From the fifth floor of the apartment, the view of Kochi is splendid. “It’s a beautiful city,” says Samuel Abiola Robinson. The name might not ring a bell for Malayalis, but the film he is acting in would definitely spread a smile on their lips. The upcoming movie Sudani from Nigeria directed by debutant Zakariya will see Samuel in the title role along with Soubin Shahir. For movie buffs here, Samuel is a newbie, but back in his homeland Nigeria, he is a famous actor who has starred in several movies and TV series.
“This is my 14th movie, but my first foreign movie,” he reveals. His 2016 film Green White Green, representing the iconic colours of Nigerian national flag, was such a huge hit that it went places, including the prestigious Toronto International Film Festival. His ticket to fame was the web series Desperate Housewives of Africa. To play the footballer who is brought from Nigeria to Malappuram for the Sevens Tournament in his movie, Zakariya had tracked Samuel down with the help of a casting agency in Africa.
However, busting the general perception that soccer comes natural to an African national, Samuel announced that he didn’t know how to play football. Laughing, he says, “I belong to the 0.001 per cent population of my country that is not interested in football.” But Kozhikode, where he stayed, and Malappuram, where the shoot happened, changed his perceptions about the game. “People there are in love with soccer. I underwent a week-long intense training and realised that once you get to know the game, you start enjoying it. It is like kanji; you’d be apprehensive when you are offered it for the first time, but once you know the taste, you can’t hate kanji,” he smiles.
Shooting with Soubin, who plays the team manager Majeed, has been fun and a great learning experience. “Football is just the backdrop of the movie. It’s a humorous drama about the bond between Majeed and ‘Sudu’, an abbreviation of ‘Sudani’. With Soubin, I had great dynamics and I’m glad to have worked with him,” he says. The 35-day-long shoot was fun; it’s just Malayalam that was tricky. “It’s a very complicated language. The only Malayalam words I managed to learn are mathi (enough) and vellam (water),” he quips.
The way he speaks, the knowledge he shares, leave you baffled at the thought that Samuel is just 19, a teen who dropped out of school at 15 to pursue acting, but knows about everything. He admits to have an inquisitive mind. “I am more of a bookworm and love to learn new things every day,” he says. Before coming to Kerala, he did his bit of research and learned about Mollywood, the major actors and technicians. “I had the privilege of meeting filmmakers Anwar Rasheed and Amal Neerad. Though I tried watching a Malayalam movie starring Mammootty, I didn’t understand a word of it,” he adds.
However, he hadn’t expected such high film literacy among Keralites. “I’m surprised that Malayalam is a very small industry in Indian cinema. Compared to Nollywood (Nigerian film industry), which has hardly 200 cinemas, Mollywood makes around 1,600 films every year and has theatres everywhere. In Nigeria, TV soaps are more popular than movies.” For Samuel, acting is something he chooses to stay in. “Many people ask me to pursue academics as Plan B just in case things don’t work in movies. Education is important, but I have no Plan B. Acting is always my Plan A,” he says. The shooting in Kerala has wrapped up; only a few portions to be shot in Nigeria are remaining. The dubbing is almost over and he will be going home on Sunday. “Kerala is a wonderful place; the people are very kind and friendly. It’s been a very pleasant experience and I would like to stay, but I have commitments back home. I would be coming back for the promotions in a few months,” he concludes.