The day the trailer of Halal Love Story came out, one of my friends hit me up with a genuine query: “What’s halal? Isn’t that supposed to be something about meat in your community?”
It’s true, for the general public, “Pothu Samooham” as the movie puts it, the word ‘Halal’ basically is a scale with which Muslims evaluate meat. To the more informed, it’s when the flesh has been taken from an animal slaughtered in a way that adheres to Islamic sentiments. And I know the mere mention of the word ‘Islamic’ might have people slowly backing out. If you’re one of those people, I cannot recommend this movie enough.
Halal Love Story is Zakariya Mohammed’s sophomore attempt after his brilliant debut – Sudani from Nigeria. While Sudani from Nigeria dealt with bringing forth a cultural statement while deconstructing fractured identities, Halal Love Story pits Islamic teachings and values at the forefront of its satirical content, but surprisingly veers into a beautiful deconstruction of the system of relationships – between friends, man and wife, man and God.
The movie is set in the mid-2000s. It brushes on matters around 9/11 and its aftermath, and briefly mentions the “Shakeela Tharangam” that caught hold of Kerala at the time.
The art wing of a “Prasthanam” decide to make a movie to quench their passion for filmmaking, while also trying to ensure that there is a proper representation of Islam in cinema. But there’s a catch: the movie has to be an “acceptable” form of entertainment – from dialogues to drinks served on set must be lawful as per the Quran. And of course, confusion and hilarity ensue.
The movie follows Rahim Sahib (Nazar Karutheny), a committee member, and Taufeeq Sahib (Sharaf U Dheen), a school-teacher, who hire an experienced movie AD, Siraj (Joju George) to direct the telefilm. They hire artists from their street plays to be actors in the movie.
They find their leads in Shareef (Indrajith Sukumaran) and his wife Suhara (Grace Anthony) since Rahim Sahib and Taufeeq wanted real couples to play reel ones. While Siraj struggles to make a movie worth his vision while also battling marital woes, Shareef and Suhara re-examine their own marriage. Add cameos from Soubin Shahir as the bilingual sound engineer and Parvathy as the pleasant acting coach, and we get a well-rounded cast.
The performances from everyone, including the main cast and the heartwarming extras who just wanted to be a part of the movie are excellent. Grace Antony steals every scene she is in, while Sharaf U Dheen and Nazar give earnest performances.
Ajay Menon is a photographer who I’ve been following for over a decade now, and so it feels great to see him helm the camera for this movie. Editing by Saiju Sreedharan exudes quality. Music by Shahbaz Aman, Rex Vijayan, Neha-Yakzen, and Bijibal fit the film like a glove.
There were some aspect ratio issues I faced while watching the movie, which was later revealed to be a technical error at Amazon’s end and I’m told it will be resolved soon.
While I have many good things to say about the movie, I do realise that there are issues with it. On the surface, the movie seems to be a film about filmmaking but it takes a very satirical approach in many instances. There are several scenes in the movie that, I feel, someone outside of Malabar or outside of the Muslim community might not find funny or relatable.
It’s not that Halal Love Story forgets what it was supposed to be about. Zakariya and Muhsin frequently ridicule the pertinacity of the followers of the religion while attempting to push the idea of progressiveness. However, the positives definitely outweigh my concerns, as I was beaming when the credits rolled.
Halal Love Story is a respectable follow-up to Sudani from Nigeria. It deals with the subject matter with a lot of heart, sensitivity, and a frequent dose of humour—definitely recommended for your weekend watch!