Movie: Halal Love Story
Cast: Indrajith Sukumaran, Joju George, Sharaf U Dheen, Grace Antony
Director: Zakariya Mohammed
Rating: 3.5/5 stars

“We need people who are devoutly religious with artistic sense.” Halal Love Story, a comedy drama directed by Zakariya Mohammed is all such stereotype-breaking lines that take a plunge down the gulf between the moralist Muslim and movie. The director bridges that gap brilliantly with his clever inclusion of similar dialogues and scenes, shedding the light on a community that feels alienated in the world of filmmaking due to the stringent social and religious morals.

Halal Loves Story understands how deeply artists from the community yearn to be in movies despite the conservatism that controls them and how they feel helpless and isolated, having been “fated to waste away their acting skill doing only street plays”. It is the second movie to come from Zakariya and the fourth third Malayalam flick to hit the OTT channels since the lockdown. In this grueling time of Covid-19, it is a decent feel-good watch.

His first film, Sudani From Nigeria, another comedy drama set in the same ethos and environment without the usual typification of the community, draws inspiration from the love of football in the region. Malappuram and its people were the subjects of many Malayalam movies in the past, but Zakariya has never cast his characters into the type we see in those roles. Halal Love Story is about two practicing Muslims who embark on a mission to make a telefilm which is watchable within the boundaries of ‘halal’ (translated into ‘permissible’) using the limited budget and resources they have.

Most organisations in the Muslim community still prohibit filmmaking or even watching cinema, and among a few others that take exceptions is a self-proclaimed ‘socially and morally progressive’ group whose ideals mostly form the base of Halal Love Story. Shareef (Indrajith Sukumaran) and Raheem (a brilliant Nasar Karutheny) want someone who can help them make a movie that adheres to the rules and principles of the organisation, and find ‘multi-talented’ Thoufeeq (Sharaf U Dheen) a perfect fit. Thoufeeq is a teacher who is not afraid of screening good movies (read Children of Heaven)  for his children in schools. Moreover, he is an orator and a writer and presently the best  man around to take charge of the mission. 

When Siraj (Joju George), a separated father-of-one and a mainstream associate film director, was suggested for the director’s role, it was met with skepticism. “Does he boast the persona and acceptability the likes of I V Sasi, Joshiy and Sathyan Anthikad do?” (Fazil, however, is not so mainstream). Thoufeeq convinces them — “He never performs namaz.” Besides, “he smokes and drinks and that makes him completely acceptable to all” — and the club passes it. The underlying religious subtexts in scenes in which Thoufeeq and Raheem find themselves in a struggle to reconcile their cinematic ambitions with religious rules are at times humorous and satiric. For instance, Raheem and Thoufeeq walk into a bar to meet Siraj and wonder how their community would react if they were found dead at the bar (liquor is prohibited in Islam). 

The location is set and the crew is ready to get cracking. Thoufeeq is adamant that his movie should never be in conflict with the faith he so devoutly follows and hands the lead roles to Shareef and his wife Suhra (Grace Antony), making the movie indeed halal for both the audience and the actors. There are still problems to fix and the amateurish actors are one. Even Suhra and Shareef are clumsy together despite being real-life husband and wife. An angry Siraj calls in a trainer ( Paravathy Thiruvothu) to pick out the best from the group. Parvathy cameo comes about the middle of the movie and impresses well enough before signing off.

The comedy that comes in bits and parts definitely induces laughter, but it is not loud enough for one to hear. While the drama is at times comical, the storytelling is satiric too. Thoufeeq, for instance, wants a crafty, artful telefilm but never allows scenes that may look ‘sexually suggestive’ to the audience. The otherwise quiet Thoufeeq revolts as Siraj rewrites the script and wants Shareef and Suhra to hug each other in the  climax. 

Though the slow pace is a dampener, Halal Love Story has a flow and develops into a charming movie. Like Sudani From Nigeria, it is a feel-good film and has a beautifully novel idea for a one-time watch.