Halal Love Story! - A gentle satire camouflaged as a feel good film!
Zakariya in his second directorial delivers another sweet film. Unlike Sudani From Nigeria which was a straightforward heartwarming film, Zakariya opts for a narrative that could be too simple but actually packs in a lot more than his debut venture. As such, the reception is bound to be mixed for this one. While the one liner is about a group of people trying to make their first film, the film actually explores human fallacies through this exercise.
A group of men from the Islamic community get together to make a film. Their enthusiasm to get this done for a purpose with no prior experience isn't their biggest challenge. They want to make a 'Pure' film, which for them is a film devoid of not only sex and violence but even a hug between the lead pair. At the outset, it may appear that the film is a comedy associated with making non-actors perform for the camera. But Zakariya uses movies and shooting as a metaphor to have his say around religious beliefs and patriarchy.
Halal Love Story is likely to garner mixed emotions for another reason. It doesn't say which is right or wrong on your face and stays away from judging its characters. This is a definitely a good thing but could also be construed as a very gentle jibe that could be missed by many. The film is a satire at times but what is astonishing is that the tone itself is never satirical. At the centre of the film ( and also in the film within the film)is the couple played by Indrajith (Shereef) and Grace Antony (Suhara). While Suhara has it easy during the shooting of the film, it is surprisingly Shereef (a small time actor) who falls short. Suhara is the collective face of all the women who happen to be faking happiness in their married life, that acting for a camera doesn't seem like a new skill to be acquired. Shereef on the other hand is unaware of his internalised patriarchy and begins to understand this only during the course of the filming. Zakariya never demonises any character nor does he judge them. The most religious person sticking to everything that he believes is the order of God could very well be hurting his closest human with no idea about it. The film also has an answer to why society is uncomfortable with a hug. For most, a hug only means a foreplay to sex and is never about love!
Grace Antony steals the show in the acting front and is terrific. Joju George is brilliant as the director who is passionate about his art and is also battling a personal conflict. Performances in general are neat and even the cameos by Soubin and Parvathy don't stick out like add ons and are an integral part of the story.
A satire camouflaging as a feel good film is a tough nut to crack. Zakariya has probably played it a bit low key on purpose. Kept wondering if the film could have been more incisive or if the humour quotient could have been higher. This feel happens because you see the potential right through but it also occurs clearly that this is quite a conscious decision from the makers to deliver the film that they wanted to.
Halal Love Story doesn't poke at its characters harshly. But it also gently showcases how genuinely good people with absolutely no ill will could be misconstruing a whole lot of things based on their faith or beliefs.