Director: Naranipuzha Shanavas
If “painstakingly-created” was a valued commodity in filmmaking, Sufiyum Sujatayum would be right up there with the classics. Almost every frame and almost every piece of writing that has gone in, aspires for greatness. Like the statues of Gods and Goddesses, the shots of the titular leads have been planned for posterity and the intention, IMO, is to create a film that floats above reality like overly-romanticised memories of old, broken love. But in that effort, the film builds its foundation over helium balloons.
This beeline towards poetry is everywhere. Like the opening shot of a floating leaf that follows the Sufi (Dev Mohan) as he climbs up the stairs of the decrepit Jinn Mosque, located somewhere on the Kerala-Karnataka border. Like in a fable, inanimate objects acquire lifelike qualities. A jamun tree starts to bear fruit for the first time, a broken lamp stops flickering and the empty mosque suddenly brims with devotees, even for the early morning azaan. The Sufi’s azaan is powerful, breathing life into this sleepy town, the way only a swansong can.
But the sound waves, his last, travel far beyond this town. They travel till Dubai to awaken Sujata (Aditi Rao Hydari), sleeping next to her daughter and her husband. As it’s often repeated in the film, the Sufi’s connection with Sujata is the union of two souls, the sort that seldom required words. Not that words were ever an option given that Sujata is mute.
For the Sufi, his love for her is akin to devotion, with his prayer calls at the mosque assuming the form of heartfelt love songs meant for just one person. As for Sujata, she reciprocates with kathak, to create a fusion of two minds and art forms coming together unlike no other. Along with them, we too experience this couple as they go through the first five stages of love, but what about the last two…madness and death? It’s a love story that is told almost entirely without dialogues, backed by the power of M Jayachandran’s songs and Anu Moothedath’s visuals.
Yet there’s always a distance between the audience and the love story before us. In the film’s exasperating efforts at world-building, the prosaic always takes precedence over poetry. The set design of the two homes, one of Sufi’s ustad and the other of Sujata’s tharavadu, are used to hammer home a rather obvious point about their different faiths. Characters like Sujata’s father (a hammy Siddique) and Sufi’s master become exaggerated caricatures, merely carrying the placards of their respective religions.
What’s baffling is how shallow the character of the Sufi comes across as. We hear of his mystical powers and his closeness to God, yet we never sense a conflict when he’s forced to choose between Allah and Sujata. The dialogues between Sufi and his ustad Aboob are among the film’s weakest, further distancing us from the story.
The film then also tries to tackle the concept of love jihad, but without the depth and seriousness it deserves. In a key scene, Aboob explains that religion is an opinion, one which cannot easily be changed in strong-willed people. Yet, we get visuals of Sujata wearing the veil after removing her bindi, even when Sufi himself draws her with a bindi. For a film that’s trying to dispel wrong ideas about the topic, such visuals really mislead the audience about the point it’s trying to make.
It’s only when we get back to the last two stages of their love that the film begins to come together. Rajeev (Sujata’s husband, played by Jayasurya) is what you’d call the opposite of the Sufi. A Phd in mathematics, he works in an insurance company in Dubai. From a mystical love story filled with music to a life filled with mundane facts and figures, Sujata’s “madness” is understandable. But, so is Rajeev’s. In the film’s most fascinating character, we see a good man who has been slowly corroding from within, in the knowledge that his wife’s in love with someone else. In other words, he gifts her his kitaab of love, only for its pages to be filled with words of love for another man.
And finally, it’s only in death that Sufi truly unites with Sujata, hinting at how one Sujata must die for another to be born. Like the other inanimate objects, it’s a tasbih (rosary) that tells us this story too. Ironically, in trying to marry the aesthetics of Ennu Ninte Moideen with the surreal world of Njan Gandharvan, we end up with a film that’s lacking a term used too often in the film…rooh (soul).