It was a story waiting to be told. It has the emotional appeal of a low-profile arthouse saga and the immediacy of life in times of hatred and bigotry. Filmmaker Siddik Paravoor had to struggle to exhibit his film that had been lying in the cans for months due to lack of commercial support. Now, finally, this real Kerala story called Yours Truly – Sreedharan (Malayalam original is Ennu Swathan – Sreedharan) is all set for screening in the Capital this weekend.
Paravoor’s film comes at a time when the cinegoers are divided about whether or not The Kerala Story should be screened. Paravoor’s film comes with no such divisive sentiments.
Yours Truly claims to narrate the story of ‘real’ Kerala where humanity resides, and people go beyond the barriers of religion to foster relationships. It is the story of a Muslim woman Zubeidaa who brings up the three children of her domestic help Chakki, a Hindu woman. after her death. Chakki was separated from her husband and after her death, the children were left alone. So Zubeidaa rears Chakki’s children as her own, but with their parental religion and rituals intact. The film is a timely saga of pluralist living.
It started with the death of Zubeidaa, who died of kidney failure in 2019. Unable to attend her funeral, her foster son Sreedharan who was then working in Muscat, posted a poignant note on Facebook, remembering Zubeidaa, whom he called Amma, like many local Muslims. Paravoor was intrigued by the post.
“I went to Malappuram where Zubeidaa used to live with her three biological children, and three foster children, Sreedharan, Leela and Ramani near Nilambur town. It was then that I decided to make a film about her. because her humanity went beyond religion.” Incidentally, the local church also organised a prayer meeting on her death.
The film was shot at the residence of a local Namboodiri Brahmin who gave free access to Paravoor and his crew because of the ove and kindness of Zubeidaa and her husband Haji Abdul Aziz. “There is a great bonding between the siblings even after her death. They regard each other as real brothers and sisters,” says Paravoor.
Zubeidaa brought up Sreedharan from the age of one and his two sisters who were three and five years old then.“The foster parents showed no discrimination between children. Zubeidaa even breastfed Sreedharan. He used to go to the temple and walked around the house with a sandalwood mark on his forehead,” says Paravoor.
There was no pressure on Sreedharan and his sisters to embrace Islam. All the six children had an upbringing with an emphasis on love and kindness. The family celebrated three Muslim and three Hindu weddings. “Now even the daughters-in-law and sons-in-law have soaked in the same feeling of brotherhood,” says Paravoor whose film, starring Nirmala Kannan as Zubeidaa and Suresh Nellikode as Abdul Aziz, besides Nilambur Ayisha was shot on a shoe-string budget. It is yet to release commercially in Kerala.
“A lot of money is involved in exhibition and publicity; but such stories need to be told,” he says.