An Uru (dhow) under construction.
Muhammad Yusuf, Features Writer
An Indian movie that depicts the age-old maritime ties between Arab seafarers and Indian boat builders based in Kerala State, India, is set for its global release on March 20.
Directed and scripted by veteran Gulf-based journalist EM Ashraf, the film titled Uru — which means wooden dhow — narrates how Indian expatriates have embraced Arab culture and feel at home in Gulf countries — something they also consider their second home.
Ashraf, who headed the editorial team of a leading Malayalam television channel in the Gulf, seeks to depict the relationship between head craftsman of a dhow-building yard (Sreedharan, played by Mamukoya) and Rashid, who arrived in Beypore in Kerala as the representative of an Arab, to oversee the production of his Uru wooden boats.
Beypore in Kerala has a storied past as an ancient port with historical connections to Arab traders. The port town has long been famous for the construction of dhows that were mainly used for travel and carrying merchandise by Arabs.
The Gulf countries had become a sought-after destination for job seekers from Kerala since the fifties of the 1900s. It was dhows, made of wood, which helped them to cross the sea in search of a livelihood in early days.
“This is the first time a film has been made about the dhow,” Ashraf said. “Among other things, it talks about how Indian expatriates have embraced Arab culture and feel at home in their second home.”
He also said that the film, which shows various aspects of Uru making, depicts the life crisis of expatriates returning home to Kerala. Shot in Beypore and Mahe, the film also stars several craftsmen.
The cast of the movie features some of the leading actors of Malayalam cinema, including Mamukoya, Albert Alex, Manju Pathrose, KU Manoj, Anil Baby, Ajay Kallayi, Arjun, Rajendran Thayatt, Obaid Mohsin, Geetika Girish, Srivani Santosh, Baiju Bhaskar and PK Zahir.
Uru is produced under the banner of Sam Productions by Mansoor Palloor, a former expatriate of Qatar, who is currently based in Saudi Arabia.
Noted music composer and playback singer Jassie Gift has composed the music for lyrics, penned by national award winner Prabha Varma. Sreekumar Perumbadavam has done the cinematography while Hari Nair has handled the editing.
Ashraf, who has written and directed the short film Bonjour Mayyazhi based on novelist M Mukundan’s novel, has authored about 50 travelogues and biographies, including a biography of Vaikom Muhammed Basheer, Indian independence activist and Malayalam litterateur. Bonjour Mayyazhi has won three State awards, including one for best director.
Uru tells the story of Rashid, a native of Beypore, who was an assistant to an Arab in the Gulf. Two Urus were under construction for the Arab at Beypore.
Unfortunately, he fell ill. So he decided to send Rashid to Beypore for completing the work on the dhows. Arriving in Beypore, Rashid took over the responsibilities of Uru construction, and things were in progress under his supervision.
While days passed, misfortunes sharpened - the Arab’s illness became worse. He stopped sending money. The dhow workers, including carpenters, were put to misery due to not being paid for months.
In fact Rashid’s, bad times were to become worse. The news of the Arab’s demise was the final nail. The helpless Rashid pledged his only house to the bank, to pay off people.
It was his only asset — and he had sweated blood to build it. The bank authorities started the process of foreclosure, for failing to repay the loans. Meanwhile, another problem arose in his family. His only son Fatah had started a music band. Fatah absconded after police found out that one of the musicians in the band, had used drugs. They arrived to question Rashid.
Rashid decided to leave home with his wife and daughter at night. He was notified that his house would be confiscated by bank officials the next day.
Abandoning all dreams, he started on a journey without knowing the destination. But suddenly, he saw a light.
It belonged to a huge vehicle. The secretary of his late sponsor with an expert carpenter, sent by the Arab’s son, along with an old friend from Gulf and Fatah, his son, were in it.
They came with good news for Rashid. They showed him a mobile video message sent by Arab’s son to Rashid. “All the debts related to the construction of dhow will be paid off,” was the message.
When the movie wraps up, we see Rashid and his son at the dhow. The son reaches the top of the Uru and smiles at his father standing below …
“When I was working with Kalakaumudi weekly years back,” says Ashraf, “I usually visited the Uru making area at Beypore in Calicut (Kozhikode).
“I learned reliable information about Uru making and also about the Arab sponsors. Once, the chief carpenter showed me how they make the Uru with no engineering sketches or drawings.
“When I asked about this, he told me that all the creative ideas came from their minds. Carpenters, including the chief of the unit, were making an Uru from the knowledge stored only in their minds! The chief then drew the shape of an Uru with his bare hands in the soil”.
Ashraf worked as Middle East director of Kairali TV in Dubai for 17 years and is now dedicated to movie making. He began working on the script of Uru two years ago, and made the film during COVID period.
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