This is Mohammed Alhaj. He is a Saudi national pharmacist. Handsome, handsome, gentle, always smiling, always radiating positive energy. ‘Duktoor’ (that’s how pharmacists are called in Saudi). I met Muhammad a year ago. He had transferred to the pharmacy where I was working. It was often felt that the Saudis were inferior compared to other countries. Duktur Muhammad also had that quality. So we became fast friends. Whatever help is requested will be done without hesitation.
I came closer knowing that Muhammad had a special love for Malayalam. And when you meet at the pharmacy, after saying salaam, ask ‘What’s up?’ The smile on your face is enough to work with you for the rest of the day. Now I am busy learning Malayalam words. They will ask what is that and what is this. It takes time to learn Malayalam. So you know Mammootty and Mohanlal. It was not long ago that theaters were allowed in Saudi Arabia. Movies are now releasing here too. But Malayalees will hesitate to pay a minimum of 55 riyals to watch a movie. Or that much movie craze. One day Duktur Muhammad said, ‘Aarat’ is in Haifa Mall movie theater, how about we go? But looking at the timing of the show, neither of them can.
By the time the time came, Arat Vox moved to the theater. Only one show at 11:30 p.m. On a day off for both of us, we went to see Mohanlal’s Aarat. This is the first time Duktur Muhammad is going to a Malayalam movie. Tickets were reserved. After buying all the food to eat, we entered the theater. Apart from us, only two people from Ponnanis were there to watch the movie (I met them during the interval). I was thrilled to see a Mohanlal movie without spending a single Rial. The movie started. Every time his face appeared on the screen, Duktoor kept asking where Mohanlal was in his excitement to see Mohanlal. Seeing Mohanlal’s one-and-a-half arrivals, Duktur captured those scenes on camera. When I came to the theatre, I was asked whether there would be translation. I also asked if it would not be. But the result was disappointment.
Ever seen nothing but four Arabic words appearing on the screen. However, I was surprised by the patience shown by Duktoor to watch the first silent Malayalam movie Vigathakumaran. I had to narrate the story later because it was a movie he paid for. Malayalam cinema has to change as the world changes. Especially when the film is released in an Arab country like Saudi Arabia, they should be able to watch it. While it is possible to translate any language through Google, it seems that if the Arabic language is included on the screen, it can attract more Saudis to Malayalam cinema. Many movies are not allowed for those below 18 years of age, because in a situation where the family cannot watch the movie, if we try to release Malayalam movies in a way that Arabs can understand, it will be an asset to our language and the Malayalam film industry.
There was no disappointment on Duktur Muhammad’s face when the film was over because of the necessary beatings. When I said that I want to see Mammootty’s film, I said that ‘Bhishma Parvam’ will come soon. When it was time to drop me near my room, Duktur returned the car home with a smile and greeted me saying that it was a Mammootty movie. Not even a week later, Duktur Mohammad himself said that Mammootty’s Bhishmaparvam has come (Duktur has downloaded all the theaters here on his mobile and will check it from time to time). Even if you agree to go on your day off, the second question is whether there will be translation. At that time, some friends consoled me by showing me the Arabic writings in the movie parts shared on WhatsApp status.
But the result was disappointment. When we reached the movie cinemas in Arabian Mall, there was only one Malayali. Later two more people came. Meanwhile, two Saudi families came to my surprise. But, 10 minutes into the movie, they got up and left! Because why should Chumma sit without understanding anything… If their language which they understand was displayed on the screen, they would have sat till the end of the movie. Even in English movies screened in Saudi Arabia, dialogues are written in Arabic. That is why there is a rush of natives. And why should we stand aside? Therefore, there is no doubt that if those related to the cinema take care to include Arabic language in the copy of the films that are being produced in the future, it will be beneficial to the film industry and the Malayalam language.
Arts Club is a place to publish writings (articles, memoirs, poems, short stories, drawings, travelogues, etc.) of expatriate Malayalis in Saudi Arabia. Essays should be sent to email@example.com