Aadujeevitham, director Blessy’s magnum opus, which released on Thursday, is the latest in a string of films that explores the lives of Keralites living in different parts of the globe. Starring Prithviraj Sukumaran in the lead as Najeeb, Aadujeevitham is based on the eponymous book by Benyamin. It tells the story of a Malayali who goes to Saudi Arabia and gets trapped in slavery. His travails as he struggles to hold on to life and sanity is the story of Aadujeevitham.

Malayalam movies on expat life was a natural extension of exploring the lives of Keralites. Perhaps the first such Malayalam film to be made was Ezhamkadalinakkare (1979) directed by IV Sasi. Shot in the U.S., it was about Lakshmi, a nurse, who struggled to look after her family. The movie also took viewers to some of the all too familiar landmarks in the US.

Vilkkanundu Swapnangal (1980), written by MT Vasudevan Nair and directed by Azad, is perhaps the first Malayalam film to be set in West Asia. Starring the late Sukumaran in the lead, it was about his trip as an illegal immigrant to the ‘Gulf’ in search of a better life. The ‘Gulf’ boom was reaching its zenith in Kerala and it mapped the aspirations of those working abroad to improve their financial status. It also happened to be the first film that had Mammootty’s name in the credits. Sudheer, Bahadur Srividya, Sukumari, Jalaja, and Sreenivasan were in the cast.

Sathyan Anthikkad’s Mandanmmar Londonil (1983) was a slapstick comedy about a group of actors who land in London and find themselves in a soup. Starring Sukumaran, Jagathy Sreekumar, Nedumudi Venu and Jalaja among others, it was a cult film on the star-crossed actors. Veruthe Oru Pinakam (1984), starring Nedumudi Venu, Poornima Jayaram and KP Ummer was set in Paris and was a light-hearted family drama.

Many movies made during the time noted the changes in Kerala due to the Gulf boom. Remittances from abroad changed lifestyles and aspirations and this was also reflected in the movies being made.

Since the nineties, there has been a gradual increase in the number of movies that were shot abroad. Thematically too, the narratives changed to keep pace with the times. Other than the gangsta films made in plenty, there were sensitive works that delved into the emotional landscape of the protagonists who travelled abroad with stars in their lives.

Directed by PT Kunju Muhammed, the film, starring Murali and Urvashi in the lead, was a sensitive narrative on the hardships faced by Naseeruddin, a post-graduate in literature, who worked as a labourer in West Asia. His menial job has not helped him save substantially. Twelve years later, he returns home, hoping to live with his family. However, he is unable to earn a living and, disheartened, he returns to the Gulf.

Cuba Mukundan, an idealist with Leftist leanings, is forced to migrate to West Asia to repay a debt incurred by his father. Lal Jose helms the film written by Iqbal Kuttipuram. Starring Sreenivasan, Nedumudi Venu, Indrajith, Jagathy Sreekumar, Jayasurya, Suraj Venjarmoodu and Samvrutha Sunil, it was set against a political background and also explored the harsh working conditions of unskilled labourers in West Asia. Mukundan is tricked by his adversaries and he vanishes into the desert. Finally it is his old comrade who rescues him from a farm and brings him back to Kerala.

The hard-hitting film by Kamal throws light on the harsh life of a domestic maid in Saudi Arabia. Kavya Madhavan shines as Aswathy, a woman from Pattambi who is forced to work as a domestic servant to pay off the loans incurred by her late husband (played by Biju Menon). The abuse she has to endure and the lack of any freedom whatsoever persuades her to flee from the home of her employer. The story was based on the real-life story of a housemaid in West Asia, which was published in Bhashaposhini, a Malayalam magazine, by KU Iqbal. Sreenivasan, Suraj Venjarmoodu, Murali Gopy and Shine Tom Chacko are some of the actors in the movie.

Set in Dubai, the story by Iqbal Kuttipuram focusses on the life of Dr Arun, an oncologist who lives life in the fast lane, all funded by credit cards. It is the women in his life who persuade him to introspect. Starring Fahadh Faasil, Samvratha Sunil, Gautami Nair, Anusree, Maniyan Pillai Raju, Sukumari and Sreenivasan, the movie explores the lives of Malayalis who inhabit two worlds and what follows when the two collides.

When Arun (Fahadh) falls into a debt trap, it is Venu (Sreenivasan), hailing from the same village as Arun, who comes to his rescue and not his wealthy friends. For Arun, who has a devil-may-care attitude, it is his financial woes that bring him to his senses, forcing him to confront reality.

Pallikkal Narayanan (Mammootty) symbolises the thousands of Malayalis who migrated to West Asia, legally or illegally, to support their family. Sailing in dhows and small ships, they wanted to reach West Asia, the land of their dreams. By sacrificing even small comforts, they send their money home to help their extended families move up the financial and social ladder. Often their hardships and sacrifices are overlooked as the family is only concerned about their financial well-being. Narayanan’s family is so engrossed in the good life that they have no time even to grieve his death.

A family drama written and directed by Vineeth Sreenivasan, it is based on a real-life story of a businessman in Dubai who faced bankruptcy after being cheated by his business partner. All was well with Jacob Zachariah (Renji Panicker) and his family till his business partner cheats him, leaving him with a huge loan to repay. That is when his eldest son Jerry (Nivin Pauly) steps in and with the help of his mother Sherly (Lakshmy Ramakrishnan) and his siblings, he manages to save the day. The movie traces the life of an upper middle class, educated family in cosmopolitan Dubai.

Mahesh Narayanan’s survival thriller, his directorial debut, is about the evacuation of nurses held captive by the IS in war-torn Iraq. The huge cast headlined by Parvathy Thiruvothu and Kunchacko Boban included Fahadh Faasil, Alencier and Devi Ajith among others. Both Sameera (Parvathy) and Shaheed (Kunchacko) are nurses working in Iraq to support their families in Kerala when the IS strikes. How they manage to escape to Kerala is the crux of the movie. Fahadh dons the role of the Indian ambassador to Iraq.

Based on the life of theatre veteran Nilambur Ayisha, the film stars Manju Warrier in the lead. Directed by Aamir Pallikkal, the movie focusses on the period when Ayisha had worked as a domestic help in a wealthy household in the UAE. It shows how a naive Ayisha and the rich and powerful Mama, who do not even have a language in common, develop a deep bond.

Joshiy’s Dubai (2001), Priyadarsan’s Oru Marubhoomikatha (2011), Lal Jose’s Meow (2021), Sugeeth’s Madhura Naranga (2015), Thamar KV’s 1001 Nunakal (2022) and Ameen Aslam’s Momo in Dubai (2023) are some of the Malayalam movies that have narrated stories of Malayalis in West Asia.

By IPL Agent

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