Tunde Kelani Biography and Best Movies

Tunde Kelani (born: 26 February 1948; Age: 74 years old) is a Nigerian film director, storyteller, producer, cinematographer, and photographer whose works mostly portray the rich African culture. He is most famous as “TK” and for his major works such as Ayinla (2021), Arugba (2009), White Handkerchief (1998), and multi-award-winning Netflix’s Dazzling Mirage (2014).

TK’s career has spanned over 4 decades. This has given him a great stand as one of the oldest and most vibrant Nollywood icons. He serves as a link between the olden-day filmmakers and the new generation. He has also been able to claim several Lifetime Achievement Awards.

Summary of Tunde Kelani’s Bio 

  • Full Name: Babatunde Kelani
  • Nickname: TK
  • Gender: Male
  • Date of Birth: 26 February 1948
  • Tunde Kelani’s Age: 74 years old
  • Ethnicity: Yoruba
  • Nationality: Nigerian
  • Zodiac Sign: Pisces
  • Sexual Orientation: Straight
  • Religion: Christianity
  • Marital Status: Married
  • Tunde Kelani’s Wife: Toun Kelani
  • Children: 2 (Dupe Kelani and Temilola Kelani)
  • Tunde Kelani’s Net worth: $1 million – $3 million (estimation)
  • Famous for: movie production and directing
  • Tunde Kelani’s Instagram: @tkelani
  • Twitter: @tkelani
  • Facebook: Tunde Kelani Mainframe Productions

Where is Tunde Kelani From and How Old is He?

Tunde Kelani is a native of Ogun State and belongs to one of the largest ethnic groups in West Africa, Yoruba. He was born as the eldest child of his parents in Lagos State on February 26 1948 and is currently 74 years old.

He started his early life in Lagos State before he was sent to Abeokuta at the age of 5 to live with his grandparents. There, he learned a lot about the Yoruba people, culture, literature, and religion among several other aspects.

Still, in Abeokuta, TK attended Oke-Ona Primary School in a village called Ikeja in 1955 about the time he was 6 years old.

While in primary school, he became friends with a boy whose father was a photographer. The exposure to this technology fascinated him and he dreamt of taking a career in photography.

Following his primary education, Tunde Kelani went to Abeokuta Grammer School which famous people such as Wole Soyinka, Funmilayo Ransome-Kuti, Fela Anikulapo Kuti, Fireboy DML, and Kizz Daniel attended.

The filmmaker went to Western Nigeria Television (WNTV) and later attended the London Film School.

Tunde Kelani Started His Career as a Photographer

Kelani started his career as a photographer. He was still in secondary school when he got a Kodak 127 camera which he used for about 2 years before upgrading to a Rapir Mark 2 camera.

It was at that time that he got determined to become a professional photographer. He then met another student who was also enthusiastic about photography. Together, they practiced before Kelani moved back to Lagos and became a photography apprentice.

From photography, he was exposed to motion pictures and he became so interested in it that he decided to relocate to London to attend a film school and become a cinematographer.

In the 1970s, Kelani worked as a correspondent for BBC TV and Reuters. He also worked with Nigerian TV. While working in the journalism sector, he traveled to Ethiopia and Zimbabwe to cover drought and independence respectively.

What to Know About Kelani’s Career in the Movie Industry

He Started as a Cinematographer

Tunde Kelani started his journey to stardom as a cinematographer with no fewer than 15 credits in the movie industry. One of his earliest works as a cinematographer includes Efunsetan Aniwura (1981). It was written by Akinwunmi Ishola, directed by Bankole Bello, and produced by Isola Ogunsola Theater production company.

This aspect of his career lasted decades while he also juggled movie directing and production.

Tunde Kelani Started His Production Company in 1991

Tunde Kelani reportedly started his production company, Mainframe Films and Television Productions, in 1991 about the time he was 43 years old. Through his company, he worked as a director and producer on scores of films.

Many of his works are adaptions of other literary works such as Igbo Olodumare by D.O. Fagunwa, Dazzling Mirage by Olayinka Egbokhare, and also The Narrow Path, which was adapted from Bayo Adebowale’s “The Virgin”

These films have in one way or another attracted more fame to Kelani. Moreso, they have contributed to putting him on the map as one who projects his society to the world through the arts.

Many of his works are in his native Yoruba language. Some of his earliest films are Ti Oluwa ni Ile (1993), Back to Life (1997), and  Sidi Ilujinle (2017).

Tunde Kelani’s Best Films

1. Dazzling Mirage (2014)

Tunde Kelani directed and produced Dazzling Mirage. It is an adaptation of Olayinka Abimbola Egbokhare’s novel of the same title.

The film stars leading Nigerian actors, Kemi “Lala” Akindoju and Kunle Afolayan. Others are Bimbo Manuel, Seun Akindele, Yomi Fash Lanso, and Taiwo Ajai-Lycett. The film was released in Nigeria and New Zealand and focused on sickle cell. Kelani has received praise for his role in creating genotype-related issues.

About 8 years after its release, it was reported that Dazzling Mirage premiered on Netflix in 2022.

In 2014, it won the Nigerian Integrity Film Awards in the category of Human Development.

A year after, it was nominated for Best Costume Design at the 2015 Africa Magic Viewers Choice Awards. Kemi Akindoju also won the award of AMVCA’s Trailblazer award.

2. Ayinla (2021)

It is a film based on the life of a musician named Ayinla Omoruwa who was stabbed by his manager. The musical film remains one of the most successful films directed by Kelani. It was written and Ade Derek Adeniji and produced by Olawatoyin Adewumi. It features actors such as Lateef Adedimeji, Bimbo Ademoye, and Kunle Afolayan.

The Yoruba/English language film won Kelani 3 nominations at the 2021 Africa Movie Academy Awards (AMAA) in the categories of Best Film in an African Language, Best Nigerian Film, and Best Cinematographer (won). Ayinla also won Progranner’s Best African Narrative Award PAFF Los Angeles in 2022.

3. Maami (2011)

Probably the most awarded Tunde Kelani film, it has received no fewer than 19 nominations across different award categories. At the African Film Academy Awards alone, it received 4 nominations in 2011.

It had 6 Nollywood Movies Network nominations in 2013 and it won 3. The other nominations are at the Nigeria Entertainment Awards (2013), Multichoice 2013 Africa Magic Viewers Choice Awards, and 2012 ZUMA Film Festival.

On the part of Tunde, the film fetched him 6 nominations and 4 wins in the categories of Best Director and Best Nigerian Film at ZUMA Film Festival, Best Local Language Movie (Yoruba) at the Multichoice Awards, and Best Indigenous Movie at the 2013 Nollywood Movies Network.

The film features Ayomide Abatti, Funke Akindele, and Wole Ojo, and it is an adaptation of Femi Osofisan’s novel of the same title. It tells the story of a mother’s love, estranged father, pain, poverty, and determination.

4. White Handkerchief  (1998)

Kelani directed, produced, and co-wrote the short film White Handkerchief. It remains one of the greatest short films in Nigeria and tells the story of love, purity, and also war.

The film which is in English and Yoruba languages stars actors such as Sola Asedeko, Idowu Philips, Khabirat Kafidipe, and Yemi Shodimu. Although it did not receive a lot of accolades upon its release,  it was one of Kelani’s initial great works that built a solid ground for him as a filmmaker.

5. Arugba (2008)

The film has about 8 nominations – 7 African Movie Academy Awards and one Heart of Africa Award. Among the 8, it won Best Costume Design and Best Nigerian Film at the AMAA and Heart of Africa Awards respectively (2009).

The film centers on a woman named Adedetu who has to find ways to balance her life as a University student and “Arguba”, a virgin in the annual community festival.

6. O le Ku (1997)

A film directed and produced by Tunde Kelani has been described as one of Nigeria’s greatest films of the late 1990s.

The romantic film is about a young undergraduate who is determined to find a wife as his mother has stated. The film is most notable for its role in projecting the Yoruba fashion culture of Iro and Buba (a wrapper and free dress) which at that time was nicknamed O Le Ku due to the movie.

The film’s fame, lesson, and the use of standard Yoruba gained it a place to be adopted to teach foreign learners of the Yoruba language in institutions in America and Europe.

Some of the film’s actors are Yemi Shodimu, Feyekemi Abodunrin, Pauline Dike, and Omolola Amusan.

List of Tunde Kelani’s Movies

As a Director and Producer

  • Ayinla (2021)
  • Sidi Ilujinle (2017)
  • Dazzling Mirage (2014)
  • Maami (2011)
  • Arugba (2009)
  • Life in Slow Motion (2008)
  • Abeni 1 & 2 (2006)
  • The Narrow Path (2006)
  • Efunsetan Aniwura (2005)
  • The Campus Queen (2004)
  • Agogo èèwò (2002)
  • Thunderbolt: Magun (2001)
  • White Handkerchief (2000)
  • Brass Bells (1999)
  • Ò le kù 1 & 2 (1997)
  • Kòseégbé (1995)
  • Ayo ni mi fe 1 & 2 (1994)
  • Ti Oluwa Ni Ile 1 & 2 (1993)

As a Cinematographer

  • The Narrow Path (2006)
  • Abeni (2006)
  • Thunderbolt: Magun (2001)
  • A Barber’s Wisdom (2001)
  • White Handkerchief (2000)
  • Twins of the Rain Forest (1999)
  • A Place Called Home (1999)
  • Brass Bells (1999)
  • Kòseégbé (1995)
  • Vigilante (Eso Oru) (1988)
  • Papa Ajasco (1984)
  • Orun Mooru (1982)
  • Ireke Onibudo (1982)
  • Efunsetan Aniwura (1981)

Some of Tunde Kelani’s Awards and Nominations

  • Lifetime Achievement at the S16 Film Festival (2022)
  • Pan African Film Festival Award for Best African Narrative Feature  (2022)
  • City People Movie Lifetime Achievement Award (2021)
  • Best Cinematographer at the African Movie Academy Awards (AMAA) (2021)
  • 7x AMAA nominations for Best Film in an African Language, Best Film, Best Director and Best Cinematographer (2021, 2009, and 2007)
  • NMA Lifetime Achievement Award (2014)
  • Heart of Africa’s Best Nigerian Film (2009)

His Career Suffered in 2008

Kelani’s career suffered in 2008 due to piracy. According to him, he lost a huge amount of money from different projects as a result.

One of his major setbacks was upon the release of Arugba. The film was pirated a week after it was released into the market despite the fact that it was big-budget film and was critically acclaimed.

More so, he opened up that there are movies under his Mainframe Productions that had up to five pirated versions in Nigeria.

In a 2018 report, Kelani revealed that he had a film that was made in 2014 but the fear of piracy stopped it from being released.

Nenpan Ngwan
Nenpan is a linguist, reader and writer who can spend hours thinking of the right words. She believes that with each thought comes words, and with each good word comes a great writing that can change how we see things.

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