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Review Malayalam

Sudani From Nigeria review: Touching tale of friendship between an Indian football manager and a Nigerian player

Release Date: 23 Mar 2018 / 02hr 03min

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Sonal Pandya

Writer-director Zakariya’s first feature is a delightful look at a football-crazy community in Kerala that rallies around an injured player from Nigeria.

Just as cinema transcends language, so does sport. This heartwarming tale of friendship between football manager Majeed (Soubin Shahir) and Nigerian footballer Samuel (Samuel Abiola Robinson), mistakenly called Sudani or ‘Sudu’ in a large part of the film, is set against the backdrop of the Sevens football tournament in Kerala.

Samuel has been brought to India to play football by Majeed along with two other African players. He is clearly the star for Majid’s team, MYC Accode. There is little money in the position for Majeed but heaps of enthusiasm from fans and plenty of love for the game from players and managers.

MYC Accode are doing well until disaster strikes. Samuel is admitted in the ICU after a nasty fall in the bathroom. Majeed is aghast, mainly because he thinks Samuel’s superior body is immune to injuries like these. But it turns out Samuel requires a minor surgery and a month’s bed rest to recuperate.

After much comic confusion and Majeed trying to dodge responsibility, it is decided that Samuel will convalesce at his home. Luckily, his mother Jamila (a gentle Savithri Shreedharan) and her neighbour and friend Beeyumma (an equally delightful Sarasa Balussery) rise to the task to nurse him back to health. The two friends, bound by faith, are the sweetest nurses to Samuel. They pray for Samuel at their mosque in his time of need.

However, Majeed and Jamila have a complicated relationship. She was forced to remarry at the behest of her relatives after the death of Majeed’s father. He has never forgiven her for this abandonment and refuses to acknowledge his stepfather, a kind old man who cares for them both.

Poor Samuel, though, is stuck at his manager’s home in a strange land where the food and language is both alien to him. Neighbours, friends and family come from far to gawk (and take selfies) with the ‘foreign’ visitor at Majeed’s.

Away from the football field, we learn more about the two men. Without a steady job, the team is all Majeed has. He manages by on the constant monetary support of “well-wishers” who pitch in when the need arises. He is keen to get married and employs the services of a matchmaker to seek a potential bride, but one by one they all reject the directionless Majeed.

Samuel, a promising player, is worried about this unrequired break to his football career. However, as we soon figure out, the man from Lagos carries a huge burden on his young shoulders. Throughout his ordeal, he puts on a smile when needed and is always respectful to the steady stream of visitors who drop in to see ‘Sudu’.

But during this tough time, the two men open up to each other and divulge their inner struggles. It is heartening that they do so because the two are not always on the same page when pouring out their woes. Majeed doesn’t speak English fluently and Samuel only understands a few words of Malayalam. Somehow their intentions are translated.

But the power of Zakariya’s film emerges from these small moments, fantastically enacted by the two unassuming leads. Soubin Shahir’s Majeed may come across as selfish and uncaring by other actors, but Shahi infuses his role with an air of comic pathos. Nigerian film and television actor Samuel Abiola Robinson has the right amount of charm and innocence to win anyone over.

Writer-director Zakariya also pads the film with a lovable cast of characters from Majeed’s well-meaning friends (Lukman Lukku, Abhiram Pothuval, Navas Vallikkunnu, Sidheek Kodiyathoor) always ready to lend a helping hand to the rest of the community in the Malappuram district of Kerala. Their camaraderie and affection for one another adds many comic situations to the film. Each of the casting is spot on.

Late in the second half, a dramatic angle is suddenly added to the story, and the tonal shift from the light-heartedness of the earlier film to moments of genuine emotion between the characters feels a bit off. Thankfully, the film comes back again on the right track.

The film’s music composers Rex Vijayan and Shahabaz Aman deserve special credit for their enjoyable score which perfectly fits the various situations of the films. Beginning with the football anthem ‘Kurrah’ to ‘Kinavu Kondu’, the songs provide that extra swell of emotion to the film.

In Sudani From Nigeria, those who play the beautiful game and those who don’t, come together as family. I walked out of the theatre with a lump in my throat. I daresay you might too.

Sudani From Nigeria was screened at the 9th Jagran Film Festival on 29 September 2018 in Mumbai.

Related topics

Jagran Film Festival

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