Naranipuzha Shanavas's Sufiyum Sujatayum, now streaming on Amazon Prime Video, is likely to generate some ripples. It's not that such a story has not been told before but that it is being told now. Forbidden love, after all, has been a favourite theme with storytellers, and Sufiyum Sujatayum tells one such story.
The film, which has the quality of a fairytale to it, revolves around a mute Namboothiri woman and a Sufi saint. There is a husband in the equation -- Jayasurya's Rajeevan, who is tired of his wife's obsession with the man she never gave up loving. So, when he gets a chance to bring her some closure, he takes the leap.
I found myself thinking about Mouna Ragam's Divya stubbornly refusing to engage with her newlywed husband and a helpless Chandrakumar trying to give her what she wants. But Rajeevan and Sujata have not only been married for years, they also have a child. What does Sujata's unwillingness to move on mean for the two of them? While Shanavas gives us a few hints -- Rajeevan losing his patience even as Sujata cowers -- the narrative stops well short of really sinking its teeth into the ugliness of a forced marriage.
And this is a problem with the script all through. While visually, Anu Moothedath's camera creates poetry on screen, that's all we're left with. What about Sufi makes Sujata cling on to him for so many years? Beyond exchanging earnest puppy glances and uttering some generic philosophy, there's nothing much that happens between them. Yes, he can dance on his toes and whirl like a dream, and this is perhaps enough for an infatuation, but love that lasts for so long? I wasn't convinced.
As a mute woman, Aditi is faced with the challenge of conveying all her emotions with expressions and body language. But though the actor tries hard and is a graceful dancer, she looks completely out of place as Sujata with her brown hair and light eyes. Her clothes, too, stick out for a woman who supposedly lives in a small town. She looks nothing like her parents -- played by Siddique and Kalaranjini, both wearing anxious expressions all through -- or the people of the town.
Dev Mohan, as the wandering mystic, looks the part with his deep eyes, but his role is severely underwritten and we never meet him as a person. He's a man caught between his faith and passion for the woman he loves, but we don't see his inner conflicts. In Fleabag, for instance, the man of religion is constantly questioning himself and his choices; every time, he reminds us of human failure even as he aspires for divinity. Sufi, however, has the air of a know-it-all and Dev Mohan's one note acting doesn't help.
Jayasurya's role is an extended cameo. The actor does well with what he's given and it's unfortunate that he was given so little.
M Jayachandran's compositions uplift the film, especially the clarinet scene. The azaan is strikingly beautiful. However, the background score becomes repetitive, with 'Roohi' playing every time love is in the air. The scenes depend too much on the music doing all the work, while the actors are stuck with little to do.
The theory that 'love jihad' is the conspiracy of Muslim men to lure Hindu women into Islam has been gaining traction for the past few years. In Sufiyum Sujatayum, Sujata displays agency of her own and disrupts such narratives, but the film's reluctance to descend from midair and place its feet on the ground, denies the audience any feeling for the star-crossed lovers. Across the country and in Kerala, angry parents have forced their daughters into violent religious centers to "cure" them of their love. But, Shanavas chooses not to show any of this sordid reality, placing his characters instead as unreachable and mythical beings.
Sufiyum Sujatayum strives to be a simple love story -- one that does not require explanations or footnotes -- but the treatment makes it simplistic instead. A pity, because the idea had the potential to be so much more.
Disclaimer: This review was not paid for or commissioned by anyone associated with the series/film. TNM Editorial is independent of any business relationship the organisation may have with producers or any other members of its cast or crew.