This weekend I saw a Malayalam movie called “Pathemari” or The Dhow in English. Centered on the Gulf rush of the 70’s and 80’s when Malayalees would give anything to find a job in the Middle East, the movie has
Mammooty in its lead role. It chronicles the journey and life of Pallickal Narayanan as he migrates to the Gulf, crammed in a small dhow with a lot of other youngsters with dreams like him. Many die, unable to survive the days of hardship in the middle of the ocean, but Narayanan survives. He lands a construction job, which was among the most common jobs at the time. As he says towards the end of the movie, ‘the Gulf was built on the sweat and blood of many like me.’
I liked the movie because it demolishes the perception that Gulf Malayalees are rich, and that they have an easy life. Yes, today they might be on the Forbes list, after decades of breaking their backs, and enduring harsh climes. But back then, they only had one thing on their mind – survival. There were ailing parents, unmarried sisters (I don’t really agree with the notion of an unmarried woman being a “problem” but of course, that was the perception), and young brothers to take care of. Narayanan makes a visit once every few years to his native place in Kerala. Every time he comes he is surrounded by expectations, demands, and needs. A shirt needs to be given to the shop owner round the corner because he has allowed us to buy provisions on debt. “A little something” has to be given to the temple priest because he asks about you all the time.
The best part about the movie is the little vignettes that it provides. The proverbial suitcase full of goodies that include perfumes, saris, and clothes. The shy smile of the wife who has waited too long. The worried thoughts of the mother. And the many faces of Narayanan himself whose goal is to give up his international sojourns and live a life of contentment with his family back home.