When Aamir Khan made a movie on wrestling, he told the unconventional tale of a father in the heartland of patriarchy, who chose to defy the norms and went on train his daughters as champion wrestlers. Anurag Kashyap made a movie on boxing and chose to tell his story against the backdrop of the rampant castesim and jingoism in his home state,UP. And then you have Zakariya Mohammed, the debutant director who has gone ahead and made a movie based on the football frenzy in Kerala, reflecting the culture of brotherhood and love across borders, ethnicities and identities that has always stood the state apart from the rest of the world.My personal theory about this inclusive culture and general lack of animosity of the people in the region is that, we have been exposed to outsiders through centuries of trade rather than invasions.I have always believed that Cinema is a universal language which transcends the barriers of the mind and lands reiterating the fact that the human condition is the same, everywhere.Sudani From Nigeria reinforces that belief.
Like how every Malayali in the Middle East is a Malabari, every African player in the fiercely competitive Sevens football scene in the state is a Sudani to the locals, hence the title of the movie. Though there’s isn’t much of actual football in the movie, it’s an indispensable part of the story here and revolves around it, much akin to the life of the team manager Majeed played by Soubin Shahir. He’s no Arsene Wenger though, and splits the prize money between his players per game and sleeps with them on the floor of the one room atop a building which passes for the players’ accommodation, when he can’t find peace at home.The player who is the focus of the tale is Samuel Abiola Robinson, a Nigerian actor. The crux of the tale is the bond that develops between Samuel’s eponymous character and the people in Majeed’s life which ultimately transforms him as a person too. It was not enough it seems, that the Nigerian’s addressed a Sudani, he’s sudu to Majeed’s mother and neighbors, in true Malayali tradition. No one goes without a pet name here.
The characters who will actually blow you away are played by three, elderly actors who are not exactly familiar faces in Malayalam cinema.Savithri Sreedharan as Majeed’s mother has successfully translated the six decades of her experience as an award winning theatre artiste onto the silver screen.She is in fact a representative of the unconditionally loving mothers of the world, here.Sarasa Balussery, another award winning drama actor who’s making her mark in this movie plays the wisecracking ,tough neighbor who competes with Majeed’s mother to take care of Samuel.She’s no different from those tough as nails aunts and neighbor ladies in our own lives who have showered us with affection.Delivering the most moving performance of the three is another veteran stage artiste, KTC Abdullah as Majeed’s step-father. It’s a role and performance that would leave Stone Cold Steve Austin teary eyed. It would be unfair not to mention Muhsin Perari’s writing, which i suspect has contributed heavily in capturing the charms of life in the small towns and villages of Malappuram.One can’t but help feeling that a film as unique and refreshing as this could have avoided the controversy that was stirred up post release and though any publicity is good publicity these days, the film deserved better.