It was Zaigham Imam's previous feature film, Dozakh in Search of Heaven (2015), that compelled me to consider this one. And I must say I am impressed with the messages that the director conveys through this drama.
Ali (Saud Mansuri) is a young boy who instead of going to a proper school spends his days at a madrassa reciting the Quran. While this is what his parents want, his aunt Zahara (Neelima Azeem) does not agree to Ali wasting his time and not getting actual schooling. Things take a turn when Ali is admitted to an English medium school by his father Raza (Danish Hussain), much to the chagrin of folks at the madrassa who will go to great extents to ensure that Ali stays with them...
Director-writer Imam has taken a simple story to showcase the lives of millions of young Muslim boys in India and elsewhere in the world whose future is jeopardized just because the older generations are in love with the religion. How traditional education methods are seen as ungodly and highly frowned upon is the underlying theme of the film. Ali is receptive of the new knowledge he's getting, but he has to tackle multiple demons to get through: a sadistic and racist teacher at school who does not want Ali, a Muslim boy who he thinks has deep roots in Pakistan and who has the potential to become a terrorist in future, to be a bad influence to other "better" students; his former teacher and best friend's uncle at the madarasa who is threatening Ali's family with banishment from the community; and his own young conscience that is not ready to accept the sufferings. In all the proceedings in the story, Ali is the only real victim.
The makes try to sample many more themes in the film, ultimately making it look haphazard. Most of the times, the story gets ahead of itself as characters doll out their dialogues just to prove a point. There are continuity issues throughout and viewers are going to have many questions during the viewing. The blame is on the shoddy screenplay and poor editing. But, these shortcomings aside, the story is definitely one worth watching.
It was a delight to watch Azeem and Pani after a long time. Both good actors, they are not well-directed here. The child artistes and supporting cast do a decent job. The performances is one of the better highlights of the film.
Overall, a cool afternoon watch, this story will give you respite from all the potboilers that Bollywood is throwing at you. It even reminded me of a similarly-titled 2015 Malayalam film by N K Muhammed Koya which takes up similar issues associated with the Muslim community. There is lot to take away from this film that is one of the better ones of 2017.
BOTTOM LINE: Zaigham Imam's "Alif" is a parable of sorts that shows the importance of education in the face of forced religion. Watch it to understand what plight our young Muslim brothers are in.
Can be watched with a typical Indian family? YES