Take a really long look around and you can see a multitude of stories just waiting to be told. The stories are all there — the people, places and events, all hidden in plain sight. It takes an astute filmmaker to identify the characters and the story and translate that to the marquee. When placed in the hands of the right directors and actors, some stories take on a life of their own and become tales that are far more real than the original. Director Zakariya is one such person who witnessed an event happening in his backyard in Malappuram for 10 years and took that for granted. But years later, when he thought of making a film, from nowhere that event came unbidden to his mind and he saw with new eyes a story waiting to be told. The result of that is the film Sudani from Nigeria, releasing today.
Admitting that he is slightly tense about the outcome of the film, Zakariya first explains how he decided to make it, “Right from my Class X, I have been dreaming of films and so made short films. Film festivals were learning grounds for me to watch the working style and subject treatment of different world directors. That is when I realised that there are stories and subjects all around us.” That was his initiation into films and the story of Sudani… originated from the Sevens Football Tournament held in major districts of the state, which had seven players in each team. Though not a football fan, the game aroused his curiosity. Zakariya continues, “Students from Sudan studying in various colleges in Kerala used to participate in these tournaments because of their love for the game. The fame and money attracted more students from Africa and soon each team had at least three players from Africa. All these teams had a manager who took care of the visa and stay facilities of these African players. The funny part was that the African players did not know English and the managers knew only Malayalam, leading to hilarious situations.”
Also the players would be put up in houses in Malappuram leading to further interesting scenarios. Zakariya saw all these instances and translated them as characters in the story running through his head. Before he embarked on writing the story, Zakariya met African players to know their perspective and thus emerged Sudani... with all these true life incidents that he witnessed. Samuel Abiola Robinson plays the Nigerian player and Soubin Shahir plays his manager. Zakariya reveals, “Soubin suited the character of the middle class manager I had in mind and he has played his character effortlessly. The two ummachis in the film too have good screen space.”
Talking about interacting with Samuel brings a smile to his face, “Thankfully the Nigerian actor knew English — so that was a huge relief. While shooting, I would generally speak in Malayalam to the other actors and then explain to Samuel in English. Sometimes I would forget and Samuel would be standing there with his hands up in the air, a quizzical look in his eyes.” Though the film has football as the base, Zakariya emphasises that it is not a sports film but a family one with its share of tender moments.