Expatriate movies bring a familiar narrative pattern to the collective memory of people from Kerala. The agonies and struggles of a selfless middleclass man for a better tomorrow, being in a cramped labour camp, and of course, his nostalgia for home. Coming out with his sixteenth film, Mohavalayam, in a career spanning 40 years, the doyen of art-house films in the Malayalam film industry, TV Chandran, excludes the clichés and tries to give a fresh perspective to the overused expat storyline.
“More than an expat story, it is a cinema within cinema. The story is about my journey which shaped the filmmaker in me besides my contemporaries in the seventies and eighties. So, people might find elements of filmmakers of that period in Jose Sebastian, the film’s protagonist, a veteran director in the Malayali industry,” explains the film’s scriptwriter and director, TV Chandran.
Mohavalayam is an attempt to trace the lives of expats from south Asian countries like India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh who move to Saudi Arabia looking for work. The plot concentrates on the restrictions of leading a ‘liberal life’ there and the urge of these people to flee to Bahrain every weekend across the King Fahad Causeway Bridge. For them Bahrain becomes a hedonistic haven luring them with the vision of alchohol and women, giving them a veritable break from the mechanical routine of Saudi life. Once there, they make a beeline for Prameela’s (played by Mythili) tavern where they encounter quite a few desi girls, thus providing them with a temporal sense of freedom while the women appeal to their homesick yearnings.
“The beauty of this film lies in its relevance and realism. While I was shooting on location, I came across multiple people and their stories, giving an account of their lives,” says actor Ishwaq Singh, who plays Pakistani taxi-driver, Yaqub, in the film.
The story subsequently grows around a visit of a veteran Malayali director Jose Sebastian to Bahrain and his meeting with Prameela, who eludes his romantic overtures. In a sub-plot the film goes back and forth, trailing Prameela’s eventful trajectory, which took her from being a theatre artiste in ‘God’s own country’ to running a tavern in Bahrain. Mythili, of Paleri Manikyam fame, breathes life into Prameela. “There has always been a fair representation of women in Chandran sir’s cinema. Prameela is a continuation of it. She is a layered character. At a point, she realizes that everyone is alone in this world and she has to face whatever comes her way. Being independent also teaches her that happiness is a state of mind that one can create,” Mythili says.