A man with a long, unruly beard and a dour expression dies in the middle of prayer at a mosque in Kerala. Far away in Dubai, a woman dreams of a Sufi saint in a long hat and flowing robes dancing on his toes in a trance, and then dropping lifeless on the ground. She wakes up in a cold sweat next to her sleeping daughter and husband. Debutant Naranipuzha Shanavas sets the stage for his love story with this explicit thread, and the narrative faithfully pursues it.
The love story between the beauteous, waiflike Sujata (Aditi Rao Hydari), with her large, brown eyes, and the long-bearded Sufi (Dev Mohan), begins silently, their eyes doing most of the talking. The first meeting is unimaginative, inside a bus. He gives up his seat, their eyes meet, and she returns a shy smile.
Unfortunately, it does not improve from there. Sujata lives in a pleasantly brown and antiquated home with expansive rooms that seems like a film set. There is a father (Siddique) who does accounts, a homemaker mother (Kalaranjini) and a friendly grandmother (Leela Menon). Interestingly, the film normalises the fact that Sujata can’t speak. The token notes of sympathy are missing even when a marriage alliance is being planned.
Sujata teaches Kathak to a few children at the local Muslim saint’s home, while Sufi is the saint’s devotee (it’s another matter that the saint is a trope with his clarinets and empty philosophy). Sujatha is fascinated by Sufi’s ability to dance on his toes. She tries to replicate it, nearly slips and he catches her. Brown eyes and warm black eyes exchange messages. Rinse, repeat. A montage song (the music is fab) further validates their silent romance. They exchange diaries. He draws her. She draws him.
All visually beautiful but unfortunately, both characters have no depth, even though they are played by two physically stunning people. This plunges the passionless love story into deeper misery, making it difficult to invest in their emotions. More than a passing shallow infatuation, there is nothing on paper or screen to corroborate their “eternal love story”.
If at all the makers aspired to a Mouna Ragam template (which seems obvious considering the thread), they could have allotted more screen time to the husband’s character. Especially since the only redeeming factor about this “intense love story” is Sujata’s husband Rajeev (Jayasurya). It can also be that Jayasurya brings so much intensity and nuance to the character, making us totally invest in his unrequited love. You only get Rajeev’s brief outbursts which are so effectively conveyed—a wife who is still lost in the memory of her lover even after 10 years of marriage and a traumatised husband who is desperately trying to revive their loveless marriage.
“More than a passing shallow infatuation, there is nothing on paper or screen to corroborate the 'eternal love story' between Sufi and Sujata”
The other point of contention has to be the excess motifs around Sufi’s faith—the background score dipped in Sufi music, the mysticism, their home furnished with every available celluloid trope around the religion and the azaan that reverberates frequently without any reason. Considering that the film stays away from making any forced secular assertions, which is the norm with inter-religious love stories on screen, this seemed a little grating.
Though the film tries to revive itself in the last half hour, the history of the tepid romance fails to lend the necessary gravitas to that closure.
Even the production setting seems jarring and inaccurate. Since the film begins in the present time, logically, the flashback portions have to be set in the 90s, but the production values seem even more dated.
Aditi Rao Hydari looks woefully out of place with her auburn tinted hair, sophisticated body language and a character who is badly written. Debutant Dev Mohan has nothing to work on with his character other than smile tenderly, steal glances and look saintly.
The talented supporting actors (Siddique, Kalaranjini, Leela Menon) are stuck in a rut, the dialogues are unmemorable and the lead pair fails to make an already bland romance work. Perhaps OTT releases are not such a bad investment at all. At least your ticket money is saved.