Dribbling across the ground, Abdul Gafoor strikes a goal and the whole gallery erupts with the loud cheer — “Maradonaaa….” A contagious smile brightens up his face as his co-players run toward him and stoop down for a tight group hug. For the people of Koduvally in Kozhikode, only two people are entitled to a hand goal — Maradona and Gafoor! The latter had done it famously once, but for Gafoor, it’s a daily affair for he plays, walks, swims and drives using his hands alone. Gafoor’s lower limbs have been dysfunctional since he was two, but his family and friends have never ever let him feel any challenge. Gafoor is glad about that.
“I don’t remember the day I started playing football. I have always been playing with my friends. Never have my parents tried to confine me to the four walls and never have I felt that I have a ‘defect’,” he stresses on the last word. Growing up among seven elder brothers, a younger sister and countless friends, Gafoor turned out to be a confident and daring young man, ready to attempt anything, becoming a popular footballer who plays for the local Sevens at Kavilummaram.
Hardly two kilometres away from Gafoor’s place, in Mannilkadavu lived Sikkandhar Dulkarnain — both unknown to each other. Who’d have known the duo would become best friends in the future! Sikkandhar, a wannabe filmmaker, was sitting at a local tea shop when he chanced upon Gafoor’s story.
Recalling that day in 2007, Sikkandhar says, “I came across the story of Gafoor featured in a newspaper and I was taken aback. I have never seen a differently-abled youngster with so much positivity. Any other person I knew was either begging on the streets or waiting for someone’s assistance. Here was a guy who could do anything. I immediately went and met him.” That was the start of a great bonding. The two soon became besties and when a college dropout Gafoor tried his hands at entrepreneurship— mobile phone store, poultry business and flex printing, Sikkandhar chose the silver screen route, as a junior artiste and short filmmaker. When seasons changed, Gafoor secured three-wheeler driver’s license and bought an autorickshaw transporting goods, shuttling between shops and godowns and spending free hours, at the muddy football ground.
Sikkandhar was chasing after his filmy dreams; he had very few supporters – his brother, uncle and a few friends like Gafoor Sikkandhar says, “Gafoor is always supportive, beaming with joy. No one says no to him and he is never low. He is always a happy man, inspiring everyone around. Once I asked him if I could make a film on him; smiling, he asked, why not!” The plan was on – he named it Anwar-Ali, the story of two brothers, one of them Prithviraj and the other, a physically-challenged footballer. But it took some time for him to understand that making a film is not as easy as the dream. He shuttled between producers. For the commercial aspects, they asked him to make it a tear-jerker, highlighting the plights of Gafoor’s life. Sikkandhar couldn’t do that. “It had to be a film about an optimist and Gafoor’s is not a sob story. Finally, I decided to do it myself. With my short film experience, rented camera and crowd-funded production, I decided to make the movie, now named Ali, with one main actor.”
Again, he approached Gafoor; this time, asking if he could act in the title role. Gafoor smiled, he could never say no. “I haven’t felt that I couldn’t do anything. The only time I was reminded of being a ‘cripple’ was while looking for a life partner. But Fathima came into my life and we are happily married; we now have a two-year-old daughter,” says Gafoor, who calls himself a content man. “Why should I complain? I have everything – great friends, trips with them, a job to look after my family and my football ground where I play as the centre-forward. A handicap is not about one’s physical strength; it’s about your mind. If one decides that he can do anything, nothing will come in his way.” No, Gafoor hasn’t read Paulo Coelho.
“Gafoor’s motivational conversations are very interesting. I haven’t had much trouble with the script; most of his dialogues are his own,” laughs Sikkandhar, who has his friends, villagers and theatre artistes in the locality helping with the making of Ali. Naji Omar handles the cinematography of the film that has Jayaneesh Omanoor, Nishad Shah and Noushad Parannur composing the Sufi-based songs and background score. To train his fresher cast and crew, Sikkandhar organised a six-month rehearsal camp by the end of which he started shooting and canned it in 36 days. “This is something I learned from Gafoor – if you have the confidence and will, you can cross any hurdle on your path,” Sikkandhar smiles, awaiting his dream moment – the release of Ali which is bound to happen in October. Gafoor too keeps his fingers crossed. “I have never hoped to be an actor, but let’s see how people accept the film.” His dream, however, is not the film; that’s something he did for his best buddy. “My childhood dream was to become like Brazilian footballer Ronaldo and our own I.M. Vijayan,” he chuckles. “Now, my dream is to inspire others and play football every day. That’s all.”...