Nigerian actor Samuel Robinson’s allegation that he was underpaid for his role in the Malayalam film Sudani from Nigeria has evoked strong responses all around.
On March 31, Samuel posted on his social media pages that he had been paid very less money for his role in Sudani from Nigeria and that he believes it is because he is African that the makers offered him so little. Samuel went on to post more about his experience in the film, stating that he’d been given to understand that this was a very small budget, indie film and that he’d agreed to be paid USD 1,800 because of this. He further alleged that he’d had no idea that the film was of moderate budget and that it would premiere outside India in countries like Dubai.
The producers, Happy Hours Entertainments, posted a rebuttal, claiming that they’d fulfilled their contractual obligations and that the accusation of racism was very painful to them. While Samuel’s post has evoked mixed reactions from the public, with several agreeing with him that a sum well under Rs 2 lakhs sounds unfair for a period of five months, others from the film industry have come out in support of Sameer Thahir and Shyju Khalid of Happy Hours Entertainments.
Calling the issue a “non-issue”, director Ganesh Raj who made Aanandam with a cast full of newcomers and first-time technicians, said that what Samuel has been paid are industry rates: “From the contract it’s very evident Sameer ikka and Dilahk Ujyhsm Shyju ikka have paid according to industry standards if not slightly more. I firmly believe Samuel Abiola Robinson has been mislead by someone who has no clue about industry standard pay. Also, profit shares from the success aren't usually paid instantly either, it sometimes happens 20-30 days after the films release or most of the times during the 75/100/125/150 day celebration party. Sad to see such strong accusations like Racism being thrown around with such a carefree attitude (sic)."
Actor Jinu Joseph sarcastically posted the following: “To all the producers of the movies I’ve acted in ..... forget the remuneration that we agreed on before the movie..... I want more , NOW that your movies have become successful... Sameer Tahir , Amal Neerad, Anwar Rasheed etc etc .... screw contractual obligations.... I want more .... injeem venum, injeem venum .... and I feel grossly underpaid .... is it because my skin is brown I did not even get paid for my first movie .... hardly got ten thousand rupees for my next couple of movies .... injeem venum injeem venum .... happy Easter (sic).”
Samuel Robinson took Jinu’s post at face value and responded, offering his solidarity. Jinu Joseph, however, slammed him, saying that the sarcasm was lost on him and that he should have been “grateful” for such an opportunity.
While Jinu’s post on Facebook was Liked by many, including names like Vineeth Sreenivasan, several people also hit back at him for the condescending tone and pointed out that unlike Samuel he’d not acted in a lead role in any film. They further said that Samuel was not a newcomer and that he is already a popular star in Nigeria. Besides, Indian newcomers may work for very little in the hope that they will get bigger and better paying roles in future. Considering the Indian film industry rarely makes films which offer substantial roles to people from other races, this is not a factor in Samuel’s case.
Others have also raised the point that the industry does discriminate in pay according to factors like gender but that one cannot claim that it is correct only because it is the norm.
Support for Samuel
Kerala’s Finance Minister Thomas Isaac, saying that he’d watched Sudani from Ngeria, wrote on Facebook, “I saw the goodness of the villages in Malappuram. For those people, Samuel’s colour or religion was no barrier to make him part of their families. The love, care and hospitality bestowed on Samuel, and the earring and watch he was given during the farewell, were not part of any contract. What I understand from Samuel’s protest is that these (love and care) were only part of the film and not outside of it.”
The minister further said that to make a judgement on the issue, it was necessary to know about Samuel’s contract as well as those of other actors. “Anyhow, given that the film has become a massive hit, hope the issues will be resolved,” he said.
According to Samuel, the makers of the film had promised to pay him more if it did well at the box office but that they did not say anything about their word before he left for Nigeria. While Happy Hours acknowledged that they had indeed made a promise, they claimed that this was beyond contractual obligations and that they needed more time before they could pay him more.
Congress MLA VT Balram wrote on Facebook that after watching the film, he’d felt that it is one which restores faith in humanity. “But, the controversies surrounding the film have now forced me to correct my remarks. It is unfortunate that although the film depicted love over and above one’s caste, religion and race, allegations of exploitation and racial discrimination have come from the film’s sets,” he said.
Balram further said that Samuel’s allegation that he was paid a sum of Rs 1,80,000 for his work spanning five months should be taken seriously.
“The production unit’s defence that Samuel willingly signed the contract is a mere technicality. We cannot ignore Samuel’s allegation that he was made to believe the film was a low-budget film, but then it turned out to be a film with a fairly good budget aimed for an international market. As an industry, cinema needs to ensure equal and fair pay. Samuel has the right to compare his remuneration with that of the other actors. It is then only natural that he suspects racial discrimination to be the reason for his low pay. It is the film industry’s responsibility to amicably solve this issue,” Balram wrote.