Atithi Devo Bhava is one of India’s ancient adage. The Sanskrit mantra suggests that a guest is equivalent to God. Director Zakariya Mohammed’s Sudani from Nigeria (2018) does one better. It treats a guest as a family member. Zakariya, who has also written the film, has conceived a very humble and beautiful film that encompasses love, passion, grit, religion, guilt, sportsmanship, geopolitical challenges, refugee crisis and very importantly football.
The love for the sport is what connects a young Nigeran football player Samuel Abiola Robinson aka Sudani (Samuel Abiola Robinson) from Nigeria with people of Kerala. The story is set in a Malabar village, where football is a religion. So much so that the village has championed the shorter version of football called Sevens.
The film opens with an ongoing season of Sevens. Majeed’s (an incredible Soubin Shahir) football team called MYC Accode wins a match, thanks to recently recruited three Nigeran players. Samuel is the new star player of MYC and he’s making heads turn at the stadium with his football skills.
The conflict in the story arises when Samuel injures himself. He requires surgery and someone to take care of his needs and nurse him to better health post-surgery. The buck stops at MYC manger Majeed, who is already reeling under financial burden.
Now, it is understandable if Majeed blows his top and holds Samuel responsible for all his troubles. Like how many governments around the world blame migrants for their failings. But, Majeed owns up to the fact that his life was not any better before Samuel. His role as a manager of a cash-strapped football team hardly helped him to live a better life. He still struggles to find a bride for himself. He has a very difficult relationship with his mother and step-father. It is difficult for him to make ends meet. All of that remains the same with the coming of Samuel into his life. Given that he’s a sportsman, he takes the challenges that Samuel brings along with him in his stride.
We don’t see Majeed constantly whining, blaming or taking out his anger on poor Samuel. He’s a true fighter. But his short stature, thinning hair and his non-aggressive persona may mask the fact that he’s a true Indian hero. Probably, the image of a hero we have in our minds might be a very different one: tall, handsome, thick hair, and the man who does not take a “no” for an answer.
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Majeed’s determination to help his Nigerian friend transcends several barriers including the law of the land. He is not alone. His family and friends also consider Samuel as one of them and go out of their way to make a small Kerala village Samuel’s home away from home. The high points of the film are the scenes where Majeed’s mother Jameela (an adorable Savithri Sreedharan) and her friend Beeyumma (an equally adorable Sarasa Balussery) tend to the needs of Samuel. The scene where Majeed’s family holds a memorial service according to their religion after the passing of Samuel’s grandmother in Nigeria and the scene where Jameela and Beeyumma take a trip to pray for Samuel would leave you with moist eyes. Religion, culture and other differences do not come in the way of serving the purpose of humanity.
Zakariya has conceived a slew of moments that creates a precise memory that will stick with you for a long, long time. It also holds up the idea of India, which is treating a fellow human being as a manifestation of God. Instead of discriminating against “the others” based on the God we pray to.
Sudani from Nigeria is available on Nextflix.