Pallickal Narayanan played by Mammootty is a metonymy that stands for the early generation of Keralite diaspora in the Gulf
On a chilly night, as the waves relentlessly lash against the shores, the dark silhouettes of a few men emerge from the surf, as they scurry towards the mainland laid out under a blue carpet of stars above. The tumultuous life journey that Pallickal Narayanan (Mammootty) embarks on, commences thereon, which has been radiantly chronicled across a span of more than fifty years by Salim Ahmed, in his noteworthy film ‘Pathemaari’.
The life of expatriates has often been the theme of many a Malayalam film before, and yet if ‘Pathemaari’ stands poles apart from them and makes you want to reach out to Narayanan, its courtesy the competent script that makes considerable efforts to remain realistic to the core, and to keep dramatics at bay. Narayanan’s tale is one that we have oft heard of, and yet it remains that we have never perhaps been swayed as much by this film, as we have been by any similar account.
Almost a good five decades back, Narayanan finds himself on a boat headed for Persia, along with a small crowd of hopefuls, who dream of reaping gold from the unseen dunes. Launch Velayudhan (Siddique) who helms the boat, drops the fortunate ones who have survived the turbulent voyage that had lasted much longer than it should have, at the waters at Khor Fakkan, that lies along the east coast of the current United Arab Emirates.
This film is a blend of family and social drama
Narayanan soon gets married to Nalini (Jewel Mary), and like tens of thousands of expatriates before and after him, takes upon himself a weighty baggage that is laden with endless demands and necessities of a family that he had left back home. His roommates at Dubai stress on the requisite preparations that should be made prior to a journey back home, which also involves living up to the reputation that one associates with an expatriate.
There is a beaming family portrait that awaits Narayanan in Kerala and the man is flanked by a huge extended family, before whom he unlocks his suitcase. Garments, perfumes and pista packets having been distributed and the crowds having dispersed, Narayanan shares a quiet moment with his wife and smells the perfume that he sprays on her.
The well balanced character exposition and the pointed dialogues inject the progression of the plot with an ingenuity that cannot be missed. There are several instances in the film that leave a lump in your throats, and the film transcends its strangely familiar story by evolving into cinema that is served with a purpose, and one that ventures even beyond it.
The initial half an hour of ‘Pathemaari’ is as wobbly as the boat that rocks up and down along the seas, having been caught in a storm. But then, the skies clear up and the film sets sail, almost nonchalantly moving along the unruffled waters, casting an eerie silence of sorts that buries plenty of unspoken words within.
‘Pathemaari’ is by no means a feel-good film that would leave you glowing in your seats. In a stellar scene of sorts, Narayanan telephones home on the morning of his niece’s wedding and is left listening to the sounds of the hubbub as the family gets all set for the marriage. Left alone in a telephone booth, miles away from what he believes to be his home, the crestfallen man pays heed to the din, before his wife slams the receiver down at the other end.
Years later, with mobile phones having replaced the long queues before the telephone booths, Narayanan rings up home, and as Nalini walks towards the ringing telephone, her youngster sons suggest that she tells their dad that they have fallen asleep. In what could perhaps be called a shattering climax, when Narayanan’s coffin is brought in, his best friend (Sreenivasan) proposes that it be kept on the verandah of the new house that was being built, that had been the man’s dream. When his sons think otherwise, Narayanan leaves home once again, never to return.
I wouldn’t for once agree with the confrontation that Ahmed plasters his protagonist in shades of goodness, while painting the others around him in shades of grey. Rather, Narayanan is one of the many men whom we have come across, who have lived their life solely for others, to the point that they do not recall having a life of their own.
Narayanan is without doubt one of Mammootty’s best performances in recent times, and the actor never for a moment lets it slip away from his hands, by bringing in an amazing level of constraint to his performance, even in scenes that apparently stipulate an inflated display of emotions. There is a defencelessness that Mammootty has infused into the eyes of the man who toils away on an alien land, realizing all the while that life, or what is left of it, is fast ebbing away as the tides and seas that divide him from the ones whom he holds close to his heart.
The film also has a whopper performance from Jewel Mary, who strikes all the right chords as Narayanan’s wife. It’s also refreshing to see Sreenivasan in a role that tells a tale or two of its own. There is Siddique who impeccably shines in a cameo, while Shaheen Siddique makes a confident debut as Narayanan’s son.
The film also has one of the best technical teams behind it, and while Madhu Ambatt stuns us with some astounding cinematography, Resul Pookkuty does wonders with the sound design. The musical score by Bijibal is simply out of the world, and equally commendable are the soulful lyrics penned by Rafeeq Ahmed.
Salim Ahmed’s ‘Pathemaari’ is at once a brittle and real aide memoire that prompts you to take one hard look at an expatriate whom you always knew from close quarters. Aided with some admirable connective tissue throughout, ‘Pathemaari’ is an ode to the life of a common man, who dreamt of living his life some day, and who eventually never did.