Adaminte Makan Abu (Abu, Son of Adam)
Director: Salim Ahamed
Cast: Salim Kumar, Zarina Wahab, Nedumudi Venu and Mukesh.
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.