SIFF Double Feature – Love and Shukla and Jinn
Love and Shukla: Mumbai rickshaw driver Shukla (Saharsh Kumar Shukla) is happy when his parents finally pick out a bride for him. He’s tried to follow the rules of his Brahmin upbringing and has been mostly successful. (He’s still a virgin, but has watched porn.) His buddies rib him about his upcoming wedding night, but no one prepares him for the realities of marriage while living in a one-bedroom apartment with his parents and sister Rupa (Hima Singh) after she moves back home. His wife Lakshmi (Taneea Rajaway) is very shy, and he cannot figure out how to have a conversation with her, let alone attempt to have sex while sleeping on the floor with his entire family. His father thoughtfully builds a little wall out of suitcases, but it doesn’t really provide much privacy. (All of this is made even more complicated by the fact his unsympathetic mother just cannot take a hint.) After a few abortive attempts to get busy with his wife, Shukla gives up on the physical stuff and tries his best to make an emotional connection with not only with Lakshmi, but with the rest of his family as well.
Director Siddhartha Jatla has created a sensitive exploration of two people finding love within a less-than-ideal situation. I have a lot of friends who have arranged marriages, and they seem to mostly work just fine. But generally speaking, my friends got to spend quite a bit of time with their future partners. Lakshmi and Shukla have never even had a conversation, and when she joins the family, her mother-in-law basically treats her like a servant. Shukla is certainly interested in having sex, but he has no desire to force his wife into doing anything she is not ready for. What he really wants is to know her, and to be known in return. Really, who doesn’t want that? This is a sweet story that goes to the heart of what make a good marriage, arranged or otherwise.
Final Grade: B+
Love and Shukla plays at the Kirkland Performance Center on June 1 and AMC Pacific Place on June 3rd.
Jinn: High school senior Summer (Zoe Renee) is getting through school, hanging with friends, and hoping with all her heart she gets into the only university she applied to, CalArts. Things seem pretty much business as usual in her life, until her meteorologist mother starts exploring a new interest in Islam. Summer accuses her mom Jade (Simone Missick) of just wanting to get into the imam’s pants and laughs the whole thing off, but is later convinced by her father to give these new beliefs a chance – at least until she goes off to college. She starts attending religious services at her mother’s masjid and quietly starts grooving on what she is hearing. (It doesn’t hurt that really cute Tahir from school (Kelvin Harrison Jr.) also goes to the same mosque.) But Summer has been raised in a secular manner by the former free-spirited Jade and finds that not all changes are as easy as putting on a headscarf. Her desire to explore her life fully and become her own person is in conflict with the new strictures her mother would like to impose upon her. As she struggles to define herself, her relationships with her friends and family become ever more strained, and an ill-advised Instagram photo threatens to make things even worse.
I really enjoyed this, which I think is director Nijla Mumin’s first feature film. There is a little wobbliness in the writing, but some really great performances hide most of that. (Jade and Tahir don’t really have much depth to their characters and feel like foils for Summer to react against. I would have liked to understand more about their motivations.) But it’s nice to have a different kind of coming of age story, and seeing black Muslims portrayed at all, let alone in a good light, is refreshing. I think a lot of people are unaware of what a positive force Islam has been for many people, especially those affected by oppressive class systems. In Islam, all people are equal in the eye of Allah. (This is basic doctrine; your experience may vary based on where and how one practices, kind of like Christianity.) There is a reason why lots of Indians converted to Islam whenever Muslim invaders came to India; it was a way out of the caste system. For the descendants of slavery in this country, I can imagine hearing that everyone is equal under God would be a much-needed message of love. Ok. I have kind of wandered off topic. What I am trying to say is this: I am overjoyed to see a movie about people who aren’t normally represented on film. Not because I am social justice warrior (although I would like to some day be able to earn that title) but because it is interesting to see how other people live their lives. I want all the stories, not just the ones business people think can make money.
Final Grade: B
Jinn plays at AMC Pacific Place on June 6 and SIFF Cinema Uptown on June 7.