When one thinks of India and its history of non-violence as a way to change conditions, one thinks of Mahatma Ghandi and an India of some sixty-five years ago when the country was partitioned – 7 million Muslims moved to a newly created Pakistan, and 7 million Hindus moved back to India – in 1947. The years following have been turbulent and rife with religious tensions, and, sad to say, bloody both with political and religious ideology as an underpinning.
How refreshing, then, when a film comes along that sidesteps all of the hot-button issues, and merely tells a gentle story of “people” (both Hindu and Muslim) living their lives in thousands of villages all over the vast country, side by side, yet still practicing their religious customs, and respecting one another as friends in the process. “Abu, Son of Adam” is just the sort of film that exemplifies those values and commitments.
Written and directed by first time director (but experienced writer) Salim Ahamed, the movie written and spoken in the Malayalam dialect with English sub-titles, stars Salim Kumar, Zarina Wahab, M.R. Gopakumar, Mukesh, and Kalahavan Mani.
The story revolves around an aging couple Abu (Kumar) and his wife (Wahab) and their lifelong dream as devout Muslims to go on a religious pilgrimage to Mecca before they die. They register their names with a travel agency specializing in pilgrimages to Mecca, but soon realize that their ambition will require severe sacrifices. They sell everything they have of value including the century-old jackfruit tree in front of their house. Although the tree is found to be hollow and the timber merchant is willing to take the loss, Abu – being a true Muslim – will only accept money to go to Hajj according to the principles of Islam and turns down the offer. For the audience it becomes a bit of a guessing game. Will they go or will they pass concerning the generosity of others?
There were groans from some audience members when he refuses monetary assistance from several neighbors and friends (which to me, signifies one of the basic differences between secular and religious philosophies when “East meets West”. Most of us in Palm Springs would have said “thank you very much” and gone on the trip).
This rare tale of Muslim community life in the South Indian state of Kerala has received several coveted awards in India, and is India’s submission to the Academy for Best Foreign Language Film.
Writer/Director Ahamed, may be a first-time director, but as a writer, he has a few tricks up his sleeve. Just when you think you know where the story is going, it makes a slight directional turn. To say anymore might spoil the overall tranquility and tone of this gentle and bittersweet movie for audiences who are tired of explosions, car chases, and special effects in their movie choices. It’s a film that encourages one to slow down a bit and smell the roses. The performances of the ensemble cast more than make up for its measured pace. Actually, it’s a welcome relief from the hustle and bustle of most of the films one finds on movie screens these days.