THE SAMARITANS: How It Happened and Where We Are Now

As a fourth-generation Kenyan, my family’s roots trace back to India, from where they migrated on a dhow (yes, a dhow!), to East and Southern Africa during the late 1800s. Its hard to imagine what that was like. As a child, I sat wide-eyed, listening to my grandparents recount their stories. My mother’s family had endured the harsh grip of the colonial regime in Kisumu and Mombasa, while my father’s kin faced the imminent and terrifying apartheid regime in Pretoria, South Africa. Yet, against all odds, they managed to carve out a life of relative peace and hope in the heart of Nairobi—where I was born.

My education took place in Nairobi, where I obtained my International Baccalaureate diploma at St Mary’s School. Later, I ventured to Canada for my undergraduate studies. Although I initially pursued Engineering and Sciences, as was common in the late ’90s, my passion shifted towards humanities. I became captivated by subjects such as English, Philosophy, and the social sciences. However, my parents urged me to focus on something ‘prudent’, so I ensured I took enough courses to obtain a degree in Business Administration while dedicating the rest of my time to the arts and social sciences.

Fast forward to 2004, when I found myself participating in plays at the Phoenix Theatre and other theatre companies. I fell in love with stage acting, but I realized it wasn’t a viable career path. That’s when my curiosity led me to the world of film. In Nairobi, there were limited opportunities for formal film education, except for internships in the documentary field. I yearned to understand filmmaking and visual storytelling from a more scripted perspective, prompting me to apply to schools in the USA and Canada. Fortunately, I received a partial scholarship to attend the New York Film Academy for a one-year filmmaking course. Living and studying in New York City was a fast-paced and exhilarating experience that profoundly transformed my perspective on life. It is also where I met the person who would become my wife.

Upon returning to Kenya, I was determined to provide affordable, hands-on filmmaking courses to aspiring students—a chance I wished I had had. In late 2005, the East African Film Academy was born, an opportunity to utilise my art and my business expertise. Teaching students proved rewarding, although not financially lucrative. The filmmaking landscape was evolving rapidly, with equipment transitioning from analogue to digital at such a pace that rendered equipment obsolete in less than a year. Consequently, I had to adapt and venture into the field of documentaries, working with various NGOs and UN agencies. Corporate documentaries provided the income necessary to sustain affordable teaching, but it was demanding work that required substantial time and energy to maintain a high level of production.

In 2010, I crossed paths with Hussein Kurji, who had recently completed his master’s degree in Digital Animation in Australia. He approached me with a script called The Samaritans, a humorous take on an NGO that is very bad at doing good. Intrigued and inspired, we established Xeinium Productions to bring this project to life.

Initially, we relied on students, family, and well-wishers to create a sample pilot. Although the result was far from perfect (it was atrocious!), it allowed us to launch a crowdfunding campaign on The process was painstaking, but we became the first Kenyans to achieve a successful Kickstarter campaign. With the funds we raised—$10,000—we produced a professional pilot episode that playfully mocked NGOs. The experience was fun, and the learning curve was immense, fuelled by our collective background in the documentary field. To our surprise, major broadcasting houses such as CNN, Al-Jazeera, BBC, ABC, and more took notice and granted us significant media attention.

Reflecting on our journey, we should have anticipated the positive feedback and prepared additional episodes to ride the wave of popularity. Instead, we found ourselves scrambling to raise enough funds to continue the series while we still had momentum. Unfortunately, local free-to-air broadcasters demanded payment for airing the content, leaving us disheartened after having shot the pilot episode with a budget of $10,000. Even local streamers like Zuku offered us a mere $1,000 per episode while retaining all rights on all platforms indefinitely.

We refused to compromise the quality of the series or the integrity of the script by producing a cheap, sub-standard product. Instead, we sought support beyond Kenya’s borders to secure funding and continue the series. Ironically, it was an NGO that supported our mission to expand beyond Kenya for production. Since then, we have produced two episodes but have struggled to find a suitable platform for the series.

Over the years, we have made connections and sought partnerships with US and European producers. While we encountered both unscrupulous individuals and supportive allies, the timing and comedy’s global popularity proved challenging, but we were making excellent headway. Then the Covid-19 pandemic hit. We made the decision to put The Samaritans on hold and focused on writing more scripts.

While we continue to pitch The Samaritans, our most exciting and ambitious story to date is called The Colony, an epic drama series set in the early 20th century, inspired by the stories we were told growing up. It serves as an origin story for one of the first Indian pioneers in East Africa. Starting from humble beginnings, this character grew a mercantile empire that spanned the Indian Ocean, connecting the East African interior to the trade routes of the Silk Road. He was a business tycoon who provided wagons, ammunition, porters, and trackers for European big game hunters, as well as arms and military supplies during World War I. Most importantly, he played a crucial role in assisting new Indian migrants seeking refuge or fortune in Africa, including our grandfathers, who would have perished without his help. His name was Allidina Visram and the inspiration of our main character Zafar Khan.

Zafar is an Indian merchant exhausted and ashamed of being treated as a second-class citizen in the growing East Africa Protectorate. He yearns to be accepted as an equal by the British and believes that accumulating immense wealth will erase the social and racial boundaries that oppress him. Zafar dreams of expanding the family business but faces resistance from his inward-thinking, puritanical father, who cannot envision anything beyond their small general store. Zafar strives to build his mercantile empire, but he cannot do so without the help of a Maasai medicine woman, Tanyasi, and an aristocratic hunter, Andrew, characters whose depth and complexity emerge over the span of the series.

In a world where xenophobia, greed and discord abound, we thought a story about three families, Indian, African and British working together to build a brighter future in Africa would both enlighten and inspire.

With the pilot scripts ready for The Colony, and The Samaritans, our hope is to find production companies and studios bold enough to embrace these stories. Our work and summary can be found on our website,