One of the most successful Malayalam films of 2018, Sudani from Nigeria, which is directed and scripted by Zakariya, is set in Malappuram. Football has always been a passion and a celebration for the people here. Zakariya's debut venture tells the story of an unlikely friendship that rises above language barriers in the football-crazy region.
Malappuram in the northern part of Kerala is one of the few places in the country where football, and not cricket, is the ultimate sport. Sevens football, a version of the game which has been played in the Malabar region for many years, has found a place in the movie.
Sevens football, which has no sanction from the Kerala Football Association or FIFA, is immensely popular in the villages, where club rivalries overshadow political slug fests. Players from African countries are also roped in to play Sevens. They stay with the local residents and adapt to the local culture, customs and food. The plot of this popular movie is set in the backdrop of sevens football.
Talking about the making of the movie, Zakariya recalled some of the challenges that he and his team had to go through as it was his maiden venture into the Mollywood industry. “We had planned to shoot the football sequence at a place where an original match was going on. Though I had heard about other filmmakers doing the same, my team was very much concerned about executing it,” Zakariya stated. It was important to keep the cameras in the safe zone considering all the important shots needed for the scene, he added.
“We stitched 10 jerseys in the name of NYC Akode and requested the team who played there on the shooting day to wear our jerseys so that we could shoot a real match for our film,” he said.
Capturing the crowd
Prior to the shoot, Zakariya's crew marked the spots in the stadium where the actors had to deliver the dialogue. They also managed to place a few artistes in the crowd in order to capture the apt emotions and expressions the film needed. “A few minutes before the match, we made a few players to play a dummy match only to capture the eye movements of the crowd. There is a moment where Soubin's team misses a goal and it was important to capture the corresponding emotions of the crowd. This has been one of the most challenging tasks as they required several retakes,” he revealed.
The football scenes were shot across 6 days using two cameras all in a matter of 10-15 minutes before and after the real matches. Zakariya recalled that producers Shyju Khalid and Sameer Tahir, who also doubled up as the cinematographer, extended great support.
While talking about Nigerian actor Samuel who has a significant role in the movie, Zakariya said though many of us think everyone in his country are familiar with football just like people in Malappuram, Samuel didn't know much about it. “Samuel realised he had to play football only when he came here. But the effort he took to train himself for this scene was brilliant. It was for the first time he saw up close a crowd cheering up for a local match,” the filmmaker observed.
Working with Soubin
It was very easy for Zakariya to work with Soubin who has a lot of experience in movies earlier as an assistant director and later as a director. “I didn't have to explain much to a person who is not just an actor but who has been a director. I met Soubin through Shyju and Sameer and our friendship started there,” he said.
Zakariya took one year to finish the script, but it took another year to finish his debut project which proved to be a box office success.
'Sudani from Nigeria' revolves around Majeed (Soubin), the manager of a local Sevens football team and Samuel, the Nigerian player whom he hires. Malappuram natives commonly refer to Africans as Sudanese for no particular reason. Hence, Samuel becomes Sudani from Nigeria. The movie recently won the FIPRESCI Award for Best Malayalam film at the 23rd International Film Festival of Kerala (IFFK).