Sufiyum Sujatayum is a delectably shot and lushly beautiful story which should have been much more intense in its evocation of timeless love in order to be considered a truly good movie. In its current avatar, it is worth a watch for sure, but there could have been much more with the template it sets up. The romantics will definitely find this an intriguing watch, but for the rest there is a possibility of dreariness settling in.
The movie is centred around the timeless bond between Sujata, a mute dancer, and the mostly quiet, brooding Sufi who enchants the small village he comes to, singing his version of a melodious azaan as a background to the village days and enticing those who stop and listen to his voice. One among these, of course, being Sujata. There is a seamless blend of different faiths here; not just in the fictional landscape of the movie, but also in some of the artistic choices. One of the more memorable sequences involve Sujata plying her art form to the background of the Sufi’s melodious prayer. The Sufi is devoted to his dance form too, as he whirls with the abandon and intense devotion that those fascinating dervishes need to ply their beautiful skills. Sujata belongs to a typical Hindu household but meets the Sufi on her visits to the local mosque where, through the ailing master of the Sufi, they are introduced. Sparks have already started flying before that, as a scene in the bus alludes to. Their growing closeness is depicted with tentative grace and is never made any more than subtly obvious in their on-screen interactions. The Sufi has his lifestyle set out in front of him and it is not supposed to include a wife or lover, and especially not one from another faith. Sujata also has unwritten inhibitions to what she can or cannot choose in life and having a lover from another religion is pretty much top of the can’t do list. Her parents match her up with a well settled acquaintance from the middle east, Rajeev, who appears more in line with what she should desire from life.
But the heart does not give up easily nor forget its own desires. As her unassuming fiancé tries his own version of a romantic correspondence with her, she instead pursues the Sufi in her wordless, but inimitable style. The pressures of family and tradition though cannot be held at bay forever. An impassioned appeal by her father, and the Sufi and the life she may have had walks out of her life.
Much later, but in fact at the beginning of the movie’s narrative, the Sufi reappears at the sleepy village and mosque, one which has now been virtually abandoned to a caretaker and occasional worshipper. As the melodious azaan once again calls the faithful, the enactor himself falls to a sleep from which he will not wake up from. The news is relayed by a local to Rajeev in the UAE, who in turn relays it to his embittered wife. It’s obvious she hasn’t let go of the Sufi and the strain of it on Rajeev and their relationship is evident. Out of a sense of achieving closure, Rajeev decides they need to travel back home to witness the burial and put the Sufi finally at rest. But achieving closure is not as easy as it sounds and events play out a tad differently from what he envisions, as Sujata may still have one last trick up her sleeve to relinquish her dying love.
The picturization of the film is like a wonder palette of an artist’s vision of a place. The colors that light up the scenes are radiant and a delight to look at, making picture postcards of everything. Whether it is the lushness of the countryside or the way the different players in this story are clothed up, it reinforces the mystical, almost magic realist, feel the movie was aiming for, but which it couldn’t entirely get down perfectly.
The actors are all well cast. Aditi Rao Hydari has always been someone who can make hearts flutter with her unique beauty, one which marries vulnerability and gorgeousness to great effect. And for a role like this, where it’s mostly her eyes and actions which do all the talking for her, she is remarkable; at times giving off vibes of a young Shobana in the way she uses her eyes to convey her feelings. The Sufi is played by newcomer Dev Mohan, and he does get well into the enigmatic skin of the Sufi as well as into the breath-taking dervish movements. However, in terms of emoting, the role doesn’t really demand much of him as the heavy lifting has to be done by the others into whose life he comes. Siddique is dependably great as Sujata’s father, the pivot which pushes her finally away from her lover and yet never unsympathetic. There is also a great supporting act by Manikantan as a local grave digger. But it is probably Rajeev, played by Jayasurya, who provides the most fascinating character. An obviously decent man driven to frustrated rage at his marriage’s lack of life and love, his decision to impulsively fly them back home for the funeral of his wife’s former lover is a pointer to his complex mental makeup. None of the characters here, apart from perhaps the eponymous Sufi, are easily slotted into black or white. The shades of grey are what makes them fascinating, but the story doesn’t explore their potential as much as it could have. It remains mostly on a superficial level with the interesting asides of character development almost like a digression. The love story aspires to poetical greatness, but rarely achieves the intensity needed to explain the depth of feeling between these two disparate characters.
These limits to the storytelling power render the movie not a great watch for everyone. However, there is no question that there is something here for the utterly romantic and for those who want to delve into a beautifully constructed, if thematically shallow, tale of love found and lost and perhaps found again.