Not many Indian films have managed to make the muezzin’s call to prayer in the morning look as poetic and cathartic as Sufiyum Sujatayum does. The filmmaker Naranipuzha Shanavas behind the Malayalam film starring Jayasurya, Aditi Rao Hydari is extremely crafty in visualising it as a soul-awakening call and makes us feel the sanctity in the prayer. In times when misrepresentation (or the absence of any representation) of the minorities in films remain an area of concern, Sufiyum Sujatayum’s presence is significant for the simplicity with which it looks at religion and for the honesty in its storytelling. The tediously paced romance subtly takes on the idea of ‘love jihad’ where the conflict is largely about the religions of a man and a woman in love.
Shanavas appears a storyteller with a great eye for detailing in this doomed romance while exploring the spiritual link to love. The female protagonist Sujatha is a mute Kathak dancer who swings to the rhythm of the clarinet seamlessly. Only a hill separates Sujatha from the new entrant to the sleepy town, a Sufi. A folklore superstition prohibits the entry of the women in the hill. Inside the Sufi master’s house, there are chirpy birds that repeat after the discourses to his students. A rosary, a bunch of henna leaves and the innocence in their outlook to life drive the relationship between the Sufi and Sujata. Neither religion nor the female protagonist’s inability to speak is a barrier to their love. The foundation is set for a supposedly classic romance, but Sufiyum Sujatayum falls short.
Sufiyum Sujatayum packs a punch in giving a deeper quality to the evocative frames. There’s a lot it suggests through its visuals and conveys through its music (by Jayachandran) that makes it a near-fulfilling viewing experience, but the sharpness/flourish in the screenwriting is amiss. The story persistently hinges on a romance where the two poles are never destined to meet. It desperately needed drama and the bite to lend a larger meaning to its visuals. Beyond the classical romance, the obvious parental opposition and the religious conflict, Sufiyum Sujatayum isn’t any imaginative in its treatment and feels painfully bland.
Realism is okay till a certain point, but the film feels like watching paint dry in the later portions. The filmmaker is in great awe of his world that he’s immune to its inadequacies. The story refuses to progress and the relationships lack greater meaning. The director doesn’t build the tension between Rajeev (Sujata’s husband) and Sujata rather well. The climax is a forced idea to ensure poetic justice to the relationship between the Sufi and Sujata, while the sudden transformation of Rajeev feels superficial. The two-hour length doesn’t work to the film’s advantage either.
Aditi Rao Hydari comes of age as a performer in the film; every actor craves for a performance where they let their expressions do the talking and she couldn’t have asked for anything better. She’s every bit crucial in making her gradual surrender to the Sufi, both pure and spiritual. Dev Mohan has a captivating pair of eyes and the innocence in his smile permeates through the frames. Although an experienced actor like Tovino Thomas may have given added more depth to the portrayal, Dev makes a mark for his sincere approach to its portrayal. Jayasurya’s performance as Rajeev is impressive, though it isn’t the most well-written character you could find. Vatsala Menon’s sharp as always with her wit and humour, while Siddique and Kalaranjini are saddled with unworthy roles.
The backdrop of a town situated on the Kerala-Karnataka border lends interesting lingual diversity to the narrative. M Jayachandran’s music does a lot to contribute to the authentic portrayal of Islamic rituals and Sufism. There’s no doubt that Sufiyum Sujatayum’s story is inherently poetic. This is a short story that would have made for a great read in the book form; however, it needed something weightier for its visual translation.
(Sufiyum Sujatayum is streaming on Amazon Prime Video)