Sometimes the very start of a film announces its quality. The cinematographic announcement and a quick take on the relationship between Sujatha and her husband is a perfect preface to a sometime absorbing and sometime excruciatingly slow narrative. Filmmakers from Kerala seem to be exploring new vistas. And succeeding. Filmmaker Naranipuzha Shanavas takes up an inter-religious romance pegged around amazing Sufi music to tell the story of a Sufi (Dev Mohan) and his mute lover Sujatha (Aditi Rao Hydari). While the girl comes from a traditional Hindu family and her father Mallikarjuna (Siddique) is matchmaking for her, cupid strikes in the midst of soulful Sufi music when Sufi and Sujatha meet.
The script takes too long to set the ambience which, needless to point out is awesome. The relationship, though immediate, takes too long to blossom and even longer to go through the conflict curve. What helps is an electic atmosphere. The ruhen ruhen cry in the backdrop adds a spirited dimension to a simple storyline of social defiance and cross religion romance. Sujatha has a Mother (Kalaranjini) and a spirited Grandma (Valasala Menon). The film has some very brisk moments, some subtleties and some emotions picturized with finesse. Just an instance of each – the single toe majesty of Sufi, the scene depicting the death of the Grandma, the scene where Sujatha’s husband Rajeev (Jayasurya) slips at the burial area. The film has many appliqués of sensitive moments. Even as Sujatha is married to Rajeev, Rajeev can neither wish away his wife nor swallow the emotional infidelity. The relationship is perhaps reminiscent of the protagonist in Gharonda and Woh Saath Din.
The director deftly handles complex relationships. While on the one hand, there is a brewing chemistry between the Sufi singer and his mute admirer defying social norms, on the other there is a strained relationship between the couple haunted by the shadow of the Sufi. Both the relationships are stated without being dramatic. One warm, one romantic. The support cast, like ever so often in this region of cinema, is near perfect and steady in their contribution to the move of the script. Take for example the Muezzin (Mammu Kkoya) or the Mother – Kalaranjini, the grave digger Kumaran Manikandan Patthambi and Aboob – Swamy Shoonya steady, sturdy and constructive.
As the husband, Jayasurya contributes to the narrative as an angry but cooperative husband. Dev Mohan is a drool. Amazing screen presence, well controlled emotive skillsets and an angular frame – perfect for a Sufi. He is half the film. The seeming other half of the film in Aditi Rao Hydari is a huge disappointment. She barely survives the call of the script. Too poised and visibly very attractive for the role. I would recall someone like Jaya Bachchan in her prime (a la Uphaar) carry the disdain and her spirit of careless rebellion all of which Aditi fails to deliver. In fact, her looks are a distraction to the script.
What then is the other half of the film? The cinematographer Anu Moothedath tells with his camera what a script writer will take hours to state. From the word go till the dying moments at the grave or even the final hand clasp in the Dubai borne plain, the lens is the master of what it surveys. An amazing music track of soul filled Sufi music is a huge takeaway. Music director M Jayachandran comes up with an award worthy performance (at least in an honest award orbit). Songs Vaathukkal by Arjun Krishna, Mithya Mammen and Zia ul Haq, Doorie by Madhuvanthi Narayanan and Alhamdulilla by Sudeep Palanad and Amrita Suresh lift the mood and mode of the film.
Sufiyum Sujathayum could have just well been Sufi!