Malam Aminu Saira is a veteran filmmaker, producer and a director. In this interview with Weekend Magazine, he talks about his career spanning close to two decades, what makes him and his movies different, his latest blockbuster TV show, ‘Labarina’, which is being aired on Arewa24, among many other issues.
Weekend Magazine: There was a furore when you announced that you would go on break with Labarina TV show, with some people pointing accusing fingers at Arewa24 management, what actually happened?
Aminu Saira: There was no problem between us and Arewa24 management. What actually happened was that we finished airing seasons 1 and 2 of the TV show, and our agreement with them was for only on seasons 1 and 2. And since we are now filming the seasons 3 and 4, we can’t just announce how it will be aired.
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So, I only announced that we were going on break, and some people misunderstand my statement. But there was no misunderstanding or problem between us. I hope we will sit with them and reach another agreement, and if we reach an agreement with them, we will continue airing the show on their platform.
WM: People are keenly waiting for the continuation of the show with even more suspense, what should they be expecting from you?
Saira: Well, we are doing our best. But I am assuring them of improvements from all ramifications. We hope to improve in all aspects of film making – like the story line and even the technical part, to make sure we meet what is expected of us from our teeming fans.
Another aspect we are working on is to make sure we effect all the important observations that were raised by our viewers. As humans, we are prone to mistakes, as we are not perfect. So, we are working on some of the observations raised and some mistakes we observed ourselves. But I am confidently telling our fans to expect something better.
WM: There is this notion that big personalities in the North are not fans of Kannywood movies, but it seems that Labarina is breaking that barrier with many big people even in the corridors of power and professionals talking about it, how did you do it?
Saira: First of all, I will say I am very happy with that and I thank God for making it so. This shows that our people are watching and are aware of what we are doing. They are probably satisfied with Labarina, and that is why they are talking about it.
From the reactions we are receiving, it shows that we have a very big platform, and we have to hold onto it and use it in addressing more pressing issues and for passing across messages not only to the youths, but everyone, especially the big people.
I receive calls and messages from professors and many other professionals commending our efforts, and giving us pieces of advice where necessary, and I am happy that most of the calls are for commendations.
WM: Why did you choose to air the show on TV, not YouTube where you may likely make more profit?
Saira: We thought of all possible means of airing the show, but we finally agreed to air it on Arewa24. We thought of CD, but you know the CD market has collapsed. And in the middle of our deliberation, Arewa24 approached us for business. We sat with them and we reached an agreement with them on seasons 1 and 2. They told us then about their Arewa on demand application which you can use to stream the show from any part of the world, and so they included it in the agreement, and with that we cannot upload the show on YouTube.
So, we sat as a team, weighed all the available options, and arrived at the conclusion that Arewa24 is better even if maybe we will get more money from YouTube.
But we are not only talking about the money, circulation also matters. Arewa24 will show it at a specified time, and it is only on the Arewa24 that you can watch it. So, at that very time, millions of people will be watching together, and if you missed it, you can still watch it on another day, and you can still stream it on their application. But you can’t get massive viewers watching at the same time on YouTube. So, these, among other things were the factors we considered.
A family of 20 can sit and watch together, but on YouTube, you must buy data to watch it.
Since you can watch it on TV, on their application and it is free to air where you don’t need to pay for satellite, and it covers all Africa and you can stream it from any part of the world, we then agreed to make it easy for our viewers.
WM: Does that mean you prioritize your viewers comfort more than your profit because people are saying you will make more profit on YouTube?
Saira: We also thought of it that way as I said, but we said reaching our target audience and at the right time is also important. Now, if we are using YouTube, what about the people that are living in remote villages that do not have network? We studied many things before we arrived at this conclusion, and we have a wider viewership and fan base. So, it is good to consider your teeming fans and their comfort.
WM: When are we expecting the next season of Labarina?
Saira: Soon. After we announced the break, we then started filming the continuation, and it is not wise to announce a date for the continuation when you don’t have enough episodes on ground. We want to make sure we have many episodes that will take us a very long time.
WM: Some people say they watch the show, or they will watch it only because you are the director, what are you doing differently?
Saira: I always say there are three things that I hold onto that are helping me. One is integrity, which involves doing your best to avoid any controversies. Second is perseverance because in whatever you are doing, there are ups and downs, so you must be ready to always dust yourself and move on. Lastly, it is maintaining my standard. Hausa adage says it’s better not to dance, than to dance a bad dance.
You see, I have been silent for some years, and people have been calling on me to make movies, but I refused because the CD market has collapsed, and if you want to do something good, you must market it well. That is why I was silent for this long because I don’t want to dance a bad dance just because I want to produce a movie. I have an integrity and reputation to protect. I think these are the secrets. But I don’t know, maybe there is something special which Allah has bestowed on me.
WM: Many people are confused as to which of your movie is the best because they said they are all good. Which of your movie, to you, is the best?
Saira: Well, I think we need to understand that there is difference between the best and the most popular. I love all my movies, but if you ask me to choose one, I will choose ‘Ga duhu ga haske’, but if you are talking about the most popular, I will go with ‘Labarina’. And the way things are going, if Labarina continues moving like this, we don’t know where it will reach and there is a sign that it will go very far, and perhaps even move above all of our movies.
I love Labarina. In fact, it is the love I have for it that made us devote our time and spent a lot of money to make it batter, but I love ‘Ga duhu ga haske’ more because of the reactions we got after it went out and the message it passed on to people. I remember I received a call from Katsina during the time that a lady came to convert to Islam, and she wanted her name to be Zainab. When she was asked why, she said it is because of the movie ‘Ga duhu ga haske’. I also received a similar story from Gombe.
WM: What is your biggest success as far as film making is concerned?
Saira: I think the biggest success is that for over a decade now, people have been following me since my first movie ‘Musnadi’, and have never for once been disappointed. To maintain that integrity is a thing of joy. Whatever worldly things I got; the fame, the connections and many other things, I thank God for having them, but I am more thankful for having loyal fans and to have maintained my integrity this long. And I pray it will continue this way for the rest of my life.
WM: How did you start you directing career?
Saira: I think it was based on passion and a target. I remember we were watching one American film with my friend Mahmud, and we saw that the movie was kind of attacking Islam indirectly. I then told him, ‘why can’t we start writing stories to correct all these kinds of misconceptions’? So, I told him that we need to go into film making. That was how we met Auwalu Sabo, who was then the director and CEO of Sarauniya Movies. He asked me which aspect of film making I was interested in, and I asked what the ingredients of good movie are, and he said – story, producer and a director. After I did my research, I arrived at the conclusion that I will go for directing.
I started by assisting him till I established my company Saira Movies, and I did my first movie ‘Musnadi’. That was how it all started. So, it was basically a target that brought me to Kannywood.
WM: Any message to your fans and viewers of Labarina?
Saira: They should be patient with us and expect something better. We appreciate them in all sincerity.