As a kid I grew up listening to tales of people living in the Gulf countries,apparently making a lot of money and keeping their family members and friends happy. It would be tempting to see friends bringing in new toys or goodies whenever their father or uncle came back on a holiday, often making me even wonder why my father never even wanted to make his fortune over there :). But being interested in films even as a child, I remember watching films like Ee Naadu (1982) and Akkare (1984) which presented a slightly different tale of people associated with the Gulf in some way or the other. Nevertheless seeing Malayalam films those days on VHS cassettes from the Gulf while the film was very much in theatres those days was quite a kick in itself, making one feel good all the more about people working there, and feeling a tad envious of people benefiting from them as well :). It didn’t take me much time to realize that not everyone working in the Gulf countries is a millionaire, nor is everyone a lowly worker, fighting for their basic survival itself.
Salim Ahamed shot to fame with his very first Malayalam film, Adaminte Makan Abu, one of the better Malayalam movies in recent times. Deeply touching and poignant, the film went on to do well in the festival circuit and also won a handful of National Awards. For the very choice of the subject and for having been brave enough to produce the film himself (along with Ashraf Bedi) and for showing faith in making Salim Kumar don the lead role, I knew that here was someone who seriously wanted to make a difference with his films. So when he announced his second film Kunjananthante Kada with Mammootty in the lead, I was a little surprised, wondering if he was trying to make it big with a slightly more commercial film. And while the film didn’t really turn out as wonderfully as Adaminte Makan Abu, I was not disappointed at least for the simple reason that it wasn’t a film that was outright commercial just because it had a star in the lead role. Pathemari, his latest film, once again sees him working with Mammootty. The working stills and later the promotional material including the trailer gave me a confident feel and I was happy that the film started generating a positive word of mouth as soon as it released.
Pathemari takes a look at the phenomenon of youngsters from poor families going all the way to the Gulf through dubious means initially, before letting destiny shape the course of their lives and that of their family members. Pallikkal Narayanan and his friend Moideen along with many other youngsters from Chavakkad find themselves on a “Pathemari” (a sailing boat) to Persia as the Gulf was referred to then. Everyone on the boat has set sail aspiring of making his fortune in the distant land and Launch Velayudhan (Siddique) is the man who takes them along and drops them just off the shore from Khor Fakkan (a coastal town in U.A.E). Narayanan (Mammootty) and Moideen (Sreenivasan) soon settle down among the faceless crowd in UAE, taking up all kinds of jobs to keep them going. Years pass and we see that Narayanan is now married to Nalini (Jewel Mary) and she and his mother (Viji Chandrasekhar) keep looking forward to his return.
Packed with gifts for one and all, Narayanan finally makes a visit 3 years after his wedding, but struggles to spend quality time with Nalini. Soon he has to go back and continue his hard life back at work in Dubai. We keep getting a peek into the lives of Narayanan and the people around him both in Dubai and back home, as time flies by. The film is a chronicle of sorts as we see flashes of the 50 years of Narayanan’s period spent in Dubai, and how he brings in light in the lives of his family members, only to remain a struggler all the way. Yet as he eventually mentions in a T.V interview, so what if he did not become rich, since he did manage to enrich the lives of so many people back home he does consider himself a successful man and is happy on account of the same. Make no mistake, this isn’t a film that will give you lots to cheer, it is quite a serious take on the flipside of the “Gulf” life that we usually think of mostly.
The story per se is not path breaking, it is something that we have been seeing in Indian cinema for a long time-a protagonist who puts his family above all and does everything for them, not bothered about his own welfare in the process. Be it the old Rajinikanth Tamil hit, Aarilirunthu Arubathu Varai (1979) or several of Mammootty’s family oriented films like Vatsalyam (1993), this is a theme that has been often explored. However what sets Pathemari apart from all these films is that this is a film which talks clearly about the often unheard stories of a Gulf Malayalee. Also the film doesn’t really try to take the tear jerker route, despite the enormous possibilities of heading that way; Salim Ahamed thankfully steers clear of the same. He manages to do it mainly by only showing us brief vignettes of his life, never lingering upon any of them too long.
While Lal Jose’s Arabikkatha (2007) and Diamond Necklace (2012) were also films which did not subscribe to the typical Gulf dream, Pathemari in a way also has a historical touch. Launch Velayudhan is actually not a fictional character, the character from the film is indeed inspired by the real life personality of the same name. Pathemari is nothing but a look at what happened in the life of one of the hundreds or perhaps thousands of people who took the Gulf route through Velayudhan. The film is full of wonderful moments, each one of them lingering in your mind indeed. Take for example the scene when Narayanan calls up his home to talk to Nalini during his niece’s wedding, only to hear the sounds of all the excitement at home while even Nalini has no time to talk to him. The scene in Mumbai where Narayanan helps Majeed (Santosh Keezhattoor), and their meeting once again years later in Dubai are again examples of scenes, where both Salim Ahamed and Mammootty have shown restraint.
The scenes towards the end of the film are sure to leave you with a lump in your throat, and even if you wonder why Narayanan did have to go through all this, the T.V interview of his clears everything, both to his family and to the audience. The film boasts of wonderful names among its technical crew and all of them do their part quite well. Veteran Madhu Ambat’s cinematography (especially the Kerala portions), editor Vijay Shankar’s deft work with the scissors (at a run time of just 110 minutes, the film is a breezy watch), Bijibal’s music in combination with Resul Pookutty’s sound design are all commendable. The only sore point perhaps is the poor CGI that’s seen in a few places, probably a case of budget constraints I guess. Coming to the acting performances, nearly everyone makes use of his/her presence in the film. Viji Chandrasekhar as Narayanan’s mother, Sreenivasan as Moideen, the trusted friend of Narayanan and Siddique as Launch Velayudhan leave an impact.
Jewel Mary is very convincing as Nalini, at times she is the wife pining for her husband, at times the lady concerned about running the family and at times the lady in a conflict between her roles of mother and wife, pulling off the character quite well. It will be an understatement to say that Mammootty’s performance as Pallikkal Narayanan is one of his best in recent times. While he has done similar characters in the past, it is to his credit that he brings something interesting in his portrayal even today without fail. Pathemari is all about Pallikkal Narayanan and Mammootty doesn’t disappoint, staying restrained all the way. For a film which gets the period detailing quite well it was a little jarring to see references to the Jayan starrer Karimpana (1980) as well as a song from Olangal (1982) in the same time (shown during one of Narayanan’s visits to his home town). But leaving that aside Pathemari is a poignant tale of how not every Gulf Malayalee’s story ends on a glittering note. Salim Ahamed’s efforts in this direction have worked out well and I am sure this will remain a film that will be remembered for the faith and conviction shown by him and his leading man, Mammootty.