A landscape, a house, a Koran, a suitcase, an umbrella, some perfume bottles, and a picture of Mecca hung on the wall. From the opening frames of Adaminte Makan Abu, director/writer Salim Ahmed draws us in to the world of his main character Abu (Salim Kumar).
Abu's world is a small one, encompassing his wife, Aishu (Zarina Wahab), and the various members if his village in Kerala. But Abu's world is also one where the ripples spread outwards, concentric circles that spread until they reach his life's dream, a pilgrimage to Mecca.
Abu and Aishu live a life of sacrifice, a gold chain sold at the birth of their son (who has virtually abandoned his parents after moving to the Gulf), years spent saving for one moment - the Hajj.
Nothing comes without great sacrifice, and nothing comes without forgiveness. As part of the preparations they make for their trip, they make the rounds of the village, saying goodbye and asking for forgiveness for any wrongs they might have unintentionally caused. Even more of a test of faith is seeking forgiveness when you do believe you have caused harm, and Abu doesn't shy away from this, seeking out a former neighbour who he feels he has slighted.
If the film gives us an insight into the nature of forgiveness, it gives an even stronger insight into the nature of faith, in God, in our friends and relationships.
When their hard work and savings is just not enough, they dig even deeper, selling their cows and their beloved jackfruit tree. What this reveals is not only the dedication and sacrifice of Abu and Aishu, but also the goodness of the community they are surrounded by – the local school master (Nedumudi Venu, also a National Award winning actor), a Hindu, asks Abu to pray for him, too, when he finally reaches Mecca. “Man is his selfish best in front of God,” he tells Abu. “He has many things to ask for himself. Yet...when you reach there, pray for us also.” The school master is the first person to offer Abu the money he needs when his plans fall through – money Abu refuses, since the only financial help permitted him is from blood relatives.
It’s just one example of how this community values and helps Abu. Hyder (Suraj Venjarammoodu, also in a performance that is a far cry from his over-the-top comedic ones), the local teashop owner, supports Abu and sympathises with him, and tells him that if he manages to get a passport without having bribed the policeman dealing with Abu’s application that he’ll be the first person ever to do so.
Ashraf (Mukesh) the manager of a travel agency that organizes Hajj trips, not only guides Abu and helps arrange his voyage, he also offers to send Abu and Aishu on the Hajj when Abu’s planning falls through. His parents always wanted to go on the Hajj, he reasons, and he couldn’t afford to send them. Now that he can, they’re dead. Abu declines his offer; for him, it would mean going on Ashraf’s parents’ hajj, and not his own.
Abu also refuses the money offered to him by the local sawmill owner Johnson (Kalabhavan Mani). Johnson buys the couples’ beloved jackfruit tree for its wood – but discovers that the tree is, in fact, hollow inside, a metaphor, Abu finds, for his own son – a son he and Aishu loved, who turned out to abandon them, a fact that breaks both Abu and Aishu’s hearts.
The film’s pacing is slow and measured, matching the elderly Abu's halting steps, foreshadowing the journey he hopes to make, and each step Abu takes towards his goal is beautifully shot (cinematographer Madhu Ambat also won a National Award for his work on this film), and poignantly scored (by Isaac Thomas Kottukapally, again, who won a National Award for this).
The relationship between Abu and Aishu is truly sweet, capturing the rhythms of a couple who have been together a long time, and who have grown old together. “Haven't I repeatedly told you not to travel at night,” Aishu chides when Abu coughs, and after she gives him a glass of tea he confides his worry at his declining business. Abu is an old man, and the world around him is changing. "Nobody wants attar these days," he tells Aishu. "They get perfume from the Gulf."
Salim Kumar s performance is, quite simply, lovely. Make-up assists his transformation into the elderly Abu (Kumar Is 43), but everything he brings to the role- Abu's halting gait, his old man cough, his habit of nodding off periodically, his weariness with a world that is surpassing him -- everything makes us believe in him. He makes us forget his comic roles entirely, and his National Award for this film is much deserved. His Abu is so earnest in his quest, so devout – so completely and utterly a good man, another rarity in a world filled with people looking out for their own self interest. Abu’s desire becomes ours – more than anything, we long for him to find the means to make the journey that means so much to him.
Sadly, despite the support of friends and neighbours, despite their unflagging efforts, Abu and Aishu’s plans to undertake the Hajj prove to be beyond their means. It is to writer/director Salim Ahmed’s credit that he chooses to give the film its appropriate ending; but if Abu’s story does not quite end happily, it at least ends hopefully. Abu’s faith never wavers: he plants a new jackfruit tree, and still holds on to his hope that he’ll make the pilgrimage – next year. Adaminte Makan Abu is an incredible testament to faith and community, and a heartwarming story of one incredibly good man.