Exclusive: Malayalis' favourite 'Sudani from Nigeria' Samuel Robinson debuts in Bollywood | Interview

Samuel Abiola Robinson (left), a still from the film Dilli Dark (right). Photos: Swasti Jain/Reeligion Films

His performance as a refugee-turned-footballer stuck in Kerala, in the 2018 film 'Sudani from Nigeria', won actor Samuel Abiola Robinson widespread praise. However, the road ahead wasn't easy for the Nigerian-born youngster, who inadvertently courted controversies as he struggled to find his way in a country and industry he was new to. A few years ago, Samuel also revealed how the predicament even pushed him into thoughts of self-harm and the difficulty in finding quality work.

The actor, who eventually settled in Delhi, is a happy artiste today as his Hindi debut film 'Dilli Dark,' directed by Dibakar Das Roy is all set to premiere at the Jio Mami Mumbai Film Festival (October 27– November 5) and has also another high-profile movie coming out in Tamil. In a conversation with Onmanorama, Samuel talks about his new film, upcoming projects, facing both racism and warmth in India and more:

What's 'Dilli Dark' all about?
The film shows what it's like to be considered an outsider in India and how dark skin colour can come in the way of bagging good opportunities in life. My character, Mike, is a young African immigrant who left his home and moved to Delhi to chase his dreams. The film is a comedy-drama and shows how the experiences challenge Mike. Director Dibakar Das Roy, who had seen some of my previous work, contacted me to make the film. 'Dilli Dark' will also be screened at the Tallinn Black Nights film festival in Estonia.

The film is about racism an African faces in India. As a Nigerian living in Delhi, what's your experience?
Living in India has its ups and downs... I have met some amazing and kind people, but have also faced discrimination due to my skin colour. I think education plays an important role in forming your attitude and racism is often the result of lack of exposure and education in some parts of the country. I have met many decent people in the Southern part of the country, but I have also encountered my fair share of hate and racism in certain areas of northern India.
I think most people are aware of the presence of racism in India too, and that it's not just towards Blacks. I have heard that even when Malayalis or Tamilians travel to Delhi or Uttar Pradesh, they can feel unwelcome, at times.

The film is in Hindi, did you have to learn the language? Was it difficult?
I love learning new languages and exploring new cultures. So I didn't find it difficult at all. Moreover, my character in the film mostly speaks English and at times, Hindi. We are planning to dub and release the film in Malayalam and Tamil as well, but mostly I speak English throughout the film.

Dilli Dark poster (left), a still from the film (right). Photo: Reeligion Films

Sudani came out in 2018 and you had revealed on social media how you weren't happy with the kind of work coming your way. This film is coming out after six years, what kept you busy in the meantime?
I was not happy with the second Malayalam film 'Oru Caribbean Udaippu' and wanted to ensure that I did quality projects from then on. I was getting offers but often, they were of the villain or a predictable nature. So, I decided to wait. I was offered Dilli Dark by the end of 2020 but the pandemic delayed the film's production. Later, I was also offered the Tamil film, which also stars RJ Balaji, Selvaragavan, Sharafudheen and music by Anirudh. The shoots of these films, travelling to their various locations and living my life with my girlfriend in Delhi kept me busy.

You often bravely speak about the tough phases in life, how do you remain strong?
I am grateful to have God as my support and source of strength, always. I also think I am a completely different person from who I was in 2018 and have grown and matured into a man I can be proud of. I am also blessed to be able to work on some amazing projects with good social messages. I am proud of my growth and development so far and I look forward to the man and the actor I am becoming.

'I think most people are aware of the presence of racism in India, and that it's not just towards Blacks,' says actor Samuel Abiola Robinson. Photo: Reeligion Films

So, when is your next in Malayalam?
I am always open to working in the Malayalam film industry. Some of the most beautiful films in India come from there and I will always love Kerala as my second home.

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