In fact, no one is flying here

Udayan GhoshChoudhury

Majeed’s Abba died when he was very young. The neighbours convinced his mother to perform nikkah once again. In his mother’s re-marriage celebration, Majeed served sweets to the guests, with his own hands. Since that incident, he had been bullied because of this. He has grown up listening to those snide remarks and he has nurtured a great rage in him. When his step-father steps into the house, Majeed shuts down, closes his room’s door and doesn’t speak with anyone. The old step-father is non-confronting and works as a mere security guard in a nearby town. Majeed’s only dream and sole source of joy is the ‘Football’. No, he does not wish to be a player, he wishes to facilitate others to play. He is the manager of the local club. Players don’t call him by his name, they simply refer to him as ‘Manager’. Majeed’s heart fills with pride every time he hears it.

Samuel’s parents died during a war. He doesn’t even remember them well. He lives in a shanty of a refugee camp with his two younger sisters and his aged grandmother. There, one has to buy everything, even water. Samuel’s only dream, only desire is money. By earning a lot of money he would make his sisters happy. However, he has neither much education, nor any specific competence. Yes, he can play a little-bit of football, that’s true. People say that if he gets an opportunity to play for an Indian club, he will be very lucky. But how  would he go to India? As a refugee, he cannot get passport legally. Of course there are illegal ways of procuring a false passport. Samuel gets into a huge debt to manage to come to India to play for Majeed’s club and to earn money.

Two characters. Two continents. Both are away from their loved-ones. One is a victim of political triangulation, the other has lost the essence of the familial cocoon of home. They meet in Malappuram, a small town on the Malabar coast.

As a player from a foreign country, Samuel receives no special favours. In a rectangular and crowded room, he spends his nights with others. When he asks for a cup of coffee in the morning, the Manager explains that just a cup of black tea is enough to clear bowels. Does the Manager save money? No, actually, he gives up everything for his club. The lungi that he wears everywhere, transforms into his cover while he sleeps.

Thus, two apparently un-related characters live together: with us, with football.  

But, where is that football? Only two or three times we hear the whistle and see the players kicking the ball. Apart from that, where is the game? Even, the writer-director himself does not acknowledge this to be a film of sports genre.

True. Football is not only a game, it is a philosophy. In Majid’s words, the real player is the one who does not let go of the hope to score a goal till the last whistle. And here it meets life: Majid’s life, Majid’s philosophy. When Samuel fractures his leg, that could have happened during a game, that could have happened because of some devilish move by the opponent team. But it does not. Samuel fractures his leg by simply slipping in the bathroom. How can we say this to be of sports genre? How?

Johnny Lever once said in an interview that human is the unique ruthless creature who can laugh at another human being’s distress. He said, for example, imagine your close friend and you are walking and chatting. Suddenly your friend falls in a muddy pothole. You will definitely help to get him up; however, you will feel like laughing, even if you don’t laugh out aloud. Yes, we are like this. Others’ struggles, tears, upbringing, warmth, melancholic afternoons they spent — nothing affects the individual who simply laughs at, not with the victim of a situation. Just like that, almost like empathy is a fragment of our imagination.

When Samuel hallucinates in fever that his sister is bringing water in a pot placed on her head, walking long distances over hot sand in the scorching heat of Africa, and he wakes up to find that someone left the tap running in the courtyard in Kerala, he shouts infuriatingly. When Majid hears him shouting in a foreign language and doesn’t understand why, he leaves without washing his feet, a laugh creeps up our throats, unknowingly.

And, then, there’s language, it’s a magical thing. Our entire identity can be manifested through this vocal chord’s play. The manner in which one speaks, the language in which one speaks, the pronunciation, the diction, even if it’s in one’s own mother tongue — it completely illuminates and creates shadows in the lives of two different humans.

When an apparently-educated Indian gentleman starts conversing with a Nigerian abruptly in Hindi — because, he assumes that the entire alien race speaks Hindi — the writer-director jerks the audience out of complacency once more. By Bollywood’s muscle-mania, the ever-expanding tradition of ‘India’ assumes that all across the whole world, the language is presumably single — definitively Hindi. In this film, the trope of language has been intelligently avoided. Characters speak in the languages that they understand — Yoruba, Hindi, Malayalam, Manglish or Nigerian-English, whatever they feel comfortable in. And, here too there is laughter in the garb of failed translations and failed attempts at understanding. See, if I say, Y Tu Mamá También, that will not invoke laughter amongst my friends; instead, they may appreciate me, sometimes even not understanding it.

That reminds me, how many of us truly understand the nuances of our own tongues? Or, even try to do so? How many of us care about our surroundings? How many of us notice the nuances of everyday-life and its contribution to make meaning of living? In Bengal, or in India, there are many who can recount names of foreign films at the drop of a hat. However, how many of us take into account what films are being made in India? Or, in South-East Asia? Isn’t it like following the ever-growing drug of overstuffed crowd and shopping crazily even without checking if something is missing in one’s own wardrobe?

In this film, the jest and joy have evolved from the nuances of everyday living. The cranky, old man of the locality who was out for his cows to graze, stops by to show the bed-ridden foreigner a couple of yoga asanas unsteadily. In another instance, after listening to familial troubles of her neighbour, an old woman says, “Don’t cry! I have cooked gosht today, will send some your way!” Or, at the end of a game, the Manager takes out his purse and says, “Whoever has needs, please come forward.” Everybody extends their palms. And, this, the Sudanese footballer from Nigeria, who has been nicknamed as Sudu, did you laugh at that yet? Something in us isn’t yet ruptured with laughter when we realise that the fallacies of international politics leave humans with no real identity as such? With my personal experiences, I know, many apparently-educated Indians are of the opinion that Orissa, West Bengal, Assam, Tripura — all are the same; or, the assumption that Indian Bengalis and Bangladeshis are same; or, that the people of Mizoram and of Manipur are Nepalese; or, that Tamil, Telugu, Kannada, Malyali are all Madrasi. To face the reality, all our names, our identities, our countries — everything is an enormous nullity. Realising such neighbourly darkness, haven’t we felt like laughing? Not even a bit? Oh, really?

In 2015, at the Kolkata International Book Fair, there was an event where Vishal Bharadwaj was in conversation with Dr. Bedabrata Pain. Forgetting our little-magazine stall for nearly two hours, I became a part of the audience. In the limited time alloted to that event, Mr. Bharadwaj observed, “If the casting is right, half of the directorial job is done.” (As far as I remember, he got this piece of wisdom from someone else, whom he probably named, but now I have forgotten.)

The casting of this film translates this wisdom into veracity. There is not a single face that appears to be foreign, that appears to be a misfit. No one appears to be acting. As if they are living their everyday lives while the camera is capturing those moments. Savithri Sreedharan, Sarasa Balussery, K.T.C. Abdullah, Navas Vallikkunnu, Unni Nair — each of these actors are alive in the shoes of the characters on screen, in life, as a part of the story. Most significantly, Soubin Saheer is alive as Majeed. The more I see his performances, the more amazed I am. He definitely doesn’t act, he simply can not! Whichever character he enacts, he simply gets under its skin. The entire story has no heroine, no love-angle; to be honest, except a few glimpses, there is no presence of any young woman on the screen. And, there is no effort to become a ‘cinema’ over life — the lanes, the courtyard, the bed linen, the stains on the sink, the red- cemented floor, the clothes the characters wore, the freshly fried roti — there is not a single sense of unfamiliarity.

Two or three years back, Avikda (Bandyopadhyay) from DhyanBindu (a famous bookstore and publishing theque in College Street, Kolkata) gave me the book “Chalachitra: Chintaabeej” by Robert Bresson. In his entire life, Bresson wrote only this one book. In fact, this was not at all conceived as a book. It is an aggregation of his notes. Towards the end of his life, in 1975, Notes sur le Cinématographe was published, which was soon translated into several languages, including English. After so many years, it is now translated and available in Bengali, published by Nokta from Bangladesh.

At one point, Bresson observed that there are two types of simplicity in life. Firstly, to begin in simplicity at the very beginning. Secondly, to reach the state of simplicity after trials and tribulations and to end it all simply. The true beauty of life lies in the second type of simplicity. When Majeed returns after exchanging T-shirts with Samuel at the lobby of the airport, this second type of simplicity embraces him. Majeed brings back that gentleman, against whom he had nurtured severe disdain and disgust all his childhood and youth, to his home. He says to his Amma ,”I am very hungry , give me some food, please!” All our livings are as simple as that hunger — simple, uncomplicated, eternal.

Let his food get ready — roti or rice, gosht or milk of coconut. Let Majeed wait in the veranda, under the yellow light of dusk. Let Samuel’s scribbled painting hang on the wall behind him — on the top of a little house a gigantic person with a football at his feet. Majeed knows, Samuel knows, and we also know — that is not a mere football; that is the rounded dream embedded in our souls. As long as that dream is alive, there is life, there is a bubble of hope to fly.

Statutory warning: This film may have an adverse effect on the health of Islamophobics, they may fall in love with Majeed.

Film: Sudani from Nigeria / Malayalam / Zakariya, 2018

[Translated from Bengali by Susmita Paul]

26th February 2022

After 16 years of corporate career in different metro-cities in India, UDAYAN GHOSHCHOUDHURY decided to quit his regular job to pursue his passion in writing and film-making. Besides freelance writing , editing, and translating various pieces, he has also written three books. Simultaneously, he has scripted, appeared, and collaborated in couple of shorts, features, and documentary films in last few years. In 2016, he founded ‘Mazdoori Movies’ to produce low-budget films.

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