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Lost in the sands of time

Sangeeta
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Cinema Kamal's ‘Gadhama,' starring Kavya Madhavan in the lead, tracks the travails of migrant labour in West Asia. Sangeeta

F or years together, a job in the ‘Gulf' has been the average Malayali's single point solution for balance sheet deficits. But the utopian Persian Gulf is as much hell as it is heaven for some expatriates. Reports suggest that some of the migrant labour there are victims of human trafficking and exploitation. Two insightful and heartrending stories on the issue appeared in the Malayalam print recently – Benny Benyamin's ‘Aadu Jeevitham,' the fictionalised account of a man trapped in a Masra (Arabic for goat farm) in the interiors of an Arabian desert, and Gulf-based K. U. Iqbal's reportage on the abuse and mistreatment of ‘Gadhamas' (Arabic for housemaids) in Saudi Arabia. Both the stories, with their thematic significance and dramatic value, were immediately picked up by the film fraternity, with Blessy announcing a film based on the former starring Prithviraj, and Kamal with Kavya Madhavan. While Blessy's ‘Aadu Jeevitham' is yet to roll, Kamal is all set to release his film on the ‘Gadhammas of Gulf,' today. Written by K. Gireesh Kumar and Kamal, ‘Gadhama' traces the story of a lower middle class Malayali woman's desert voyage as she tries to escape her torturous tenure as a migrant worker in the Gulf.

The film revolves around Aswathy, who moves from a Kerala village to West Asia seeking a living after her husband passes away. She lands in Saudi Arabia and many surprises await her, starting at the airport itself. She is forced to wear a burqa, as part of the dress code of the country. She is subsequently exposed to a rigid culture and a slavery-like vocation,” says Kamal, director of ‘Gadhama,' who apparently got inspired by K. U. Iqbal's report.

“The series that appeared in Bhashaposhini caught my attention and I thought the theme had immense potential for a feature film. Although Malayalam cinema has handled Gulf-centric themes before, this had a unique perspective as it is centred on a woman. Our previous Gulf narratives mostly revolve around men, money and memories of homeland. This, I thought, was a marked deviation from that. Hence the decision to make it into a film,” he adds.

The director then shared the idea with writer Gireesh Kumar who developed it into the current premise. “The story follows Rasak, a migrant social worker in Saudi Arabia, who tries to trace Aswathy who had mysteriously disappeared during an attempt to escape torture while working as a domestic help in an Arab household. Rasak is based on a real-life character and so are many other characters in the film. Many of the incidents captured in the film are also taken from real-life incidents. Only the structure of the story is fictional, the rest of it has been picked up from various individual experiences,” reveals Gireesh Kumar, who wrote the films ‘Amrutham,' ‘Veruthe Oru Bharya,' ‘Kaana Kanmani' and so on. ‘Gadhama' is Gireesh's first association with Kamal. The film stars Kavya Madhavan and Sreenivasan in the lead with Biju Menon, Suraj Venjaramood, K.P.A.C. Lalitha and Sukumari in supporting roles.

“The central character, Aswathy, gets married to a small-time goon who gets killed. She decides to take up a job in the Gulf. Kavya was the first and obvious choice for the film. Even before the idea germinated into the story, she was decided as the protagonist,” adds Gireesh.

Making a comeback

‘Gadhama,' de facto, marks Kavya Madhvan's comeback to Malayalam cinema. The actor had taken a break from films for sometime and has started re-appearing in films off late. Incidentally, her mentor, director Kamal, happens to be the Pygmalion of her second innings as well. “Kavya made her debut as a child artiste in my film ‘Azhagiya Raavanan.' I was not surprised when she took up acting as a profession and was happy to see her bloom into a fine actor. And when I was casting for ‘Perumazhakkalam,' I thought it is time I gave her my due. Her character in ‘Perumazhakkalam' was much applauded and she got her first State film award for that. This time when she reopens her filmography, fate has given me the task of giving her a plum role,” contemplates the director who also gives his muse full credit for ‘Gadhama.'

“Kavya has put her heart and soul into the film. My only concern was with regards to her weight as it contrasted with the central character who is impoverished. Kavya worked on losing weight. She has done an excellent job in the film, and her perseverance will definitely take her places,” says the director.

Manoj Pillai has wielded the camera for ‘Gadhama'– perhaps the first Malayalam film to be shot extensively in a desert. “The desert is a difficult terrain to work on. It was stressful, but we managed it. And the footage looks nice. It is a testimony of the fantastic crew that we had,” says Manoj. The film was shot near Dubai. “I have shot in deserts before – for Lal Jose's ‘Arabikatha' and Kamal's ‘Ayal Kathayezhuthukayanu.' We wanted a marked deviation from our previous works and we decided on a visual treatment, accordingly,” explains Manoj.

The film releases today across Kerala and is expected to create a buzz in both commercial and intellectual circuits.


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