Abu, Son of Adam2011
Director: Salim Ahamed
Stars: Zarina Wahab, Sahim Kumar, Antony Thekkek
Release Company: Allens Video
MPAA Rating: NR
After a week of disasters dominating national news with endless speculation about terrorism. With many seeking Boston bombing suspects with "dark skin" and then inevitably linking suspects to Islam and Al-Qaeda while bashing immigrants, what a relief to watch Abu, Son of Adam--a contemplative character study set in lush Kerela, India.
I encounter far too many Americans who are extremely prejudiced against Muslims; at best they usually harbor misconceptions. Too many are convinced that the religion preaches anti-American sentiments and advocates violence. So films like India's 2011 candidate for Oscar consideration are welcome. It shows a typical elderly devout Muslim couple who only want to do the right thing and live a righteous life by following the five pillars of Islam. The film opens with Abu (Sahim Kumar) performing ablutions before pre-dawn prayers.
Abu and his wife Aishu (Zarina Wahab) have a single dream. Simple folk of modest means, they have saved their rupees for decades for this dream. This is the year that they will finally make the Hajj (Insha-Allah). This final pillar is only obligatory for Muslims who are healthy and wealthy enough to make the pilgrimage to Mecca; both of these conditions could present a challenge for Abu.
Despite its remote location, globalization has touched Kerela's shores. The elderly Abu (Salim Kumar) can barely scrape by since few want to buy his traditional perfumed attars; they merely browse before buying more modern products. In the old days, pilgrims applied and prayed to be selected like lottery winners... and then scrambled to prepare. Through a sophisticated doctor, Abu learns about a travel agency that guarantees transport to Mecca. The wealthy doctor has journeyed to Mecca three times and will go again this year.
To Abu and his wife, the Hajj is NOT a casual affair. This is their supreme spiritual journey.
Innocents compared to their worldly neighbors, merely getting a passport presents a challenge. Gathering sufficient money requires supreme sacrifices--selling all their jewelry, their beloved cows, and even their highly prized jackfruit tree.
But the most moving scenes in the slow-paced drama show Abu's connections with friends and acquaintances. To properly go on Hajj requires that he seek forgiveness from all--whether he has outwardly wronged anyone or not. He must enter Mecca with a pure heart. This pre-journey with merchants, Hindu friends, and a former rival take the simple story through a few twists that are very satisfying even if they aren't especially surprising.
Abu, Son of Adam serves as a graceful, gentle reminder about basic human goodness. Roger Ebert always promoted that a film needed to "work" in one of three ways to make it worth investing a couple hours of your time--as entertainment, artistic merit, and/or educational value. This film provides a far more nuanced view about Islamic and southern Indian culture than usual. First time filmmaker Salim Ahamed offers a true respite from horrific current events of the day. And that alone makes it worthwhile.