N K Muhammed Koya's 'Alif' is a film that reiterates our faith in humanity, and which warrants an introspection. The incremental impact that the film leaves on the viewer is phenomenal and the obstinacy with which it drives home a pertinent message is to be much admired.
Ummakunju (Nilambur Ayesha), her daughter Aatta (Zeenath) and her granddaughter Fathima (Lena) lead a hands-to-mouth existence, after Fathima's husband Abu (Irshad) decides to abandon her. Fathima's kids Ali and Sainu are unable to understand why their father has left them in the lurch, and marooned in the middle of nowhere, remain aghast at the turn of events.
'Alif' throws open a window towards a contemporary society, where religion rules. There is a challenge in it that is thrown right on our faces to reassess our spiritual selves, and the fact that the film does not thrive on salacious provocations makes it a momentous cinematic piece.
There is a gradual progression from subservience to emancipation, when it comes to Fathima. She discovers the voice that had long back disappeared down her throat, and questions the statements that Sulaiman Musaliar (Latheef) makes in the course of his speech on Islam and familial life. The fateful night sees her family being expelled from society, with only a few odd voices like that of Hajiyar (Joy Mathew) mouthing a protest against the decision to banish her.
Apart from Hajiyar, the sane sounds amidst this bedlam emanate from named individuals as Chandran (Kalabhavan Mani) who digs a grave for Ali on Aatta's insistence, and nameless ones as the rickshaw driver who carries the young boy to the hospital or the compassionate employment officer who sees to it that Fathima isn't left jobless any more.
Sahib (Nedumudi Venu) who has been long gone, does make an appearance to Fathima and his daughter Aatta to keep them going, despite the immense odds that have been ruling their lives. The voice of the much adored radical communist leader wavers never even for a moment, and he talks of Umm Salama and of her unwavering faith and morals to Fathima. When Sahib declares that women bear the brunt of religious fanaticism across the world, Fathima and her family sit with their heads bowed, as if in meek consent.
'Alif' is a film that banks on its staunch characterization, which makes each one of its characters blatantly identifiable. It fearlessly explores a theme that could be controversial, and is very rarely judgmental. The question marks that it leaves all over its canvas are ones that cannot be simply rubbed away, and in doing so, it instigates the viewer to go over some fundamental notions of faith that have often been misconstrued for personal gains.
Ali retains all the innocence of childhood, and is never for a moment embittered by the gross injustice meted out to him. When asked to sit down on the floor while watching television at an affluent classmate's home, he slips down from the sofa without as much as a question. He doesn't think twice before rushing to an uninvited wedding reception, to grab some mutton biriyani for his grandmother, and is continually perplexed by the strange ways of the world around him.
A slightly older Sainu, is distraught that she cannot be at school any more, even as all her classmates have moved on to the eighth grade. She soon gets accustomed to loss - that of a pet hen and later of her dear brother - and yet is all tears when she joins a new school. Ali waves at her from beside his grave, and a faint smile reappears at the corner of her lips.
I'm enthralled by this optimism that 'Alif' radiates all around, in spite of the raw and bleeding bruises that it leaves all around. Life doesn't end for Fathima, even when Ali, her very last stray ray of hope is brutally snatched away from her. Struggling back to her feet, she strives hard to get her shambled life back in shape, and takes it head on with a vengeance.
The four generations of women in the film are identical sufferers, and when two of them rise in revolt, it speaks for those millions of women out there, from all castes and creeds, who will be subjected to a lifetime of desolation and gloom before mutely perishing away. Fathima demands that she be given the right to breathe, to have some food and to wear a cloth that she truly likes, and thereby emerges a spokesperson for scores of women like her who are stoned into silence and denied these and more. In the very last scene of the film, when she walks hand-in-hand with her daughter towards her school, Fathima has wiped away the tears from her cheeks, and has learned to sturdily refuse her former husband's fervent plea to be let into her life yet again.
'Alif' asserts what an astounding performer Lena truly is, and she breathes life into Fathima with such exactness that it's a pleasure to see her perform on screen. The film could also very well boast of some gripping performances from seasoned actors as Zeenath, Irshad and Nilambur Ayesha, as well as from the two young child artists who play Ali and Sainu. There is Nedumudi Venu in a convincing cameo, while Kalabhavan Mani is aptly cast as the good Samaritan neighbour. M J Radhakrishnan's splendid cinematography captures the very essence of the film, while Ramesh Narayan's striking musical score adds to its sobriety.
'Alif' creeps slowly under your skin and stays right there, refusing to let go. Deftly scripted, brilliantly acted and tautly directed, it is a riveting drama that leaves you all shaken. Tantalizing and troubling in equal measure, 'Alif' has plenty in store to draw and hold your eye.
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