Sudani from Nigeria is about a strength that's rarely celebrated in our increasingly aggressive world. The strength of compassion - what everyone, the most fragile of us, is capable of finding within. That this should be the discovery we make in a film that was sold to us as a sports movie, is all the more precious.
Zakariya's tender story is built on ordinary moments. A pompous man who shoots off Hindi to a Nigerian because that's his idea of speaking in an alien tongue; an elderly woman who confesses that she had no idea the Nigerian was called 'Samuel' and not 'Sudu' (short for 'Sudani' - how the local people refer to all Africans) after taking care of him for so long; even one of the most poignant scenes in the film, when Samuel (Samuel Abiola Robinson) paints a picture on the wall of the house he's staying in, is not drowned out in melodrama. The first comment that is made is, "Oh no, my wall!", making us laugh with an ache in the heart.
Set in Malappuram, Sudani from Nigeria is about the value of all things we take for granted. Whether that's water from a pipe or the love of a parent. Soubin Shahir as Majid, the manager of a sevens football team, and Samuel Robinson who goes by the same name in the film and plays a footballer, are both distant from their families. While the latter is separated by many miles geographically, Majid's distance lies in the heart.
The casting is brilliant. Savithri Sreedharan as Jameela and Sarasa Balussery as Beeyummma, quietly assertive, supportive of each other, emerge as unlikely heroes. The writing is exceptionally strong - light, real, and still managing to bring a lump to the throat. It is through these women that Majid and Samuel form a friendship and ultimately find themselves.
Soubin and Samuel share a wonderful chemistry on screen. Both actors are well in control and never go overboard. In any other film, Jameela and Beeyumma would have been relegated to making endless cups of tea, barely speaking a word in the background. In Sudani, they lead in a most natural way, without the announcement of a revolution. There is a gentle overturning of cliches all through the film - they don't punch you in the face with the need to look 'different', they surprise you with the realisation that these are realities too, but seldom do they find their way to the screen.
KTC Abdulla's fragile smile broke my heart. He doesn't have much to say, but that earnest expression, that ability to absorb rudeness and not retaliate...we recognise it as power, the power to be the bigger person, through Sudani.
Technically, too, Sudani is a superior film. Whether it's the camera work (Shyju Khalid) or the music (Rex Vijayan, Shahabaz Aman), the film comes together to build a certain warmth that looks deceptively simple to achieve but is not. We hear many languages throughout the film - Yoruba, Hindi, Malayalam, Manglish, Nigerian English - there's comedy through mistranslation and misinterpretation, yes, but beautifully, meaning is not lost in translation. Rather, it is found.
Disclaimer: This review was not paid for or commissioned by anyone associated with the film. Neither TNM nor any of its reviewers have any sort of business relationship with the film's producers or any other members of its cast and crew.