Kochi

Portraying a bond that transcends identities

A still from the documentary Sarah, Thaha, Thoufeek

A still from the documentary Sarah, Thaha, Thoufeek

A few years ago, a researcher from Belgium, who was scouring the Jewish sites in Kochi to learn more about the vintage Belgian glasses and ceramic material used in the city’s ancient synagogues, was surprised by a local’s understanding about them.

“Are you Jewish?” she asked him.

Thaha Ibrahim, a Muslim from Fort Kochi, smiled, shaking his head. Thaha and his friend Thoufeek Zakriya, a professional chef in Dubai and a master in Hebrew calligraphy, have a deeper connect with Jewish life in Mattancherry, courtesy their bonding with the senior most Kochi Jew, Sarah Cohen, in her late 90s.

The moving relation is portrayed in Sarah, Thaha, Thoufeek canned by Sarath Koottikkal, who followed the trio for a few years. The teaser of the hour-long documentary was released by Kochi Biennale Foundation secretary Riyas Komu at an event at Mocha Art Café, Mattancherry, on Tuesday.

“It’s an emotional work for me as well and nothing in this has been staged. It has candid shots capturing the touching relationship, which cannot be described in words or etched in a film in its entirety,” says Sarath.

He had known Thaha for sometime when one day Thaha causally told him about taking Sarah ‘aunty’, then 93 years and with no kin around, to a swanky new mall at the far end of the city. Ms. Cohen, who runs an embroidery shop in Mattancherry’s Jew Town, found news about the mall fascinating. On cue, Thaha, who has been close to the Cohen household for nearly two decades and taking care of the nonagenarian after her husband Jacob Cohen died, made a trip to the mall with ‘aunty’ and his family.

“The gesture moved me. We live in an age when aged parents are treated like an appendage, but this chap had the heart to heed to a wish by someone who’s 90-plus and not even a relative,” says Sarath, adding that the relation is thicker than blood.

“Thaha is like a son to Sarah aunty,” says Thoufeek, whose Hebrew calligraphic skills and knowledge of the religion, brought him close to Ms. Cohen in 2009. “She’s like my grandma, showering me with love and care. She happily relates things to me and reserves special dishes for me,” says Thoufeek.

Thaha’s cheerfulness and ability to inspire happiness and care won him a close pal in Thoufeek, someone less than half his age. “He’s like my brother and stays in close touch wherever I’m. We pursue our research on the Jews and Muslims of Kochi in right earnest,” maintains Thoufeek.

‘References coincidental’

As Sarath reveals, the film’s sharp focus is on bond binds the trio and not their religions. “If at all there are references to it, it’s all been coincidental.”

Candid shots, some of which were canned by Thaha himself — who took to photography inspired by Ellen Goldberg, co-author of The Last Jews of Cochin – form a remarkable feature of the film.

More than technical brilliance, accidental meetings, serendipitous moments and spontaneous conversations characterise the film, says Sarath. A point underscored by Thaha, who got to film Ms. Goldberg and her husband Nathan Katz, 30 years after he first met them at the Cohen household, and several such visitors and remarkable occurrences.

In the final stages of production, the film is set to be ready in the first week of August.


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Printable version | May 20, 2022 9:51:27 pm | https://www.thehindu.com/news/cities/Kochi/portraying-a-bond-that-transcends-identities/article24381755.ece