Halal Love Story Malayalam Movie
Zakariya Mohammed smartly blends religion with cinema within a cinema to craft a thoughtful work on love and kinship in Halal Love Story. Always engaging, and sometimes simplistic to a fault, this love story lacks the overpowering impact of his first film, Sudani from Nigeria. Nevertheless, it is a timely satire on the two things most of us feel but cannot quantify: kinship and love.
In Indian cinema, there are usually two kinds of Muslim characters: terrorists, and people with anti-government attitudes. It is not that regular Muslims do not exist in our society, but our filmmakers seldom find fictional or close-to-real-life stories to build around them.
Watching Halal Love Story, I remembered an old Russell Peters stand-up special where the comedian tells the audience how the 'media just perpetuates stereotypes' on Arabs. A funny Peters says that there are regular types of Arabs in the middle east, but the media only 'shows the crazies'.
Zakariya's film starts with the image of the plane crashing into the World Trade Center, in the infamous event called '9/11'. Seeing the shocking event in the US on TV is Raheem Saheb (Nazer Karutheni). Later, Saheb decides to make a movie about the good things so that natives also see the good sides of humanity. He then enlists the help of Shareef (Indrajith Sukumaran) and Thoufeeq (Sharaf U Dheen) to make a small film about love and family. It is not just some routine film they are making, but a work that should be 'halal', meaning one that adheres to Islamic law.
The main conflict in Halal Love Story is between faith and fiction, creativity and religion, not between its characters. Zakariya uses the movie within a movie format of storytelling to convey subtle yet nuanced views on the institution of marriage and on love. Zakariya's ideas are deftly woven into the movie within the movie format, so none of the events in his work seems forced.
There is a husband and wife, Suhara (Grace Antony) and Shareef, who discovers an awkward truth about their marriage while filming Thoufeeq's script. There is also that small-time director, Joju George's Siraj, who is frustrated by his inexperienced movie cast and by his crumbling marriage. As these characters shoot the film within the film, they realize that the lines between real life and reel life are so blurred.
The dialogues in Halal Love Story are funny and insightful. The movie has the usual funny banter between its characters, but what stays with you more are the dialogues with a satirical tone. Zakariya's film works as more of a dialogue on the intersection of religion and creativity. It provokes this thought: What is more important between acting as per religious values and per creativity. One thing (religion) usually does not complement the other (creativity), and Zakariya's film shows this contradiction in a way that does not feel forced.
This is not to say Halal Love Story is a perfect film, though. It could be a more impactful work had the film within the film portions been a little less vague than these are. It may have also been nice had the director not spend much time on Joju's marital relationship, only to give us no closure to it.
The performances from all the characters and the casting are faultless. There are Indrajith and Grace in roles with scene-stealing moments. They are particularly good in the portions where they act badly in the other movie. Joju George is also impressive as a director with a marriage crumbling in front of his eyes. It seems Joju's experience of working as an assistant director helped him to mold this character of a director. Watch him in those moments where he gets frustrated by the inefficiency of his cast and crew - they are almost pure comic gold.
I even liked the bits involving a neighbor of Shareef and Suhara. They are making the inside movie with sync sound, which demands pin-drop silence to achieve perfection. This means a neighbor cannot even do regular household chores, like washing clothes before her kids come home from school.