The Gulf boom from 1960s to 1980s that saw a mass migration of semi-skilled and unskilled workers from Kerala to the Middle East led to major changes in the socio-financial map of the state. The so-called Gulf Malayali was a highly sought-after character in novels and films.
National award-winning director Salim Ahamed takes a look at the various socio-economic issues of the Gulf Malayali through the character Pallickal Narayanan in his upcoming film Pathemari. As his two earlier films Adaminte Makan Abu and Kunjananthante Kada prove, Salim always prefers to direct realistic films on subjects the common man can relate to.
Pathemari has Mammootty playing three stages in the life of Pallickal Narayanan, who moves to the Gulf in the beginning of 80s. The film explores the trials and travails of the Gulf Malayalis, whose sorrows are hidden under the smell of their perfumes, flashy clothes and the aura of money they project.
“During the audio launch of the film, I had invited 15 persons who had gone to the Gulf during the boom. Their stories were a revelation. Now-a-days, travelling to the Gulf is very easy; you catch a plane and land there in four hours and if you do not like the job, you could come back. But that was not the case in the 70s. The migrants went by ship, which took almost a month to reach the shores, and many died onboard due to various illnesses. It was terrifying to hear their ordeals,” he says.
Salim adds that though he did not work in the Gulf region, he has a large number of friends there and has travelled extensively to research for the film, which is also scripted by him.The film shot in Dubai has some real locations which played a prominent role in the life of the earlier migrants which many are unaware of. Salim explains, “There is a seaside town Khor Fakkan where the ships carrying the migrants arrived. Most of the migrants had to jump into the sea and cling to a rock termed ‘adayalappara’ till nightfall before they swam to the shore where Arabs used to wait with vehicles to take them. This is all a part of history... including the character of Lalji Velayudhan, who was responsible for a large number of Malayalis reaching the Gulf.”
The deep friendship among migrants and the relationship of a Gulf migrant with his wife are also portrayed in the movie.Before he ends, Salim says, “I have played various roles in real life — that of a volleyball player, a mimicry artiste and a mega serial writer, but I shed all those along the way to reach my final destination — making films.”