An Uru (dhow) under construction.
Mohammad Yusuf, Feature Writer
An Indian film that depicts the centuries-old maritime ties between Arab sailors and Indian boat builders based in the state of Kerala, India, is set to be released globally on March 20.
Directed and scripted by veteran Gulf journalist EM Ashraf, the film titled Uru – which means wooden dhow – chronicles how Indian expats have embraced Arab culture and feel at home in the Gulf countries – something they consider also as their second home.
Ashraf, who headed the editorial team of a major Malayalam TV channel in the Gulf, seeks to portray the relationship between the chief craftsman of a dhow building yard (Sreedharan, played by Mamukoya) and Rashid, who arrived in Beypore in Kerala as a representative of an Arab, to oversee the production of his wooden Uru boats.
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Beypore in Kerala has a historic past as an ancient port with historic ties to Arab traders. The port city has long been famous for the construction of dhows which were mainly used for travel and transport of goods by the Arabs.
The Gulf countries had become a popular destination for job seekers from Kerala since the fifties of the 1900s. They were wooden dhows that helped them cross the sea in search of a livelihood in the early days.
“It’s the first time a movie has been made about the dhow,” Ashraf said. “Among other things, he talks about how Indian expats have embraced Arab culture and feel at home in their second home.”
He also said that the film, which shows various aspects of the making of Uru, depicts the life crisis of expatriates returning home to Kerala. Shot in Beypore and Mahé, the film also features several artisans.
The cast of the film features some of the leading actors in 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 Sam Productions banner by Mansoor Palloor, a former expat from Qatar, currently based in Saudi Arabia.
Renowned music composer and playback singer Jassie Gift composed the music for the lyrics, written by national award winner Prabha Varma. Sreekumar Perumbadavam did the cinematography while Hari Nair handled the editing.
Ashraf, who wrote and directed the short film Hello Mayyazhi based on the novel by novelist M Mukundan, is the author of around 50 travelogues and biographies, including a biography of Vaikom Muhammed Basheer, an Indian independence activist and Malayalam writer. Hello Mayyazhi won three state awards, including Best Director.
Uru tells the story of Rashid, originally from 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 to complete the work on the dhows. Arriving in Beypore, Rashid took over responsibility for building Uru, and things were progressing under his supervision.
As the days passed, the misfortunes grew – the Arab’s illness worsened. He stopped sending money. The dhow workers, including the carpenters, have been put on trial as they have not been paid for months.
In fact, Rashid’s bad times were going to get worse. The news of the Arab’s disappearance was the final nail. Helpless Rashid pledged his only house to the bank, to pay people.
It was his only asset – and he had sweat blood to build it. The banking authorities have started the process of seizure, for non-repayment of the loans. Meanwhile, another problem arises in his family. His only son, Fatah, had started a music group. Fatah fled after police discovered that one of the band’s musicians had taken drugs. They have arrived to interrogate Rashid.
Rashid decided to leave home with his wife and daughter at night. He was informed that his house would be confiscated by bank officers the next day.
Abandoning all dreams, he set off on a journey without knowing the destination. But suddenly he saw a light.
He belonged to a huge vehicle. The secretary of his deceased godfather with an expert carpenter, sent by the son of the Arab, as well as an old friend of the Gulf and Fatah, his son, were inside.
They came with good news for Rashid. They showed him a mobile video message sent by Arab’s son to Rashid. “All debts related to the construction of the dhow will be repaid”, was the message.
When the film ends, we see Rashid and his son at the dhow. The son reaches the top of Uru and smiles at his father standing below…
“When I worked with Kalakaumudi years ago,” says Ashraf, “I usually visited Uru’s manufacturing area at Beypore in Calicut (Kozhikode).
“I learned reliable information about the manufacture of Uru and also about the Arab sponsors. Once the chief carpenter showed me how they made the Uru without sketches or engineering drawings.
“When I asked about it, he told me that all creative ideas come from their minds. Carpenters, including the head of the unit, made 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 ground”.
Ashraf worked as the Middle East Director of Kairali TV in Dubai for 17 years and now devotes himself to filmmaking. He started working on the script for Uru two years ago and directed the film during the COVID period.