Set in a remote village in Malabar, the film portrays the struggles of a young Muslim woman and her family who is ostracised by society for questioning a religious speech
Mohammed Koya's Alif is powerful and poignant at the same time, probably the most compelling woman centric film made in the recent times. Rather than watching a movie, you feel like seeing a real story unfold before you, sans romanticisation and unwanted elements.
The film debuted in festival circuits but is very much a mainstream film (think Padham Onnu Oru Vilapam). Fathima (Lena) and her two children have been deserted by her good for nothing husband and the family is supported by the meagre earnings of her mother Aatha (Zeenath). Despite their poverty the family live in dignity and maintain a progressive outlook in the conservative and extremely patriarchal village where religion and local religious leaders have the final say in everything. Things take a turn for the worse when a desperate Fathima questions a speech by a local preacher, whose interpretation of the koran is conveniently biased towards serving solely the man's pleasures. But a woman questioning religion is unthinkable, and the family is ostracised mercilessly, with even the children denied entry into the local madrasa. The already struggling Fathima reaches breaking point, but at one point, decides that life comes before religion, and takes control of her own life.
Alif makes several strong statements, but all in a simple, non-violent manner. Never is the blame placed on any religion, or on one gender, but only on those who represent everything wrong with any religion. The blatant support of communism would seem a bit too overt, and the sequences with the children made to look innocent a tad artificial, but save a few such drawbacks, Alif can be called an example of perfect filmmaking.
Lena puts up an impressive performance despite the tinge of sophistication in her language and body language. It is Zeenath who steals the show with her powerful performance as the strong yet vulnerable Aatha, here best performance so far, probably. The actor never goes overboard even during the most emotional of scenes, leaving you wondering why such talent was never tapped.
All the characters - Nilamboor Ayesha as the ailing grandmother, Nedumudi Venu as the late grandfather and strength to Fathima, Joy Mathew as the one who dares to defend Fathima, Kalabhavan Mani as the communist who practises what he preaches, the child actors as well as the religious leaders - appear made for the part. Regardless of the messages that it conveys, Alif is film which will haunt you long after it is over.