Halal Love Story develops organically into a charming movie about love, faith and heartbreak. And more importantly, it gives us insight into a community and their way of living.
Director Zakariya Mohammed’s Halal Love Story is sort of an antidote to movies that showcase the sheer ruthlessness of Muslim rulers from about 5-6 centuries ago. While such films aim to paint Muslims as “invaders”, Zakariya’s movies encourage us to remember that after Delhi Sultanate, there was British, independence struggle, Mahatma Gandhi, and the formation of modern India as “a secular and democratic republic.”
Zakariya shines the light on the community, which is aspirational, and shares common values that are prevalent and distinctive to India. You won’t find a single character in his movies (Sudani from Nigeria, Hala Love Story) that fits the usual on-screen stereotypes of the community.
Halal Love Story is about deeply religious men who set out to make a movie that would fit their description of ‘Halal’, which means “permissible or lawful” in the Quran. Zakariya also examines the conservatism that controls the community and therefore, the expression of its female members. Now, the director is not taking sides, passing judgements or trying to preach us about “what should it be.” Instead, he has simply opted to show us things as they are. And it is up to us what we make of it.
Now, what is a better place to start a movie that addresses growing Islamophilia, than at the beginning: September 11 attacks. The film opens with TV channels repeatedly playing out two rouge aeroplanes bringing down New York’s World Trade Center.
Rahim (Nazar Karutheny), a member of a ‘progressive, social’ Muslim organisation, is in the process of editing a critical video speech about America’s “neo-invasionist” missions in the wake of 9/11. And we can understand that the film is set in the period of early 2000s. Newspaper clippings, ambassador cars, small-engine bikes, basic mobile phones, and public phone booths create the ambience of the period.
Rahim is troubled that popular culture is filled with what he considers ‘haram’, which is the display of romance, violence and titillating songs. He is not alone. Indrajith Sukumaran’s Shereef, a star of street plays, is also looking for an opportunity to step up the game by doing movies. But, the problem is nobody is making a ‘halal’ movie. And together they approach Thoufeeq (Sharaf U Dheen), a 28-year-old school teacher. Thoufeeq is tasked with the responsibility of writing a script, which is fully in sync with the do’s and don’ts of their faith. And then comes in Siraj, an in-form Joju George, who is opposite of things considered ‘halal.’ He is approached to make a movie titled ‘Moonamathum Umma.’
“It is a romance movie, no?” asks Siraj’s assistant.
“No. It is about Umma, the mother,” says Thoufeeq.
Now, the telefilm has a good message and intention. But, Siraj’s task is not simple. He has to make a movie that appeals to the conservative belief of the producers, starting from picking the cast. For example, Siraj is forced to pick a real-life husband and wife so that strangers don’t feel awkward playing husband and wife in the movie.