Zakariya’s first movie Sudani from Nigeria that he co-wrote with Muhsin Parari had this universal outlook and it was about empathy and humanity. His new film Halal Love Story, again co-written along with Parari has the texture of a satire. Constructed as a religiously inclined organization’s efforts to make a telefilm, Halal Love Story is a pleasant movie with political pertinence.
Shereef and Raheem are part of an orthodox Muslim organization. At one point they come up with the idea of doing a cinema as an initiative of the cultural wing of the organization. For that, they seek the help of Thoufeeq, a man who sort of buried his aspirations to make cinema as his religion never really endorsed it. So with a script written by Thoufeeq, Shereef and Raheem hire a director named Siraj and the story is about Siraj’s struggle to make a love story with these inexperienced people that is Halal (lawful according to Quran) in nature.
The satire angle here makes Halal Love Story more of a critique on social conditioning. Even though we are seeing it as a cinema about cinema, the movie’s primary aim is to talk about the relationship between a husband and wife. The inequality in that equation and the inability of men to understand that somehow becomes the reason for the central conflict to originate. The lack of chemistry in Shereef and his wife Suhra’s relationship is what driving Halal Love Story forward. And Zakariya and Muhsin Parari use their brand of subtle humor to stage that relationship. There is this hilarious and hard-hitting moment in the film where Thoufeeq tries to convince Suhra to act in the movie opposite her husband and her simple response left me in splits. There are several other similar moments along with the jokes that come as part of the practicality aspect of the story which involves making a movie with the cooperation of people who has no prior experience.
The world we get to see here is pretty much the same we saw in KL 10 Pathu and Sudani From Nigeria. Zakariya’s key strength is the way the characters are constructed on a writing level. Suhra is the central character here. In the initial moments, you may feel that Suhra is the stereotypical Muslim wife we have seen in movies. But Zakariya and Muhsin Parari has made Suhra an intelligent and strong lady without necessarily making her an activist figure. The way she asks some basic questions were enough to make Shereef speechless. Director Siraj is another tool for the script to break the ice between Shereef and Suhra. Instead of making him a mediator who gives them lectures about relationship values, they use him more like the result of a failed relationship.
This is photographer Ajay Menon’s first work as a DOP and the visuals were really nice, especially in capturing the scenic beauty of the landscapes. And the choice of backdrop for scenes was also interesting. The troubled relationship of Siraj was always depicted in the backdrop of night. The songs by Bijibal and Shahabaz Aman add so much of life to the movie.
My personal favorite in the cast was Grace Antony who performed the part of Suhra brilliantly. As I already said, the way Parari and Zakariya have written Suhra is definitely impressive and the nuanced performance of Grace makes that character extremely real. She gets the dialect perfectly and she effectively underplays a strong character. Indrajith Sukumaran as Shereef is a bit caricaturish in the beginning and as the story progresses, Shereef also progresses as an individual and Indrajith brings in that realness smoothly. Thoufeeq played by Sharaf U Dheen may well be the character close to the writers of the movie as he plays the role of a writer who shows Cinema Paradiso to the kids in his school. Sharaf doesn’t go with his usual counter dialogue strategy here. The restrained humor makes that character a likable one. Joju George gets to play the role of the frustrated director and the personal side of that character was performed very nicely by Joju. Both Parvathy and Soubin are here in more like extended cameo-like roles. A lot of the memorable faces we saw in Sudani from Nigeria were also there.
In a crucial moment in the movie, the sexual aspect of a hug between a man and woman becomes a feisty debate. And when they finally reach a solution for that, we all see them hugging each other in excitement. By showing such ironical behaviors of the conservative mindsets, Zakariya’s Halal Love Story becomes a simple and satisfying movie that deep down asks you to express, evolve and move on from the socially or religiously conditioned constraints.
Zakariya’s Halal Love Story is a simple and satisfying movie that deep down asks you to express, evolve, and move on from the socially or religiously conditioned constraints.
Green: Recommended Film
Orange: Okay, Watchable, Experimental Films
Red: Not Recommended