This is a beautiful movie, both visually and just by its essence. It is deeply poetic, almost like a short story or a folk take told anew. One with its heart in the right place as gently, sweetly worms your way into your subconscious until you cannot think of anything else. Like the Sufi Dervish, it takes you into its trance, and you leave crying, happily.
In the present, A wandering Sufi returns to a Mosque in a small village in Kerala. He sings the call to prayer, then dies. Sujata, a former Kathak teacher, lives in Dubai with her husband Rajeev and their child. She is devastated by the news. Rajeev and Sujata travel to Kerala in the hopes of making it before the funeral in order for her to pay her last respects.
In the past, Sufi arrives at the village mosque in order to be its new singer for the call to prayer and to meet the Imam of the Mosque. Sujata is a helper for the old Imam, and has an appreciation for Muslim culture in contrast to her Hindu Brahmin family. Slowly, secretly, Sufi and Sujata begin to fall in love.
This film, as I said, is beautiful. The direction and cinematography are seamless, with such care taken at the smallest shot. Writer-director Naranipuzha Shanavas clearly has a sharp eye for not only beautiful shots, but for stories as well. This is the kind of story that is exactly what it sets out to be, a love story between star-crossed lovers, while also being a story about communal harmony and understanding, as well as sacrifice.
Sufism is about sacrifice in many of its traditions. It is about rising from the ranks of student with hard, dedicated work, until you are able to be called a real Sufi. Because Sufism is about sacrifice from worldly desires until there is nothing between you and God. The word Sufi itself comes from the woollen clothes the practitioners of this sect of Islam wear. The Dervish dance is, of course, famous, but it is a form of meditation, a dance, where you loose all sense of the material world with that slow, spinning motion until you reach that place where you can see God. Its essential philosophy is that God is everything in the universe, so there should not be barriers to reach Him.
I just love how the film embraces Sufism openly and respectfully, showing the smallest drop of water or bird’s nest or dove or Sujata dancing as the camera pans away, treating it as a kind of worship as well. Worshipping in a Mosque, reading the Qu’ran (both girls and boys), Qawwali, singing, dancing, are all worshipped by the cameras as graceful, beautiful acts worth both respect and admiration. It is hypnotising, and the cinematographer Anu Moothedath truly deserves every credit.
On the acting side is all wonderful as well. Dev Mohan as Sufi has this peaceful presence that carries throughout his performance. One can see why Sujata would fall for him. Not only because of his beautifully dreamy face, but because of his soul as well. He portrays the silent inner struggle of him so well, especially his eyes when the camera captures the pain inside them. He clearly loves Sujata, and respects her decisions when it comes to her life, because he understands them too.
This is probably the most innocent role Aditi Rao Hydari has played, her features, delicate gestures and large doe-like eyes doing most of the talking in her mute role. She conveys the scream without sound, the anger without erupting. I especially love when she looks at herself in the mirror, without a bindi and her veil styled like a hijab. These small moments add to her character a lot, and give her depth. Her being interested in Islam or Muslim culture is already established before Sufi comes into her world. Love though does make her explore a little more into it, and consider conversion with her small acts of trying the hijab style to trying to pray. It is clearly shown that it is her choice to do these acts, and I love it.
These two characters truly do seem like they stepped out a tale long past that is only now being told to the world anew, but set in modern day. I cannot find any other way to describe it. Sujata is mute, while Sufi sings, but they both dance. They understand each other even if there are no words, only gestures, exchanged between them. They both know it is not possible for them to be together, mostly because of their respected loves for both faith and family, yet there is never a conversation about either of their hesitations. Since they met, there has been this unsaid desire between them, with the spiritual connecting them together. Honestly, it is what great love stories are made of, and thankfully the film never delves into the melodramatic or the usual beats for this kind of story. We know from the first that this is a doomed love, and the characters know it too. Yet that brief love is enough for them until it is time for them to move on, either physically or mentally from what was. Personally, I don’t think I will be over them for a while, they are just so perfectly tragic, romantic, and adorable at the same time.
As Sujata’s husband Rajeev we have Jayasurya who perfectly captures the inner struggle of a man who loves his wife, hates fighting with her, but knows deep down why they have those fights yet doesn’t blame her for them. He reminded me a lot of Ajay Devgn’s character in Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam (1999) – the husband who tries to reunite his wife with her former lover – though here the lover is very much deceased.
Valsala Menon as Sujata’s Grandmother is one of my favourites, and one can see where Sujata gets her rebellious spirit from. The two of them conversing while placing turmeric into each others hair is one of my favourite scenes from the movie. Manikandan Pattambi as Kumaran, the Kannada worker for the household is a highlight for the humour he brings to the film.
The music by Madhusoodanan Jayachandran is positively divine. Filled with so many touches of Muslim Sufi music that it explains so much while our characters talk very little. ‘Vathikkalu Vellaripravu’ is a wonderful mix of both Carnatic and Islamic music together in harmony, speaking to the themes of the film. I hesitate to say any more about the songs or the themes in the movie, because I would repeat myself too much. They are all just wonderful, spiritual, calming, and truly makes you fall in love with Sufism the same as Sujata does. One of my favourite musical scenes in the movie is the song ‘Azan The Light – Allahu Akbar’ where Sufi sings the call to prayer, while Sujata dances Kathak to it, making his words gestures – thus making her own call to the divine. She may not be able to sing with him, but she can dance, with her gestures being her words while Sufi’s call to prayer is her melody. Oh, the poetics of this movie are just on another level! I love it so much!
I don’t know what else I can say about this. movie. It has taken me over completely with its beauty that is so full of earnest heart. I wouldn’t call it a film so much as an experience. Yes, I am a sucker for a tragic romance, and this ranks as one of the best of them since it rejects the melodrama in favour of silent, almost Noh-theatre kind of presentation. It is most certainly the most Sufi movie I can think of out of the few Indian films concentrated on the Muslim minority.
This is a movie one takes in, one scene, one song at a time. Like the Sufi Dervish it is one that makes you feel closer to something divine one step at a time, as you cry at the end in a cathartic way. I have never felt such calm after seeing a film, which I think might be purposeful. There is peace, there is resolution and catharsis for both our emotions and the characters. Just like at the end when the Sufi stops his Dervish.
Thank you for reading!
5 thoughts on “Sufiyum Sujatayum (2020) – Love in Sacrifice”
I remember I was so excited when I first heard about this movie I was literally counting days to its release.
It’s been over two years ago so I don’t remember the plot perfectly but I still have crush on Dev Mohan, I remember Aditi lovely dances and I still listen to Allahu Akbar because it’s so beautiful it gives me goosebumps.
I remember being annoyed with Jayasurya, but I don’t remember why. Maybe because I wanted more Aditi and Dev and less his character.
The music is so beautiful! And yeah I agree that Jayasura’s character should have had more time for us to see him in a sympathetic light by the end, but it all ended up being Dev and Aditi who feel like the perfect couple
Oh, this sounds so beautiful O: Besides the beautiful poetry and music involved, putting the viewpoint on Sufism makes sense given how much it has been a point of contact/exchange between Islam and Hinduism. (And Islam and other religions, too. . . even in Qaraism, which is typically kind of anti-mystical, we had influence from Sufi thinkers during the Fatimid era.)
Yea it is very mystical and so beautiful! The soundtrack and visuals help with this so much. Just search the videos of the songs and there is so much Sufism and beauty in those 😀