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In search of a place called home

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Rooted in reality: Mohanlal and Shwetha Menon as Valiyakkathu Moosa and Ameena.
Rooted in reality: Mohanlal and Shwetha Menon as Valiyakkathu Moosa and Ameena.

SARASWATHY NAGARAJAN

‘Paradeshi’ unfolds the travails of the displaced through the story of Valiyakkathu Moosa. The film reaches theatres today.

Paradeshi’ has its roots in the Partition of 1947 but the film deals with the trauma of innocent lives trapped in a no-man’s land. ‘Paradeshi’ narrates the story of ‘Valiyakkathu Moosa’ but deals with the universal theme of displacement, identity and belonging. ‘Paradeshi,’ P.T. Kunhimohammed’s latest film, which reaches theatres today, is the story of a quest for identity, citizenship and nationality.

The film raises more questions than answers. Of an individual’s right to be with his family and people, of power politics between nations negating the rights of its citizens and the overriding question of what is it that defines a citizen. Is it lines drawn on a map or is it a piece of paper? Is it his culture and language or is it his religion? What is it that makes a man a ‘foreigner’ in his own country?

“These are for viewers to answer. My job is to highlight the helplessness of such people and the callous attitude of the administration,” says the director.

While the horrors of Partition in other parts of India have been well-documented in literature, theatre and cinema, the reverberations of that cataclysmic event in Kerala, especially in Malabar, have often gone unnoticed.

Fugitives in Kerala

“It was only in the Nineties that mediapersons stumbled upon the plight of hundreds of Malayalis in Malappuram who were forced to live as fugitives in Kerala as circumstances had made many of them citizens of Pakistan. Their predicament made me make a film on these people; citizens of no land,” explains Kunhimohammed. His ‘Paradeshi’ unravels the life of those Malayalis who left Kerala to seek their fortunes in Karachi. “Like many Malayalis do even today, in those days, people left in thousands to Mumbai, Delhi, Kolkatta and Karachi. When India and Pakistan were born, many of them continued to work there. But their families remained in Kerala. Much as many non-resident Indians still do, they thought they could eke out a living in Karachi and send their earnings to Kerala. Little did they imagine that overnight India and Pakistan would become nations at war with each other. The war made those who had accepted Pakistani citizenship foreigners in their own land. Valiyakkathu Moosa was one of those.”

Mohanlal appears as the unfortunate Moosa who is compelled to hide in his house to evade the police who are on the lookout for him after his visa expires. Says Mohanlal: “I was deeply touched by the theme and my character, Moosa. Through Moosa’s life we are addressing a much larger problem that still exists and persists in many parts of the world. Although the mandarins in India and Pakistan deny him the valid papers to live in Kerala, Moosa makes it to Kerala three times and is deported every time.”

The director is all praise for Mohanlal’s superb performance as Moosa. “It was amazing. The film covers 50 years and so the thirty-something Moosa we see in the initial stages of the film is eighty-five when he is finally caught by the police as a visa offender who overstays in India. Mohanlal lived as Moosa,” says Kunhimohammed.

The only person who staunchly stands by Moosa is his wife, Ameena. “It is a role of a lifetime,” admits Shwetha Menon, who dons the role of Ameena.

“She is the only person who really understands Moosa’s angst. His Pakistani citizenship makes him a suspect in the eyes of many of his acquaintances and after a certain point of time, even Moosa’s children find him an embarrassment,” says Shwetha.

Siddique, Jagathy Sreekumar, Jagdish, Lakshmi Gopalaswamy and T.G. Ravi are some of the actors who appear in this film.

Unforgettable characters

“Each actor in the film has an unforgettable character to essay. Many of them were modelled on the people we had read about or met during the scripting of the film. Usman, played by T.G. Ravi, was a person we met in Thanoor. Usman had not stepped out of his home for years as he feared the police would nab him. In the end, he was betrayed by a relative,” says Kunhimohammed.

Says Mohanlal: “Moosa’s life too becomes a pawn in the diplomatic chess being played by nations. The last scene shows Moosa being pushed into Pakistan from Munaba in Barmer district in Rajasthan. One sees this octogenarian trudging along the desert. He could be shot by the Pakistani guards or the Indian forces. For both, he is an intruder. So, I asked the director what he thought would happen to Moosa. He told me that he felt that Moosa would again make an attempt to return to his roots.”


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