Sufiyum Sujathayum could have been a great example of an interfaith love story. But the director has shied away from tackling core issues in his quest to make an ‘eternal’ love story

Sufiyum Sujathayum is the first Malayalam film to release through an OTT platform amid ongoing issues in the film industry over the shooting of new films and remuneration. Actor-producer Vijay Babu who produced the film under his Friday Film House, drew flak from various sectors of the industry for going for an OTT release. The movie premiered on 3 July on Amazon Prime.

Sufiyum Sujathayum is a love story between a young Sufi Saint and an upper-caste Hindu girl, directed by Naranipuzha Shanavas who made his debut with Karie in 2015. The story is set in a village in the Kerala-Karnataka border. A young dancer here, Sujatha (Aditi Rao Hydari), falls in love with Sufi (Dev Mohan), a Sufi saint who comes wandering into the village. The 2-hour 2-minute movie is a love story that has been told over and again for decades on the silver screen. But the setting comes across as fresh to the Malayali audience who is not very familiar with Sufi culture.

Lacking depth

Sujatha meets Sufi during a bus trip when the latter is on his way to Jinn Palli (Djinn Mosque) to visit his mentor Aboob (Swami Shoonya). Sujatha grows curious about him. Later, she runs into him at the Jinn Palli where she usually comes to dance to the tunes of Aboob and to collect books from him. Sufi’s mellifluous voice, his mystic aura, his Sufi-whirls on the tip of his toes… it doesn’t take long for her to get smitten. Gradually, the Sufi too develops feelings for her. They start meeting at places and exchanging notes. As they fall head over heels in love, what is amiss is inner conflicts of characters. He is a deeply spiritual Sufi saint and she, a mute girl for whom an alliance is being fixed on the side by her family, but it seems like they are the least worried about any of those.

As the story progresses, the family finds out and it obviously leads to problems. Sujatha’s father alleges Love Jihad, but the writer who is also the director of the movie quickly closes the contentious issue without going deep into it. He has played it safe without siding with anyone unlike in his previous movie which had critical takes on Dalit issues. Even recent Malayalam films such as Kismath and Eeda made brave attempts to portray how love, religion and politics are interwoven, but Sufiyum Sujathayum stops short of discussing serious issues. As a consequence, the movie turns into a light watch and the audience never gets invested in the ‘eternal love’ that is the central theme of the movie.

Cut to the present and Sujatha is in an unhappy marriage with V.R Rajeev (Jayasurya) and settled in Dubai. She is indifferent and he, frustrated. Some developments bring them back to her village and towards the climax, in an interesting 30-minute sequence, the movie starts to look intriguing and we anticipate some tensions. But the director once again shies away from cranking things up and closes the door for serious discussions.

Mystic music, mesmerising camera

While the movie becomes a drag at parts, it is the music which gives it a facelift. The compositions by M. Jayachandran are soulful, which plays a big role in making the audience sit through the movie. The cinematography by Anu Moothedath is brilliant and it’s a shame that the audience would not get to watch it in its full brilliance on a theatre screen. The Mullah Bazaar, the meandering roads, the river leading to Jinn Palli, the Sufi dance, the shades of green and brown have all been captured so stunningly that the frames sometimes gives the audience an otherworldly feel.

Hydari, who makes a comeback to Malayalam films after her debut in 2006 movie Prajapathi, often fails to be convincing as the starry-eyed village girl. She fairs better as the grieving wife. Mohan as Sufi wasn’t a bad choice, however; except for the whirling, (which he apparently practised for nine months), he doesn’t have much to do.

Most other actors have done a fine job. Jayasurya as Sujatha’s frustrated husband; Siddique as her father; and Kalaranjini as her mother have all made impressive performances. Other actors, including Mammukoya and Manikandan Pattambi, did their small parts well. Only if the writer had put in a bit more effort into the script, it could have been yet another top-notch Malayalam work and a very relevant one given the times we are living in.

––Arjun Ramachandran, film critic and blogger

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