Most of us haven’t. If you don’t have any respect for Oscar, and surely there are many valid reasons for that, then you don’t need to worry about the film Adaminte Makan Abu. It also won four National Awards and it made us curious because Oscar or not, a good film is a good film. So we asked our good ol’ Mallu friend Prasanth Vijay to write a review post for us. Read on…
As it happens once in a while in Indian cinema, Davids come out of nowhere and walk over the Goliaths. The latest in line being Adaminte Makan Abu (Abu, Son of Adam) which has become the country’s official entry for Oscar this year. Majority in Kerala, except a few of us who had been following the reports of its making, had a similar shock when the National awards were announced a couple of months ago and Abu won four major awards. It was a natural extension to see the film winning another four at the state awards a few days later (though many argue that this wouldn’t have happened without the National awards win). On hindsight, none of this is too hard to understand because parallel cinema in India is always forced to remain under a veil until a saviour comes along and salvages it (though sadly for many, this never happens).
Adaminte Makan Abu is about an old Muslim couple whose greatest dream in life is to attend Hajj pilgrimage. Over many years, they scrimp and save small sums for this out of their modest living. Things begin to fall in place, and they start preparing for the pilgrimage when calamity strikes in an unforeseen way and they are almost back to square one. Around the protagonists is the rustic panorama of a Kerala village (now a highly endangered entity) and its inhabitants who touch on their lives constantly. The towering achievement of the creators of the movie is turning this seemingly clichéd and possibly melodramatic synopsis into a well-crafted film which culminates in a much higher level of composure and optimism. And for the record, it’s certainly NOT poverty porn. It is about hope, and about a virtuous Abu who moves us to tears by the goodness of his character, rather than by his trials and tribulations.
Abu, a street medicine and perfume vendor is a staunch believer in his religion. And religion serves its true purpose here, making Abu a great human being who is at one with all of nature, not just the humans in it. He accepts that the purity of the means he takes up is as or even more important than the end. He doesn’t have to mull over even a little to resist temptations, however harmless they seem. There is a Malayalam verse which defines ‘courageous’ as the one whose mind doesn’t flicker the slightest even when there are strong reasons. Amidst heroes whose morals stoop when pressed by circumstances, Abu’s frail figure looms above them as the bravest of recent times, though too insignificant to matter to anyone else. True, it is a nearly fanatic faith in his religion that backs him, but with his clarity he touches the essence of it which is nothing but love and goodness, even if it’s unrequited.
Salim Ahamed, the writer- director of the film was as unknown as the film till the National awards. The creative mastery and the maturity of craft of the debutant are commendable. The artistic honesty he has brought into each frame is what has saved the film from falling into the possible traps of cliché and melodrama. It’s well detailed- from elaborately showing the preparations of Hajj pilgrims (which prompted naysayers to call it an extended travel agency ad) to the passing scenes of the wife smelling a lemon to fend off nausea during bus rides. Salim also deserves credit for extracting what he wanted from a seasoned crew- from ace Madhu Ambat wielding a digital camera for the first time to magical musician Issac Thomas Kottukapally creating music out of silences and Pattanam Rasheed for whom adding a few decades to a person’s face is never a big deal. The cast also has prominent artists even in minor roles so that they stay etched in our minds. Zarina Wahab becomes Ayeshumma as effortlessly as she dons her prayer robe.
It’s unjust to a film or any work of art to say that one element of it rises above the rest. But Salim Kumar, playing Abu stands out here because of his inseparability from the film. An accomplishment which is likely to be widely overlooked by viewers outside the home state is the unparalleled makeover he has undergone to become the character. Salim who has received popularity among masses and occasional brickbats from critics for his slapstick roles (which were by no means easy feats!), has proved the versatile actor in him whenever given a chance- in Achanurangatha Veedu (2006) and Bridge (segment in the anthology film Kerala Cafe). He lives as Abu the way no other actor in the world could have.
Adaminte Makan Abu is undoubtedly a lucky film – right from its conception to its reception. It might not be “the best” of its times, but it surely deserves most of the accolades it has already been honoured with. It may be considered as the prize for the honesty and sincerity that went into its making. In an industry that churns out either insignificant trash or over-hyped pseudo classics, this noble film marks itself by its restraint and lucidity. It’s another instance of many right things happening together towards a greater goal. Where mediocrity is celebrated and excellence is even denied birth, it’s not enough that we have visionary and resourceful film-makers. They should also have the blessing of fortune shining on them to materialise their dreams. May their tribe increase!