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A searing tale from the desert

Gaddama (Malayalam)

Cast: Kavya Madhavan,

Sreenivasan,

Suraj Venjaramoodu

Director: Kamal

Producer: P.V. Pradeep

The Persian Gulf, or the Gulf, as it has always found mention in the middleclass Malayalee lingo, had for long been the average Keralite's Promised Land.

That was the case until the Second Gulf War, which set off a fairly long spell of reverse migration, giving rise to a new community called ‘the Gulf returnees'. Till then, men in gaudy apparel and dark goggles wearing pungent perfumes and flaunting a profligate lifestyle largely defined a Gulf Malayalee in Malayalam cinema and literature.

However, the myriad and vastly grim shades of life in each of the Arab countries got represented in Malayalam writing in the past two decades, the most stirring being Benyamin's recently published ‘Aadu Jeevitham' (goat life). Filmmaker Kamal's latest flick ‘Gaddama' is based on a feature by expatriate journalist K.U. Iqbal about ‘ Gaddamas' (slang for Arabic ‘ Khadima', meaning maidservant) in the Gulf and seeks to faithfully document their endless miseries and deprivations.

The life of a young émigré in bonded household labour in Saudi Arabia, a country known for its harsh and draconian rules, is never one of peace and prosperity. A widowed village woman, forced by circumstances to earn a menial job in the Gulf, is in for a series of cultural shocks, starting from being asked to wear a ‘ hijab' at the airport on arrival. At her employer's house, her passport is impounded. The gullible maid, in her late 20s, suffers sexual assault. Misfortune continues to trail the protagonist whose acquiescent life takes a turn for the worse as she runs for dear life. Female submission, as mandated in Saudi Arabia, was discussed in parts in Ayan Hirsi Ali's ‘Infidel'. As an eight-year-old, Ms. Ali had loathed the country's regimented hold over women.

Kamal's movie, on its part, attempts to catalogue the society's brutality meted out to Gulf Malayalees. The movie is a decent depiction of lives in exile in the Middle East. However, going by the accounts of Gulf deportees, what is shown is just the tip of the iceberg insofar as the agonies of the diasporic workers in the Gulf are concerned. ‘Gaddama' would have evoked a better response had its narrative been a little nuanced and punctuated with dark humour.

S. Anandan

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