Anuli Ajagu: A Return to Nollywood
Words By – Josephine Agbonkhese
Her romance with the big screen dates back to the 1990s when she starred in the hit soap opera Fortunes as Gloria, acting alongside Ramsey Nouah.
After a long hiatus from the big screen, Anuli Ajagu, now the CEO of Brampton Productions and founder of RevAnuli Inc., is making a grand return to Nollywood with the release of her debut movie, Praise Party. Written and produced by Anuli, the family movie is already garnering international awards ahead of its November 5th premiere holding in Lagos.
Among the three awards won already is the coveted Best International Film at the prestigious Charlotte Black Film Festival, North Carolina, USA, on July 8, 2023.
The Canada-based Human Resource professional and instructor, renowned public speaker, prolific writer and singer, who is currently studying for her doctorate, opens up to Allure as Praise Party warms up to hit the cinemas.
Congratulations in advance on your cinematic debut as Praise Party goes to the cinema next month; how does this make you feel?
Awestruck, grateful and very hopeful. I have to say that I owe this journey into film making, and coming this far 100% to the grace and mercy of God.
You took quite a long break from the Nigerian movie industry. What have you been up to all these years?
Yes, its been about 30 years now. I featured as an actress in the defunct soap opera, Fortunes, in 1993/1994. However, in 1995, I got married, gave up on the industry and started a family. I’ve done quite a bit in the last couple of years. First and foremost, I am grateful that God gave me three lovely children; all adults in their twenties. I’ve written books, including a play, Nwanyibuife (a woman is to be reckoned with), novels like Maiden, Stigma from the Past, and some children story books like The Kings Verdict, Happy Days Ahead, Jesus the Anointed One (Bible story), The Sly Guy, amongst others. I founded an N.G.O, Youth & Gender Network, through which I have impacted the lives of multitudes of youths and women across Nigeria. I’ve also served as an ordained minister in various capacities, including organising faith-based conferences, pastoring a church in Toronto, and leading various high impact initiatives. Professionally, I strive for continuous improvement. I sit on several boards, and I’ve done various board trainings both in Nigeria and internationally. I’m currently a second-year doctoral student in Canada, and my research focus is black entrepreneurship.
What inspired the storyline for your debut movie Praise Party?
Life happened to me, and I decided to pick up my broken pieces. Creating an exciting story that will make an impact in lives across various cultures was my outlet.
Trauma looks like a prevalent theme throughout the movie from thrillers already in circulation. Why this theme?
Trauma is real. Many adults live dysfunctional lives because of unresolved trauma that comes to taunt them in the future. Mental health is like a pariah subject amongst black people. Once you mention mental health, particularly people of African descent, and more specifically, Nigerians, many ignorantly associate it with the mad person that is dressed in rags on the street. Emotional trauma can lead to depression, suicide, extreme anxiety, malignant narcissism, extreme paranoia, Othello Syndrome, and even sociopathic behaviour. People need to get professional help, and seeking help is uncommon in our culture.
What do you hope to achieve with this?
Entertainment, enlightenment, inspiration, and value added to the audience in a very exciting, suspense-filled and breathtaking style of story telling.
Have you any concerns about the Nigerian movie industry and what difference do you hope to bring?
The Nigerian film industry has grown tremendously in the last twenty-five years. I commend the various creative talents that laboured to get Nollywood to where it is today. Rather than focus on concerns, I want to focus on my contribution. I am here to add value, make a difference and tell stories that will be both entertaining, enriching, uplifting and inspirational.
How would you sum-up your experience producing Praise Party?
Exciting and very challenging. Let me start with the exciting part. The day the camera rolled in April 2022, as we began shooting the first scene, it was like heaven came down. I knew I was born for this. My joy was at another level. Finally, a dream of decades was becoming reality. The challenging part; I wear various hats in this film. Its my debut effort at producing a film, and it was a huge learning curve. I had to conceptualise Praise Party to make it happen: from scripting to getting a team together. Film production involves many moving parts, many cast and crew involved, especially a film of the magnitude of what we produced. Our goal was to have a film with a solid and topical storyline, picture quality of world class standard, as well as excellent acting. I am also the executive producer, which means I am the financier. I think we had two days of lost production time, and that almost drove me crazy. Scenes that we had to move because actors did not show up as scheduled, an entire day of shoot that had to be cancelled because the generator sound was just too noisy at the location. Literally millions of naira lost, and all that cost borne by yours truly.
You’re featuring some of Nigeria’s biggest stars; was it difficult selecting the cast?
I wouldn’t say it was difficult selecting the actors. I didn’t do it alone. It was collective effort of my core team, and we are grateful that it worked out.
The cast includes acclaimed actors such as Kunle Remi, Keppy Ekpenyong, Bayray Nwizu, Tina Mba, Sola Fosudo, Chioma Nwosu, Arinze Okonkwo, and many others.
The movie is directed by USA-based thespian, Obi Martins.
You’re also returning to acting as one of the characters in the movie; what was it like for you acting again after decades?
It was interesting. My children call me a bit of a drama queen at home, and I can be quite funny when I want to be. I acted as a therapist in the film, and it was interesting how I just got into character. I think the creative instincts just came alive.
What are your box office expectations and do you see this work clinching prestigious awards?
We are hopeful that we will do fabulous at the box office. We have created a fantastic movie with an exciting storyline. We are doing our publicity, with various strategies, and hoping for the best. As for the awards, I’m happy to inform you that so far, we have received three awards from various film festivals, local and international. In July 2023, Praise Party won Best International Film, at the prestigious Charlotte Black Film Festival, North Carolina,USA. In August 2023, we also won Best Producer, at the Canada-China International Film Festival in Montreal, Canada. Early October, Praise Party received an award, after it was screened at the Realtime Film Festival (a Nigerian Film Festival) that held in the UK. Only last week, Praise Party was announced as an official selection to the Brazil International Film Festival.
What can the audience expect from the movie?
Entertainment, emotions, suspense, excitement, and as a friend described it recently after seeing Praise Party at a film festival, breathtaking.
What was the financial cost of this feat to you?
Over one hundred thousand dollars. Please dont ask me how much I’m owing my bank, or the interest rate, because I am not ready to discuss that just yet.
What was growing up like and in what city did you grow up?
My childhood was quite interesting. My father was a military man, and retired as a colonel from the Nigerian Army. That meant we kept moving from city to city, wherever he got posted for work. I grew up mostly in northern Nigeria. We lived in Maiduguri, Ilorin, Kaduna, Jos, Lagos. I went to different elementary schools, but finished from Command Children’s School, Kaduna. I also attended Command Secondary School, Kaduna, and from there I did a one year Lower Sixth at Queens College, Yaba. For my undergraduate degree, I went to University of Jos.
If you could talk to your 18-year-old self about life and dreams, what would you tell her?
I will tell her, ask yourself these questions: is my dream purposeful? Will it add positive value? If yes, dont give up your dreams for another human being.
What other interests take your time when not working?
It depends. This year has definitely been my year of travels. I’ve been on more than 25 flights. One thing that I definitely try to do is to ensure that amidst lifes hustle-bustle, I stay connected to family and friends.
Book or movies; which would you subscribe to for a three-hour relaxation?
Definitely a movie right now.
Whose style would you steal and why?
That’s tough because when it comes to style, I am a bit conservative. I wouldn’t steal any ones style, but I definitely admire any gorgeous and decently dressed lady.
What fashion item wouldn’t you mind spending a fortune on?
Gowns. I love a closet filled with embellished gowns.
You still look like one in her thirties even after having children who left university; what’s your beauty routine?
Thank you for the compliment. I truly thank God for that. As mundane as it sounds, I talk to God about everything. I tell God that I want to look young and beautiful. But faith without works is dead, so I also make some efforts. My biggest routine is drinking a bottle of water after I pray every morning. I also take fresh juices with lots of ginger, and take care of my skin. Very importantly, I have learnt to live a life free of bitterness.
How regularly do you exercise and is it gym or home workouts?
I love to walk, and I do that about four times a week.
How would you spend a one-week getaway and in what city?
Relaxing, refreshing, exploring some beautiful walking trails. It would have to be Thailand.