,  family and of course fine Nigerian cuisine. At a recent chat, some members of the cast spoke about their roles in the movie:

Zainab Balogun (Ope):

Balogun takes on the challenging role of a chef. For her role, she spent countless hours researching on restaurateurs as well as in the kitchen. That training has enhanced her cooking skills. “I’ve learnt so many meals and techniques so when people come to my house now, it’s a different game.” She admitted that there were few moments she was nervous on aet despite being trained by a food stylist. If there is anything Balogun would love to change about her character, it will be probably to make her less uptight.

Like any other movie, Balogun is very excited and nervous. Yes, they got a standing ovation at TIFF but coming back home, she hopes the reception will be replicated.

“I think the movie is great for our Nigerian audience. It has the right values that people could draw from. The food, love, passion; there is something for everyone to identify with.”

Kenneth Okolie (Deji):

There is no doubt that Kenneth Okolie fits into his character effortlessly. With his intimidating height, looks and voice, he was the ideal guy to play the handsome devil. And he knows it. “When I first got the script I was excited. I read it over and over again and the character was just lovable. He was similar to my personality. He is a very straight guy, purpose driven and all that. It was easy for me to carry that character to the screen and make it believable.”

Okolie who played the role of Deji the businessman who wants to buy the Adeniyi’s property as well as Ope’s love interest finds himself at crossroads when he has to choose between love and his business.

“It was a difficult decision because he has to choose between her and his business. That’s like choosing between life and death. Initially, he was in for the business but along the line, love overpowered him.”

Okolie believes that the movie will have an impressive time at the box-office.

Jide Kosoko (Segun Adeniyi):

The first thing the veteran actor did when he saw the script was to study the characterisation. He describes his character as a family man but yet have to keep secrets from his family in order to survive. “It was a safe landing when the truth finally came out.”

But what he loves most about his character was the diffferent transitions. From problems to love, it was an interesting journey for him.

The most outstanding thing about Kosoko’s character was the romance he and his co-star Rachel Oniga brought to the screen. They portrayed a happy old couple whose love flame still burned brightly.

“We tried our best to reflect what was on the script. The romance was very key to our characters, particularly mine because by playing with her, it helped to reduce the financial pressure on me. It was like a refreshing tonic to keep the problems at bay.”

Another thing Kosoko believes the audience will take away from the movie is that age is no barrier to love.

“No matter the age, you do things that will make you happy and of course it also strenghtens your life. Gives you good strength to enjoy your life. I doubt if there is any age you cannot play romance with your spouse for as long as they are both hale and hearty.”

Deyemi Okanlawon (Martin):

He is the bad guy in the movie and he loves it. His no-sentiments demeanour made his character very entertaining. On getting the script Okanlawon had to figure out how he was going to bring that character to life.

“Playing him I had to figure out what kind of person will he be. How will he treat people? How will he speak to people? Will he be condescending, aggressive, proud and arrogant guy?”

Having figured this out, Okanlawon had to divest himself of his empathy toga and put on the impassive apparel of Martin.

Regarding the theme of love, Okanlawon believes Royal Hibiscus Hotel will give the audience a fresh perspective on love.

“We come from a culture that doesn’t really celebrate love. Our brand of love can be a bit materialistic, substance-based. For the first time l’m seeing a movie that finds true love in our culture, like how it really works. You know how you marry someone and you marry their family as well. This story shows that our love encompasses everybody around. It’s a story for the family, for evverybody because it’s not trying to be commercial but rather be true.”

Lala Akindoju (Chika):

When Lala first got the script, she thought the character was not meant for her. Chika was fat while she is slim. Nevertheless, she went for the audition and with the help of make-up, achieved the physical appearance of her character. The casting panel liked her performance and asked her to join the bandwagon.

“With that out of the way, the next thing is for me to bring that character to life for the rest of the production. For me, my brief is to make my character memorable, no matter how short the duration. I have to give the performance of my life and with a director like Ishaya Bako, it was easy to work it out.”

Like her co-stars, she is optimistic that the movie will be a great hit.

“It’s a romantic comedy. That’s all to it. Yes there may be one or two drama but it’s just what it is, a romantic comedy.”

Pris Nwannah (Producer):

Pris Nwannah has worked in quite a few of EbonyLife productions. Being part of the Royal Hibiscus Hotel was another experience for her.

“Royal Hibiscus Hotel is a love story infused with these comedy moments. It’s funny and about romance. It’s a story about families,  love and heritage. We really wanted to focus on things that are memorable in life and it is also about food. We wanted to showcase our Nigerian cuisine to the global market. Not that it was intentional. It just came up and we thought it was a good way to infuse the art of food in the film.”

She is very positive that the film will encourage other film makers to be more innovative and explore more niches.