“Living in Bondage” was one of the big movies that heralded Nollywood. It’s amazing that decades down the line, we are still talking about it. An industry where a large number of investors are more into the financial returns than the craft, it’s quite commendable to have some financiers shaping the industry positively in terms of quality content and good remuneration for talents. Entrepreneur and CEO of PlayNetwork Africa, Charles Okpaleke decided to invest in Nollywood with his recently released sequel, “Living in Bondage: Breaking Free”. The much talked-about flick has not only met everyone’s expectations but also has, in every way, upgraded the original version, as well as raised the standard for other Nollywood filmmakers. Okpaleke in a chat with Azuka Ogujiuba, sheds light on why he bought the right to the original ‘Living in Bondage’ and why he decided to do a sequel, debuting renowned actor, Ramsey Nouah as director. He also talks about his vision for the industry, going forward and more
What influenced your interest in “Living in Bondage” movie all over again?
I’m a massive fan of the early Nollywood era that birthed this modern, glitzy version of the Nigerian film industry we all have come to know and love. I like the substance of the storytelling and acting that characterised the “old Nollywood,” and how early filmmakers were able to captivate diverse audiences with nothing but great stories that have stood the test of time. That said, I remember watching the original Living in Bondage and being fascinated by the breadth of imagination that came alive in the film and, at the back of my mind, I always knew a time would come that I’d remake the story for a new era, and I’m happy that came to fruition.
How did you feel about the quality of the first production?
In that era and with the very limited resources, I thought it was remarkable. I mean, I’m still in awe of how they were able to pull such an ambitious story with what they had.
Your choice of cast, how did you come up with that?
The casting was a collaborative effort. Everyone had some kind of input, but it was ultimately up to the director, Ramsey, to decide who did or didn’t make it to the final list.
What’s the major goal you want to achieve with this movie?
I wanted to retell a Nigerian classic to this hyper-connected generation, and I’m glad we did justice to the legacy of Living in Bondage.
What does this remake movie mean to you and, looking forward, what are the other projects you have in the pipeline?
It means everything. It’s the beginning of my foray into filmmaking – it’s the birth of a new creative and entrepreneurial outlet for me. Since the premiere, I’ve been met with multiple opportunities and offers, but I’m holding off on everything else for now. Living in Bondage is still in the box office; let’s keep pushing it until it reaches a logical wrap. All else can wait.
How much did the movie cost you and what would you estimate the value of the movie to be?
A lot. Lol!
For you, who is a complete woman?
First of all, there’s nothing like a complete woman. There’s also nothing like a complete man. But I have a special respect for actualised and fully realised women that are never held back by the sad state of gender norms in our society. But that doesn’t mean I don’t respect those that are still realising and actualising their full potential – I do!
You just opened a new club in Abuja. Tell us about it and what’s going to be new about it?
The club is called 3:45 nightlife. Designed to cater to clients who suffer from Insomnia, and also to people who have early flights to catch and don’t want to sleep off while waiting. The club opens only on weekends at 3:45am and runs till 6:45am. Architecturally, it’s one of the best night clubs in West Africa, and has the largest bar display of drinks in the world for a night club (3000 bottles). We are currently applying to the Guinness Book of World Records to verify our claim.
Which international celebrity would you love to host in your club and why?
They are too many to count, but, in time, I’ll host them all.
What does it mean to you to be seen as the king of nightlife in Abuja?
Do you mean the king of Nigerian nightlife? It feels great! On a serious note, I’m building and creating every day, so my team and I don’t take comfort in our laurels. It’s a continuous work that we must keep up!
Signing Ike Onyema and Kim Oprah of Big Brother 2019, what sparked your interest in them?
Ike came highly recommended, and some alcoholic brands that I represent found his personality interesting and thought he would be a good rep for their product. As for Kim, I’ve known her way before the big brother house, and she’s a go getter, very focused. So, why not have her on the team?
Can we say you were born with a silver spoon?
Yeah, I think I was. But I lost the spoon at some point in my life, though I found it again. This is a story for another day.
Why the choice of studying health-related courses initially and how was the experience working on different health projects after?
From Kings College Lagos, I was a science student, so in university, I just got into Medical School automatically. After university, I pursued a career in health economics and health policy, did some work for the UN, USAID and also lectured post graduates at the University of Nigeria in health economics. So, it was fun, up until entertainment started taking most of my time.
What drove your passion into show business and hospitality?
It’s just business. I decided to own my company (the story of an entrepreneur), and it started paying better than others. So I decided to give it my full attention.
Tell us about growing up, childhood dreams, education, and family? Where did you spend your formative years?
I was fortunate to grow up in a tight-knit family in Aba. My parents were present and very supportive of all our dreams and ambitions. Not many people have the good fortune of that; so I’m grateful.
What was it like growing up there?
Aba has always been the heartbeat of the east. There was always something happening, and growing up there helped form my early life experiences and worldviews.
How did your background shape your life?
Being born in a position of considerable privilege afforded me the opportunity to learn the value of charity and philanthropy through my parents.
What was the best gift you remember receiving as a child?
I think the best present I’ve gotten from my parents would have to be the loving affection they gave me as a child. It made me the compassionate and kind man I turned out to be.
How did you come about creating “Play” and how has the business grown so far?
Play started as a small sports bar. Then I figured that it presented me with a networking opportunity with my clients which made me think of expanding the business into something bigger into a lifestyle brand that caters to the hospitality and networking needs of our clientele.
What was the most difficult thing that ever happened to you in all your years and how did you overcome it?
I think more than life, I’ve self-imposed the most tasking challenges on myself. So, most challenges I’ve encountered are things I chose to do. For instance, Living in Bondage was such an ambitious, sink or swim, project that I could have avoided, but because I challenged myself to venture into filmmaking, I knew that my first project had to be out of the ordinary.
What do you consider the biggest mistake you have ever made?
I have conditioned myself to take every misstep (or mistake in your words) as a teachable moment. I learn and I put it behind me.
What are some of your indelible high points in life?
Growing Play Network Africa to the point it has gotten to; starting multiple chapters across the continent; hosting some of the biggest names in music and entertainment; supporting the charities and causes that I love; producing Living in Bondage, and many more!
What is your biggest fear in life?
I don’t have any. I try to live in the moment; I also try to lead an ethical and exemplary life that my children can be proud of. That’s all that matters to me.
Are there still things you desire?
Yes. I wish for good health, a long, peaceful, and happy life.
What are some of the lessons life has taught you?
That hard-work pays; I’m a living example!