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Friday, June 24, 2011

Adaminte Makan Abu: Movie Reviews (2 in 1)

Simple is beautiful; that is the thought that crosses one's mind as one watches the National Award winning and much celebrated Malayalam film Aadaminte Makan Abu directed by first timer Salim Ahamed.

Salim Kumar plays the title role of Abu, which won him the best actor award at the National as well as State level.

The beauty of the film is that the director, who is also credited with the story, screenplay, and dialogues, has woven a psychedelic yarn out of a simple thread, which is the wish of an aged and poor couple to go on pilgrimage to Mecca.

Abu, a septuagenarian attar seller who plies his business outside mosques, has been saving his earnings to go on Haj accompanied by his wife Aishumma (Zarina Wahab). His efforts to fulfil his wish and how those surrounding him and those he comes across help him, is the core of the film.

One of the endearing aspects of this story is that there is little negativity or even negative characters. The only negative character is Abu's son Sattar, who has migrated to the Middle East with his family and virtually discarded his aged parents. He is just mentioned in conversations between the characters and does not appear on screen. A policeman (Sasi Kalinga), who does the police verification for Abu's passport application, could have been the villain of the piece, but once he gets his bribe he becomes quite helpful.

Other characters that come into the narrative are the school teacher played by Nedumudi Venu, an intelligent friend of Abu's who is there in his time of need, and Hyder (Suraj Venjaramoodu), the local teashop owner who empathises with Abu.

It goes without saying that it is Salim Kumar who has the towering presence and hovers above the story. Make-up by Pattanam Rasheed helped, but it is Salim Kumar's acting skills that have made him enact perfectly the part of a 75-year-old man with blood shot eyes and a tendency to fall off to sleep in the middle of a conversation.

Director Salim Ahamad, who is also the scriptwriter, keeps things simple, though sometimes we do feel that he is trying to deliberately tug at our heart strings. The other thing that jars is the promotion of a travel agency and its Haj trips. These are just minor blemishes in an otherwise enjoyable movie. Aadaminte Makan Abu deserves every accolade that has come its way, for its simplicity and charm.

Rediff Rating: 
Paresh C Palicha in Chennai

Gautaman Bhaskaran, Hindustan Times
Chennai, June 21, 2011

Rating ***

Director Salim Ahamed once acted on stage, mimicked Kamal Hassan and dreamt of making films. But cinema played hard to get, and he ended up as a travel consultant, sending people to exotic places, on pilgrimages and for rushed business meetings. That is what he did for five years, but in those apparently dreary hours of coping with visa deadlines, missed flights (of others) and presumably the temper tantrums of his clients, Ahamed watched people as they passed by his desk, making mental notes of the more interesting ones.

Finally, he got that chance to make that movie he had long yearned to. Ten years to be precise it took him to pick the megaphone and call for lights, sound and action.

The hurdles he faced seemed almost insurmountable at one point of time. His hero was 75, and his heroine 65, not attractive in the conventional sense. Not only did Ahamed have to find producers, but also men who would understand the subject.

Finally, when the movie emerged from the cans, it created a buzz all right by winning four national and four Kerala State awards this year. It is now ready for theatrical release.

And here is what I thought of the film when I watched it recently.

Adaminte Makan Abu/Abu, Son of Adam (Malayalam and winner of this year’s National and Kerala State Award for Best Picture), first timer  Ahamed paints the sorrow and suffering of an elderly Muslim couple living in Kerala’s Malabar, forsaken and forgotten by their son in the Gulf and struggling to find money to fulfil their dream of going on Haj.  With advancing years, their desperation also grows.

Rooted in realism, and photographed with feeling by Madhu Ambat (some of the shots are divinely beautiful, conveying a deep sense of loneliness and gloom), the movie unfolds its plot through Abu’s (Salim Kumar, who won the National and Kerala State Award for Best Actor this year) travails as he goes about collecting money for his and his wife, Aishumma’s (Zarina Wahab, that sensitive actress who once gave us hours of good cinema in Chit Chor and Gharonda in the 1970s) pilgrimage. He sells Unani medicines and “athar” that nobody wants, and, finally, in frustration and terrible distress gives away his cow and an old jackfruit tree.

And when the passports and the tickets are just a bus journey away in Kozhikode, the sawmill owner while handing over the money for the tree says that its wood turned out to be rotten and hence useless. He insists that Abu still take the money, since it is for a noble cause. But Abu refuses it, saying that it would be “halal”, and hence could anger Allah. (I do not know whether such men live today, but Ahamed, who penned the story, says he was inspired to write a character like Abu based on his experiences as a travel agent.)

Adaminte Makan Abu while being a rare study in restraint often plays out like a placid stream. Except for the old couple’s son, who is never show and who turns out to be the cause of all the misery and disappointment, Ahamed portrays too idyllic a situation. The schoolteacher essayed by Nedumudi Venu, the manager at the travels (Mukesh), the sawmill owner and just about everybody else are goodness personified, with the result that there is very little drama in the movie. What is more, it is quite predictable. I certainly knew what was coming. 

But, yes, Adaminte Makan Abu did engage me with its fine directorial skills and marvellous performances, particularly by the lead pair. Isaac Thomas’s background score does add up to create the mood that swings between despair and hope, between despondency and cheer.

However, the essential fault with Indian cinema, or much of it, is its inability to strike a fine balance between drama and exaggeration, between sound and silence, between verbosity and understatement, between garrulousness and taciturnity.  Often, we are left watching a bit too much of one or the other. “Adaminte Makan Abu” fails to hit that right chord that could have lifted it a notch or two higher. 

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