‘Yours Truly – Sreedharan’, Is The Real Kerala Story
Filmmaker Siddik Paravoor sends out a strong message
It all started with a Facebook post. Sreedharan, a Hindu, was paying homage, a tribute to his Muslim mother, Umma. In vicious and polarising times like these, his post was quickly followed by a barrage of vicious trolling: “why do you have to worship a Muslim mother, this is blasphemy”, they said. Then Sreedharan wrote a long post, explaining a few things. And that is how an epic story and epical film found its beginning and end.
Amateur filmmaker Siddik Paravoor saw the posts. Also, the terrible trolls. So he reached out to this simple family in a scenic, picturesque, green Kerala village in Malappuram, close to a railway line, where the trains would signal the coming and going of life and love, arrival and departure, tragedy and joy, despair and optimism. That is how this remarkable and deeply sensitive human saga of a completely different family, which touches the deepest core of one’s heart, was born: ‘Yours truly –Sreedharan’.
Subaida (Malu), a Muslim mother of two little sons, loves everyone like an ocean of compassion and magnanimity. Like her mother-in-law, and husband, who lives and works in Dubai, she is the generous matriarch whose heart beats for the suffering of others.
She sells off her land and property one by one, including the rubber plantations. Why? To help turn the thatched roofs of 12 poor families into tiled ones, to help the church in its charitable activities, to help a poor Hindu family turn the tide of adversity.
The mother-in-law tells her son who comes back for a holiday from Dubai, where he teaches the Quran, that she is so proud of Malu; that, like her, she too has donated so much for the poor. The husband smiles and tells his wife: “You have donated all your jewellery. I fully support your big heart. But don’t donate this piece of gift I have got for you.” He gives her a gold earring, knowing fully-well that she will sell this too to help those who are in crisis.
Malu is the quintessential mother with an infinite capacity to feel for others and give. Indeed, this is her own classical story, rather that of Sreedharan. It is also the story of all mothers who eternally live to give, effortlessly, without a moment of holding back. It can be for humans, kids, dogs and the birds in the hot summer, whereby she teaches Sreedharan to put water outside in a mud container so that the birds can quench their thirst.
Young Chakki, carrying a baby, works in her house. She is integral to the family. In the pond next to this red-tiled house with a beautiful open-to-sky courtyard surrounded by tall trees, where the children hold hands and go round and round in circles, she swims whenever she wants, while Malu warns her, “Don’t do this all the time. Not good for the baby.” Chakki takes another dive inside the cool water and laughs: “If I die, I will become a fish.”
Chakki dies young, in child-birth. The entire village is mourning. Who will take care of this just-born, and her two little girls?
If the railway tracks could be a metaphor for life’s unpredictable and eternal journey, the next shot is Malu, bare foot, carrying the child in her own arms, and her husband, walking in his white mundu, along with the daughters of Chakki, on the railway line. A new imagined home in this sublime homeland, thereby, becomes the reality of a new ‘secular’ foster home for the Hindu kids, with a Muslim family, and a new mother, whose heart beats for these kids much more fondly than for her own children!
Shanu, her eldest one, holds the hand of the reluctant girl, and welcomes her to her new home, while the grandmother smiles. He tells the girls, “why are you sitting on the ground and eating, come to the dining table”. He too holds their hand and goes round and round in circles, in this cathartic courtyard, celebrating the infinite innocence of play and playfulness of childhood, with love blooming in the family like one hundred roses.
Sreedharan grows up along with Jafar, his best buddy, and of the same age. One day, in a tea shop, while he is with Shanu, a Muslim man tells him to get his circumcision done. Others in the tea shop object, “what is the problem with you, they say. Let him be”. Sreedharan asks, “does it pain?” And he runs.
We all think that he is running away from home, from Islam, from forced circumcision. No, he runs straight to the bedside of Jafer, who is suffering. Is it painful, he asks Jafer. Yes, says his brother and buddy, it is. But now that you are next to me, the pain has disappeared.
So there it is. Two sisters and one brother are brought up as Hindus, with two Muslim brothers, in the happy household of the magnanimous matriarch, Malu. The foster family is a role model for the entire village which participates in their joys and sorrow.
Her husband donates for the Hindu festivals, the church acknowledges Malu’s contribution, and the entire community knows that this simple and modest family has donated almost everything which they own for the greater common good of the community across caste, class and religion, even as the husband teaches Quran for a living.
Like Shanu, like many young men in Kerala, Jafer too goes to Dubai, looking for extra income for the family. Sreedharan is heart-broken. He is asked by his brothers to join them in Dubai. But he chooses to lie on the lap of his mother and says that this place is his cherished inheritance, that he will never leave his mother. Finally, he too flies away, only to return, when tragedy visits this great, secular family.
The elder daughter is married off with Hindu rituals; the entire community showers flowers on the happy couple. She cries her heart out, and one day before the marriage, her heart-broken mother tells her to sleep with her for one last time, as tears flow like a saline river.
The film is so sensitively etched that love, joy and sorrow move into each other like multiple mountain streams, in serene synthesis, with their pristine purity. The entire audience in Delhi, where it was screened in a jam-packed auditorium last week, was in tears, only to celebrate this original, authentic and unique bonding in a family, even while Malu talks to the fishes, as if Chakki has become a fish, and tells her everyday stories.
Finally, even the greatest mother on earth should also depart, like the train in the darkness, disappearing into the forest. She dies, effortlessly, quietly, with the same, transparent lucidity as displayed in her life and times when she lived this silent and humble life of infinite sharing and giving.
Sreedharan flies back and cries her heart out near her grave. Then he sits next to the mud-water container kept for the birds by her mother, remembers her with deep gratitude and loss, and says an unfinished goodbye.
The real Sreedharan was in the audience too, along with us. As the film ended, with his Facebook post, he lost control. He sobbed and sobbed, remembering his departed mother. Indeed, Subaida was in every choked heart in the audience. This was another Kerala Story, untold and told for the first time.
Filmmaker Siddik Parovoor has had no big financial backing. He is the cinematographer of this fabulously shot film, the editor, script-writer and director. He does not have the finances to distribute the film, though it has been one year since he made it with a singular dedication.
“This is not against this film or that, or anybody. I started it in 2019, years before ‘The Kerala Story’ was made. I wanted to make a humane film with real-time people and a story driven by a rare reality. That the family agreed, I am indeed grateful to them,” said Parovoor.
It is now hoped that the Left-led government in Kerala will help sponsor and distribute the film. In an environment where hate politics rules supreme, and where BJP Chief Ministers and their Cabinets are promoting and watching tax free ‘The Kerala Story’ and its vicious propaganda and fake storyline in cinema halls, and where the Prime Minister uses it as a propaganda prop to polarise and win an election in Karnataka, this is surely the noble duty of the CPM-led Kerala government with its progressive policies and promises.
Certainly, ‘Yours truly –Sreedharan’, deserves a wider audience, not only in Kerala, but across the Indian landscape, in small towns and cities, and specially in the hate labs of the Hindi heartland.
Contemporary India needs healing and resurrection, and this beautiful film of secular humanism and incredible bonding between communities, brothers and sisters, mother and father and grandfather, must be celebrated as a landmark in regional and Indian cinema.