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Malayalam film Sufiyum Sujatayum released online is a Hindu-Muslim love story that unfortunately does not fulfil the promise of social commentary shown in its trailer.
The trailer of the much awaited Sufiyum Sujatayam, promised a soulful love story that explored ‘love jihad.’ Unfortunately, the movie doesn’t go all the way and fails to explore the ugliness of religious bigotry, leaving us with not much more than some beautifully framed scenes and stirring music.
As someone who lives outside India, in a city where Malayalam films rarely get screened in theatres, it has always been extremely frustrating that most Malayalam movies come to OTT platforms months after everyone else has already seen them. So, when I heard that Sufiyum Sujatayum would be releasing on Prime directly (because theatres are still closed due to the pandemic), I was excited because for a change, I would actually be able to watch the movie with everyone else.
The trailer, when it dropped, made me even more eager. Featuring an angelic Aditi Rao Hydari as Sujata, and newcomer Dev Mohan as Sufi, it promised a tragic but soulful story, of lovers split apart by religious bigotry.
Having watched the film, I’m aware of having mixed feelings towards it. On the one hand, it is visually pleasing, and it does have a fairytale quality that makes it endearing. However, this same ‘faitytale’ approach makes it highly unconvincing, and the film doesn’t quite deliver on the promises made in the trailer.
Sujata is an upper caste Hindu girl, who also has a speech impairment, living in a small village, somewhere on the Kerala-Karnataka border. She has a friendly relationship with the aged priest at the local mosque, and she visits him every day. When his disciple, a handsome young man, named Sufi who is also skilled at ‘whirling,’ comes to stay with him, there is a mutual attraction between the two young people, which develops into a deep love. Meanwhile, Sujata’s father (Siddique) is trying to arrange her marriage to a Hindu NRI living in Dubai, Dr Rajeevan (Jayasurya).
Right at the beginning of the movie, it becomes clear that Sujata is married to Rajeevan now, and that they have a daughter. But it is an unhappy marriage, because she still loves Sufi. Sufi, who has been away, returns to the mosque, and dies in the middle of prayer. Rajeevan is informed, and in an attempt to give Sujata closure, he brings her to India, to witness his funeral.
How did Sufi and Sujata get separated in the first place?
Will she get the closure she wants?
These are the questions the movie tries to answer.
Unfortunately, the movie’s slow pace and sparse storyline mean that not much happens. Most of the screen time goes into cutesy scenes of Sujata and Sufi falling in love. However, even with all the time spent in it, we don’t quite understand why exactly they love each other, because they are very one-note characters.
The writing lacks depth, and that ultimately is the downfall of Sufiyum Sujatayum.
‘Love jihad’ is an accusation that the Hindu right wing has consistently used to target Muslims. From advocating child marriage to Hindu ‘task forces’ , bigots have come up with many ‘solutions’ to ensure that Hindu women do not get ‘trapped’ by Muslim men. Parents often go to extreme measures to either ‘cure’ or punish their daughters.
This happens, as Nilanjan Mukhopadhyay writes in his essay, Love Jihad, in Love Is Not A Word : The Culture and Politics of Desire, “Because in the patriarchal Hindu viewpoint, women – though hallowed as mothers, sisters, daughters and of course, goddesses – were little more than sexual playfields and wombs to further the race, they were not considered as having the capacity – or the right – to enter into consensual relationships with Muslim men.”
It is an ugly situation, where religion and patriarchy intersect, to suppress women.
Yet, the film barely explores this ugliness. There is barely any conflict; barely any struggle. And thus, the movie remains as a missed opportunity to make a strong social commentary.
Similarly, we only see glimpses of the conflict between Rajeevan and Sujata. How has their relationship survived ten years? How is it that despite there being no love between them, that they have a child? And how is it that once Sujata gets the closure she seeks with respect to Sufi, the connection between her and Rajeevan is instant? Surely, what the couple has gone through is way more complex and deserves deeper examination.
Another conflict that goes unexplored is Sufi’s own internal conflict. As a spiritual seeker, his entanglement with a woman in itself should be cause for some soul searching. Here, it is a woman from a vastly different religious background. Surely, Sufi must have struggled with himself and his beliefs. Yet, the movie makes no mention of this at all.
For audiences that simply want an uncomplicated, predictable romance (even though it is slow and tragic), Sufiyum Sujatayum delivers. The cinematography and music are top notch. The last thirty minutes are quite thrilling, and this is where the story finally comes together.
Ever so often, when the romantic scenes come on, the BGM goes “rooh hai” (my soul.) Unfortunately, it is that very soul that Sufiyum Sujatayum ends up lacking.
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