Migration, Films and Muslims of Kerala: Between Host and Home

Dr.  Hashik NK

As a form of visual representation that became popular in post- 2000, home video films draw a wide range of audiences today, particularly in the northern districts of Kerala. It deals with social and ideological issues of the Muslim community of Kerala, particularly those of the migrant population. The cultural expatriation in the context of Gulf migration necessitates studying the construction of identities positioned in different spatio-temporal contexts. Home video films are important in contemporary Kerala as it emerges in continuance to represent the Muslims and their lifestyle in mainstream Malayalam films. The cultural impact of home video films on Kerala society in general and Kerala Muslims, in particular, has not been widely considered. The article also examines how home video films interrogate socio-cultural Muslim norms of sexuality, family, and religion through virtual space. 

Keywords: Gulf migration, history, Islam, cinema, family


The Malabar region, which comprises the northern districts of Kerala, has experienced significant socio-cultural and economic transformation due to migration to the Gulf countries that started in the second half of the twentieth century. Though the process of migration drew a lot of scholarly attention to date, most of the studies on migration from Kerala to various Gulf countries has been in the form of Government-sponsored surveys, developmental studies, or impact analyses on return migrants (Begum 2009, Gulati 1986, Jabir 2014, Nair 1986, Prakash 1998, Rajan 2012, Rashid 1989, Zachariah 2002, Ministry of Overseas Affairs, Government of India, 2012; Government of Kerala, Department of Economics and Statistics 1988 and 2013), even. The question of the representation of ‘migrant’ identity in the home countries has not been addressed in detail. In contrast, migration to the Gulf and subsequent developments have been prominent themes for writers and artists, most of whom have romanticized the life of migrants.1 

Technological advancements have strengthened migrants’ links with home countries. Yang and Ebaugh identify several immigrants organizations that help the migrants keep daily contact with their home countries through the Internet (Yang and Ebaugh 2002). Many migrants make efforts to sustain such relations through transnational religious practices as well (Levitt 2004). People produced films to express their opinions, views, and ideas to a mass audience. Images, whether cinematographic or photographic, always become a vehicle for constructing reality. The film becomes a more comprehensive marker of culture when traced as ‘a recorder of reality - and hence a valuable tool’ in manufacturing reality and our apprehension of reality (Miler 1992). 

Home Video Films are amateur films produced in low-resolution prints in North Malabar, Kerala. Similar to local film genre production among the communities of Jharkhand, Odisha, and Assam, these films are popularly known as Home Films/Home Cinema/Home Movies/Home Videos (Schleiter 2014, Kumar 2013).2 The self-given names are prominently displayed on the VCD/DVD covers of these films of Malabar. Such films are bought for consumption at home and are marketed through video libraries, cassette shops and public places. Running for one to two hours, these low budget films are certified by the Central Borad of Film Certification. The viewers are commonly from the Gulf countries and from Malabar. The plot is usually peppered with comedy and includes ideology, symbols, materiality, and songs in local idiom. The films are shot in Gulf countries and the villages of Malabar. Long shots of Arabian deserts, roads, bridges, houses, paddy fields of Kerala are frequent visuals in most of the films that highlight the unending issues the migrants and their families must face. The films begin with a title song that shows the location it is set in. Most of the Home Video Films follow ‘pentapartite model narrative structure’ and show ‘unilinear progression of the story’.3 The beginning of the movie clearly indicates its intentions, and the film ends with an impactful message from the director. These films exist and circulate outside the realm of Malayalam film industry(more on this later).

Home Video Films are popular films that circulate in VCD format in retail video libraries of Kerala and the Gulf states and are meant to be watched at home. From 2000 to 2017, more than one hundred Home Video Films were produced by various directors. Many feature gulf migrants and their families as the central characters and chart their journey in the Persian Gulf and its related issues. The stereotype representation of Gulf migrants/migration in Malayalam films compels the Gulf migrants to produce home video films to represent their life. These films feel and look astonishingly polished despite their low-budget roots. Home video films are generally made on a low budget, costing between two to ten lakh rupees per film. Most films are now produced by Gulf migrants and young people who are passionate about film production. Today, many directors make home video films in the Malabar region, and a successful film in the genre may sell thousands of copies. The primary specialty of the home video film is that they are well framed with the lifestyle of the Mappila Muslims of Malabar, at times in strict sarcastic adherence to language and dress codes. The present study makes textual analysis of the significant home video films directed by Salam Kodiathoor from 2000-2012 along with the ethnographic method. The central theme of these films, too, revolved around the life of Gulf migrants and their families.

The present study demonstrates how home video films attempt to create a counter-public, informed by a new identity consciousness, to articulate counter-discourses concerning the Muslims in the Malabar region of Kerala. In the changing socio-political scenario of Kerala, the present article also examines how home video films facilitate a critical evaluation of the prevailing systems of beliefs within Islam in Kerala. This article is divided into five sections. The first part investigates the role of home video films in reorientating immigrants’ lives in the host and the home environment. Before presenting the arguments about home video films, the second part elaborates how mainstream Malayalam cinema has represented “gulf migrants,” a majority of whom are from the Muslim community. The third part analyses the representational narratives in the home video films, focusing on the representation of Muslim migrants. The fourth section focuses on gender representations in those films and discusses the difficulties that wives left behind in socio-cultural contexts. This section foregrounds the analytical understanding of the gendered experience of migration that emerges in the contexts of home video films. This section offers insight into how home video films reflect on the debates on the lived experiences of Muslim migrants and their families concerning the institutions of Islam. The article provides a window into the community’s social, familial, and gender dynamics by analyzing home video films. 

Home Video Films: An Overview

Though there are many Home Video Films in Kerala, they became a popular genre in the post-2000 with the film Ningalenne Branthanakki (You Made Me Mad), directed by Salam Kodiathoor (Ahmed 2007). Salam Kodiathoor, in collaboration with Sidheeq Kodiathoor, had formed a drama troupe called Sarga Sangama (Art Fusion) a few years earlier. On weekends they would travel from village to village and perform plays based on family stories. They performed on 10 to 15 stages in different parts of Malabar. 

One of those dramas was based on a father-son relationship titled ‘Ningalenne Branthanakki (You Made Me Mad). This drama was staged between 1995 and 2000, and it was adapted for home video films in 2000. This home video film was well received by the people in Malabar and Gulf countries. This film was released in the VCD format and was produced under the banner of Dawn Visual Group Production with a budget of two lakh rupees. Another Home video film, Parethan Thirichu Varunnu (The Deceased Returns), was launched with the help of Gulf-based Malayali producer Razak Vazhiyoram and the location of the film was Qatar. This film proved that there was a market for Malayalam home video films in the Gulf countries. Salam Kodiathoor, with the same producer, made another film Varane Vilkanund (Bridegroom for Sale). Interestingly, Salam Kodiathoor and his crew made 12 movies in 15 years4. The people working in the production of the film included people with government jobs and non-government jobs. Hundreds of such films have been released all over the Malabar. While many were not much popular, a few of those films were just the repetitions of the same stories. 

The locations of these movies are the Gulf, Malabar region, and its villages. The sets are small, and most of the scenes in Gulf countries are shot indoors. Once the script is ready, the entire shooting is completed within two weeks. Since these movies go directly to VCD or DVD formats, simple stereo sound is enough, and it usually takes not more than seven days to complete the dubbing and mixing. The marketing of home video films VCDs was challenging in its formative years because of the lack of a proper network among VCD/DVD libraries. Once the production of the film is completed, the crew hands over the copies to the distributor for a fixed rate and earns money depending on the number of copies sold. The covers and stickers are printed in Kerala and shipped, along with the film on mini DV, to distributors who then make copies of the movies, package them, and distribute them for sale/rent. They print poster-sized versions of the VCD/DVD covers, which can be hung in shops. VCDs are sold for between 80-100 rupees in Kerala, while prices are higher in the Gulf. Income is also generated through advertisements of the logos of visa consultants, travel firms, and hotels in the posters of the videos and the movies. At the end of every movie, the director announces the next film’s name, and the audience looks forward to the next film, which may be released in about eight to ten months. Though a Censor Board certificate was introduced to trap pirated copies, it has now become an economic burden on home video filmmakers due to the hefty amount of registration fees. After the success of the Home video film Ningalenne Branthanakki (You Made Me Mad), many people contacted Salam to show their eagerness to produce cinema as they were confident about the huge profit. The viewers get a chance to interact with the director via telephone as their photos and contact numbers appear on the VCD back cover. However, plots are typical, and characters primarily Muslim. Cinema is still forbidden among Muslims. Women do not go to theatres but watch home video films at home. It is the only entertainment for women who rarely leave their homes, and the plots of the narratives are close to their lives.

The intention of home video films is not to construct narratives through imagination. Instead, it portrays the everyday lives of a family, their neighbors, or surroundings both in the hometown and in the host country. The viewers can identify and recognize these characters as part of their home, village, family, or neighboring areas. In a way, it is an exercise of reflection of the members/characters of their life and a form of self-reflection. Hence, home video films have vast viewership in Kerala and across the Gulf. The ownership of home video films as part of their home video library reiterates its importance. Whenever relatives visit, it is expected that they screen videos after lunch or dinner. Muslim characters occupy the narratives of home video films, and the stories are centered on Gulf migrants. One of the reasons it tells the stories of Muslim families is that most Muslim women in Kerala still believe that cinema is forbidden to Muslims by religion. For them viewing home video films does not come under this strict law. They are the main buyers and viewers of these home video films, and the market of home video films is centered on them. This acceptance contributes to the success of the home video film enterprise in Kerala. The Muslim community, especially in Malabar, is very familiar with home video films. The primary home video filmmakers are from Malappuram and Calicut district.

The advancement of a digital platform is highly crucial for this growing venture since it has to compete with increasing piracy of VCD/DVDs and to keep the viewer’s interest intact. This leads the home video filmmakers to plot strategies to advance the digital medium for marketing purposes. Online platforms such as YouTube or Video on Demand services would also help to generate more revenue through advertisements and subscribers. At present, the producers have come into a new marketing strategy to release the film either on YouTube or through their own portal. Thus, they can earn money depending on the demands and viewers of these home video films. It would also help the viewers to get access to these films across the world through digital space.

The long and uninterrupted cultural and commercial relationship between Arabia and Kerala paved the way for the spread of Islam in Kerala. With Islamic missionary activities and the encouragement and patronage readily extended by local rulers and chieftains, the Muslim community flourished throughout Kerala (Samad 1998). Further dissemination of Islam in Kerala occurred through trade activities by the Arabs. However, over time, the economic conditions of Muslims in Kerala declined until the discovery of Petroleum in the Persian Gulf, which meant better economic opportunities and enticed Kerala Muslims to migrate to the Gulf countries in search of better economic prospects. Therefore, it is essential to consider the specific historical trajectories of Malabar before contextualizing the present scenario of Mappila Muslim migration.

Muslim Migration to Gulf Countries

The gulf migration resulted in a drastic rise in the economic status of Muslims in Kerala after the 1970s. It elevated their socio-economic status and helped them gain visibility in Kerala society.5 Zachariah, Gopinathan, and Rajan (2006) present a picture of the educational qualifications of Muslim migrants. Twenty-nine percent completed secondary school education, 10.5 percent are graduates, 43 percent are below higher secondary, 13 percent have a formal technical education, and 12 percent are technically educated without schooling. This profile illustrates the educational qualifications of most Muslim migrants and strongly indicates which type of jobs they might get abroad. 

Migrant Muslims go abroad to earn a living but return with new modified cultural practices (Osella and Osella 2000). A study on the influence of Gulf affluence upon the various facets of socio-cultural life in Kerala compels one to (re)-think the nature of relationships of migrants with their home countries. Nostalgia, particularly displacement of feelings of voluntary emigrants, especially those who felt guilty for leaving home and family behind,6 contributes enormously to the complex set of abandonments before accepting the act of moving on. Even when nostalgia arises from voluntary departure, the consequences of this exile need to be questioned. In moving, the people of Malabar descent create a common culture knitted together with loss and longing. Generally, stories of uprooting, leaving behind, living in alien lands contain lessons about the setbacks experienced and the sacrifices made. These accounts create ‘a sea of stories’ about hard times. Internally, Mappila Muslims retain their traditions and overt symbols of dress, mosque attendance, and food habits. They use their vernacular language in communication, observe rituals and celebrate religious festivals. Still, externally, they subscribe consciously to the broad principles of the laws, code of conduct, language, and public behavior of the respective host countries.

As far as assimilation is concerned, the community is expected to be a part of the host country first and then a home country member. This is essentially different in the case of Mappilas because they never erased the legacy of the homeland and prefer not to be subsumed under the ‘superior’ principles of Gulf countries. In Gulf countries, foreign workers still need to be ‘sponsored’ and enjoy fewer rights when compared to nationals. The process reiterates the inferior position of the non-natives, which deepens their longing for home (Sardar 2014; Lambton 1981). The longing for home and the constant reproduction of nostalgia is the central theme of home video films. The retelling reinforces the idea of home and bond among the members of the community. Thus, the lives of Gulf migrants oscillate between the experiences of separation and union, of living in the Gulf and reminiscing about home, tradition, and culture left behind. Fundamental values of propriety and religion, speech and social patterns, food, body, and dress protocols are adapted in a network of ongoing connections outside the host country. The interaction aspect of the association entails the persistence of an organized form. It satisfies the identity question often asked by members and imposes the rules that must be observed for the community’s survival (Abrahams 2005). 

Gulf and Muslims in Malayalam Cinema 

This section focuses on the construction of the Gulf and Muslim images in Malayalam cinema. In India, cinema as a new medium of entertainment started in the early twentieth century. The effects of migration to the Persian Gulf became visible in Malayalam cinema in the 1970s. Though cinema addressed the experience of migration to the Gulf through some of the characters, migrant Keralites to the Gulf gained prominence among the new entrants into the film industry as producers and distributors (Nair 1999). The new rich of Gulf countries invested money in the film industry and produced movies under banners run by the partnership. Between 1980 and 1990, there was a sudden rise in the number of films produced per year in Malayalam (Nair 1999: 59). In 1980 the Malayalam film industry created a new niche among Gulf migrants. By releasing videotapes of newly released movies in the Gulf market, the Malayalam film industry crossed the region’s geographical boundaries. The ready availability of films and related music in the Gulf even before they were released in Kerala shows the increasing role and influence of the Gulf in the production and dissemination of visual culture.

Malayalam cinema, since its inception, has discussed the Gulf and Muslims as one of the prominent themes. Films released between 1950 to 1999 show the relationship between Kerala and the Persian Gulf in general and Muslims in particular.7 These films portray the Gulf as the only potential labor market for the people of Kerala. In most of them, the characters either desire to go to the Gulf or are already in the Gulf. 

Though the life of Muslims was an inevitable element of Malayalam cinema in the formative days, the post-liberalized period was concerned with the portrayal of religious minorities and focused on how religious differences were represented, managed, and contained in Malayalam cinema. Over the years, the industry has promoted specific identities and images about the region, which have helped boost the region’s reputation. Some of the images include a ritualistic society, images of a violent society, the poor portrayal of Muslim women, and displays of a highly ostentatious and oligarchic society. Most films show Muslims living in affluent urban settings; low and middle-level people live in comfort like the very rich. Though this trend has changed in due course, the films produced in these early periods portray the authentic culture of Kerala as an upper-caste Nair community (Radhakrishnan 2009). Developments in the Persian Gulf and the experience of the subaltern classes of Muslims, Christians, and other communities were of little interest to the film industry after 1990.

There are, however, many celebrated movies where Muslims are the main subject. Malayalam cinema portraying Mappilas in the screen space over the last two decades focuses mainly on family structures, language, and relics of the feudal past. These movies, produced through the colonial gaze, try to portray and interpret how one can delimit a community’s worldview in a formulaic pattern. The stories told were parables rather than realistic narratives. They continue to be part of Malayalam cinema, representing an ‘accepted’ normative ideal about Mappilas and not what existed in society. Rather than representing the Gulf, the experience of migration is employed in these films. These movies, which show the migrant community from different locations of the world, are seen as part of a single narrative. This imagination further negates a realistic representation of Gulf migrants and their lifeworld, and these films portray the experience of the migrants following the aspiration of the elite class (Radhakrishnan 2009: 239). 

Malayalam cinema has always stereotypically portrayed the Muslim migrants without considering the intricacies of Gulf migrant life. The Gulf migrants are shown as ‘The New Rich’ (Puthanpanakaran), who swank about their newfound richness. Most of the time, a Muslim Gulf migrant was presented on the screen as a comic character whose newly acquired lifestyle becomes a butt of jokes in Malayalam cinema. The reason for such a sort of representation is not as simple as it may appear. It was the lower class and caste Muslims in Kerala who were the ones to benefit from the Gulf migration in its initial period (Bharadwaj 2004). There are deep-rooted class and caste hierarchies within the Kerala society that could be pointed out as the most important reason for this deliberate misrepresentation of the Gulf experience. The stereotypical film rendering of the Gulf migrants and Muslims as smugglers, villains, and womeniser should be read in the socio-cultural context. 

The emergence of home video films can be understood as a continuation of Muslim representation and contemporary discourse to the existing Malayalam media/cinema. Further, it is from a thought how to use cinema as a medium for the socio-cultural reformation of society by Muslim migrants. Research on migration argues that there has been a marked shift in the kinds of migrating people at the turn of the century compared to earlier times. Suppose studies of the late 1970s demonstrated that 70 percent of the migrants had not completed their studies up to the tenth class and that about 73 percent were unskilled workers (Kurien 2002). In that case, recent studies suggest that the percentage of educated youth and skilled laborers shows an upward trend. The proportion of migrants with a university degree has increased from 10.5 percent in 1999 to 19.4 percent in 2004, amounting to an increase of 144 percent, from 136,000 in 1999 to 333,000 in 2004, while the percentage increase in the total number of emigrants was only 35 percent (Zachariah and Rajan 2004). 

Films produced after the 1990s show a marked change in the portrayal of Muslims and their culture. The (mis)-representation of Malabar and Muslims helped strengthen the already existing stereotypes about Mappilas. Though there are about 3500 shops selling Video Compact Disc (VCD) and Digital Video Disc (DVD) films, and there are 17 Malayalam channels in Kerala, no channel gave prominence to Muslims in Kerala till 2012, when two channels, Darsana and Media One started telecasting programs showcasing the everyday life of Muslims. Another reason behind the emergence of home video films is the home video filmmakers’ sympathetic attitude towards Keralites, especially Muslims, who have become victims, not beneficiaries, of the deviant television channels. There is a relation between home video films and TV serials that various television channels released several TV serials as a part of the channel revolution. Some of them got much popular support, especially in families. The main difference between serial and home video films is that home video films are released through VCD shops and direct narrative devoid of episodes. It is a form of cinema representing Muslims as the central characters and depicting the lives of Muslims in Malabar.

This new development in the public sphere restricted Muslims’ social mobility and interaction with the broader public. Thus, home video films are a part of that new identity consciousness that has tried to create counter-public, counter-discourses, and activities in the Malabar region. The deliberate discourse of the media has a significant role in a plural society where the dominant identity tries to hegemonize the public sphere. Muslims find themselves in a subjugated position in the cultural system of Malayalam Cinema. Further, the migrants establish and maintain familial, economic, political, and cultural ties across international borders, making the home and host society a single arena of social action (Baia 1999). Gulf migration is marked by accelerating interaction between the host and home setting through multiple networks. Migrants retain their religious beliefs and traditions through various social and economic links with the home country (Levitt 2003), yet also experience change.

Moreover, lack of social interaction with local people resulting in social alienation is felt by immigrants in most Gulf countries. This has strengthened their quest for spiritual and religious identity and the moral values of their families. Identity formation based on religion is a vital feature for migrants from Kerala in Gulf countries. 

Experience and Representation of Muslims in Home Video Films

This section considers how home video films create, reinforce, and express the cultural geography of Malabar and the everyday life of Mappila Muslims. The traditional religious circles of Muslims remain vehemently opposed against cinema as impious and also because they believe cinema advocates western values. However, religious knowledge (fiqh) did not have any clear guidelines about cinema, apart from labeling images and themes as permissible (halal) or forbidden (haram). The new breed of religious authorities promoted the creation of a distinctively ‘Islamic cinema’ to spread religious guidance. Islamic authorities also became increasingly aware of cinema’s relevance for reconstruction and re-education (Nejad 2010; Noushad 2007:19).

The home video in Malabar has been recognized as an emerging culture industry, a veritable and accessible means of communication for Mappilas. This accentuates the cultural production, anxieties of the home community, and acceptance among migrants in the globalized market. This new wave nourished and transformed the homes of Malabar as a space for ‘commonness’ in entertainment. The hinterland of Kozhikode city was the primary market of this new genre after 2000, as it focuses on issues of migrants to Gulf countries (Pravasi) and the role of women in family and society. In addition, as noted, home video films became an alternative for the soap opera serials of Malayalam television channels, which gained more viewership among Malabar’s women. 

Home video films mainly concentrated on issues of the migrant community and also on social issues like dowry, marriage, and migration among the Mappila community. The popularity of these cinemas raises many questions why home video films as a genre became such a huge success. Who are the viewers/audience of this cinema? What types of issues/themes are discussed in these films? Home videos can inform, educate, advertise, market, sell and rebrand Malabar and its concerns while entertaining its viewers. The question then becomes, how does the home video showcase Malabar? 

Having its origin in Malabar, most of the stories of home video films are linked to Muslim experiences, relating to family life, depicting experiences of the people of that region. Home video films mainly revolve around three broad themes. One, the issues of migrated people, two, domestic issues like marriage, divorce, and relations between family members, and three, the idea of public space, finance, politics, and religious intervention. These home video films succeed in portraying the character of the Malabar Muslim family system. Most of these home video films portray families with five to six members, who include father, mother, brother, sister, and some extended family relations. The father acts as the sole decision-maker who has to be obeyed by all members of the family. Even though women are sometimes involved in decision-making, their role as depicted is marginal. Home video films portray the relationship of the existing patriarchal Malabar Muslim society with their social practices. 

The family is often viewed as a microcosm of the social system and instrumental in creating community identity. It also functions as a mechanism to merge religious, social, and political values by representing individuals in roles defined by their relationships with religious traditions. Home video films show particular types of families and, through such depiction, try to convey the model of an ‘ideal’ family particularly. Two types of families are mainly presented in these films: traditional Muslim families who show all the traits of wealthy families, such as the father figure as the sole head who enjoys public support and at times is a member of the governing committee of a nearby mosque. The villagers approach him for help at times of crisis or in any crucial situation such as marriage and divorce. His opinion is the last word for everyone. His home, sometimes, resembles a place of religious advice with Quranic verses and other auspicious signs prominently displayed. He has several people working for him, indicating that he is the chieftain in the village.

Typical Muslim homes are represented as the center of every discussion, and other homes are represented in a different manner. Money and support of local people will decide one’s ability and capacity to become the chief of the village. Becoming Haji (who completes the Holy Haj) through the holy pilgrimage to Mecca is considered the most precious and pious activity. Home video films show how these images of the social hierarchy are used to dictate to poor villagers. Nashta Pariharam (Compensation, Salam, 2002) tells his father Koya to go for Haj because if he becomes a Haji, the villagers will respect him, getting him the president’s post of Masjid committee. This example shows how people use religious signs and (mis)-use them for personal benefits. Another typical family shown in home video films is a poor traditional Muslim family. Their home looks very small and shabby. However, religious signs are displayed in their homes as well. Their dress code reflects their financial situation. 

The influence of religious leaders and preachers is evident in home video films. The preacher of the mosque always gains popular support and respect. In these movies, religious leaders are generally represented in two ways: the first is a serious character who visits the homes of villagers and gives timely advice, sometimes even rebuking villagers for misdeeds. Home video films question these kinds of actions by preachers and expose the parochial attitude of religious preachers. In a way, home video films assert changes in religious rules according to the changing socio-political situation. In Ningalenne Brandhanakki (You Made Me Mad, Salam, 2000), a preacher accidentally meets Chekku, Kunhi Muhammed, and other people of that village. When they see the arrival of the preacher, they tried to hide. But the preacher catches them and asks Chekku why his children are not coming to the Madrassa. He preaches the importance of religious knowledge and its benefits in the present life and an afterlife. Chekku replies to him about the need for modern education for the development of his children.

Kunhi Muhammed is told that his wife and daughter are not wearing Islamic dress outside the house, and they are not covering their head. In addition, Kunhi Mohammed is told to enforce the correct dress code. After the meeting, Kunhi Mohammed sarcastically says that the preacher is correct, as his wife and daughter always buy ‘un-Islamic’ clothes, which expose their bodies before others. Through such representations, the director raises pertinent questions on Islamic dress and how the preacher tries to ignore the benefits of modern education. Another type of representation of preachers in movies is more satirical. Some movies present religious leaders as always searching for food, encroaching into others’ privacy, and sometimes asking for money. They advise villagers not to do certain things, but they indulge in such acts, showing double standards. The politics behind this type of representation can be read in two ways. Firstly, as efforts to empower religious leaders, secondly, they satirize and critique pseudo-religious leaders. Emotional strains of separation or job insecurity make people fall prey to such pseudo-religious leaders. Studies conducted in the migrant areas reveal the growth of fake holy persons (siddhan) who exploit especially the tensions of migrants’ wives, who are regular visitors of these fake persons (Osella and Osella 2003). Most of the Muslim families in Malabar are associated with religious institutions. The message of the film comes through powerfully in this binary of good Muslim and bad Muslim. The answer to this question is subtly related to the religious preaching that the role of women is already confined to the domestic sphere and that men’s role is extended to the public sphere. They interpret the religious texts and consider women as the property of the house and the caretaker of the home. 

Migration stories revolve around relations between migrants and their families. Almost all Muslim families in Malabar have at least one member or relative working in the Gulf. The migrants in home video films often come from poor backgrounds, and the home video films depict different scenarios in quite realistic ways. Many are forced to sell their house or valuable assets to meet the expenses of going abroad. At the same time, many people overcome the crisis, many end up poorer. 

How migrants8 are ready to work overtime for the benefit of their family and may lead a difficult life, even without proper food or water, is depicted through the protagonist Abbas in Pathi Yathrakkoru Ticket (A Ticket for Half Journey, Salam, 2006). Abbas has a comfortable job but works overtime to save more money to send home and, typically, lives in a low-standard room. When the protagonist sees a friend’s daughter, he starts crying, thinking of his daughter, calling his wife every day, and kisses his family photo. The glory of a family is the only thing that makes the protagonist work hard. The story of Rahoof in Oru Dirham Koodi (One More Dirham, Salam, 2008) has a different take. Rahoof becomes rich and gradually forgets his father, mother, and even his wife. Then the protagonist tries to get a rich woman as a wife. Rahoof becomes a drug addict, which results in dismissal from the job, which pushes the protagonist into poverty again. Once dismissed from the job, Rahoof does not get any help from new friends and returns home empty-handed. When one comes home from abroad, everybody in the family and village expects something from the returnee. They do not bother about migrants life abroad, the kind of job migrant is engaged in, or the reason for migrants return. 

The central theme of ‘A Ticket for Half Journey’ (Pathi Yathrakkoru Ticket, Salam, 2006) is the extramarital relationship of a woman, Aneesa, whose husband Abbas works in the Gulf and sends a considerable amount of money home every month. The movie ends with a scene of the husband coming home from abroad to find that Abbas’s wife has eloped with a contractor. The contractor started the relationship and forced Aneesa to go with the contractor. However, the story focuses on Aneesa’s misdeeds so that the film conveys how the ‘honor’ of the family depends on women. The story ends with Aneesa shown to be living in a rehabilitation home. When Aneesa’s neighbor Jameela goes to meet, Aneesa narrates what happened in life. Aneesa does try to return home, but sees a signboard with a Quranic verse on entering the town. On reaching ‘home,’ the door is shut on, and Aneesa returns to the rehabilitation center. Other issues of contemporary relevance are depicted. A film released in 2012, titled Olappurakkenthinu Irumbuvathil (Why an Iron Door for a Hut, Salam), deals with the life of a husband and elderly mother who is harassed by son’s wife depicting the theme of domestic violence among women.

The migration and consequent changes in the social sector affected four people: the migrant, wives, children, and parents. Migrants spend more time in the Gulf sacrificing their youth and visit their home once in two or three years. The outcome of migration on the women left behind is borne out by aspects such as physical separation from males and the need to manage money and household matters in the absence of male members. Most husbands go abroad immediately after marriage, and their absence leaves a strong psychological impact on women. The husband’s absence for long periods and huge remittances at their disposal has generated a new tendency among Gulf wives to imitate the lifestyle of affluent families in the neighborhood, use ornaments and dresses introduced in advertisements, and spend more on marriages and other social functions. The migration study in 1998 estimated that a million married women (1 out of 8 in the state) are living away from their husbands (Zachariah, Mathew, and Rajan 2000). Their lifestyle and consumption patterns became the yardstick of the assessment of one’s social status.

Meanwhile, the new-rich migrants heavily depend on the religious trajectory for the strategic conversion of economic capital into social capital (Osella and Osella 2007). Migrants and their families display an obsession to be treated in private hospitals. Lifestyle diseases such as high blood pressure, diabetes, and coronary diseases are increasing significantly in Malabar, owing to wrong food habits. The void of the father in the home for two-three years has also prompted new trends in children’s behavior. Under-protection and inadequate supervision due to the father’s absence affect children both emotionally and mentally. It shows how the family as an institution shapes the masculinity and the femininity of its members and how they are facilitated and maintained in society. Here religious authorities help the construction and sustenance of masculinity.

In contrast, migrants become a significant force to question this exploitation and restructure the families and communities in Kerala. In this never-ending connection between religion and gender, left-behind wives are both spectators and performers. They are compelled to win the heart of their husband’s family and losing themselves. Most of them are not able to raise their voice due to familial responsibility. These are constant anxiety over women’s identity. They are trapped between the traditional ideas of responsibility and the liberal views of self. 

Malayalam cinema has always stereotypically portrayed the migrants without considering the intricacies of Gulf migrant life. The Gulf migrants are shown as ‘The New Rich’ (Puthanpanakaran), who swank about their newfound richness. Home video films made a crucial contribution to representations of Gulf life, focusing on its harsh realities. Though the plots are general, the characters are primarily Muslim. The cinema promotes distinctively Islamic characters to spread religious guidance, focuses on traditional moral values delivered through didactic slogans inserted into the dialogue, and portrays migrants’ everyday lives were earlier untold. 

 Migrants, Home and Family 

“Home” in home video films is central to the location of the self of the migrant. This space can narrate stories and histories. Home video films show how migrants appropriate and transform the space in the host land. For the migrant, home becomes a liminal space rather than an actual location. This distinction has been portrayed by most of the home video films. The migrants’ notion of home as a location signified by a sense of loss becomes a recurrent theme in most home video films. Consequently, they become subjects who cannot locate themselves in the space of the host country. Thus the location of their identity remains undetermined. In due course, his memory of the home country becomes the location of himself. Hence, home video films become a powerful medium for the articulation of the identity of the migrant. 

The cultural expatriation in the context of Gulf migration necessitates studying the construction of identities positioned at different spatio-temporal contexts. The identity of the migrant and his family members evolves through the interaction between the self of the migrant and the other. The historical process of migration, necessitated by the need to make more money, has been a significant constituent in the social formation of Kerala Muslims. The socially structured relations engendered by Gulf migration continue to the present day. Despite the rise in one’s financial status, the migrant remains the same throughout life, which migrant realizes whenever migrant visits homeland. Once the identity of the individual is historically defined as a migrant, it is continually transformed concerning the way the migrants are addressed and represented in the social relations around them. In this context, ‘home’ becomes a collective site of identity that the migrant shares with the members of the migrants family. Home video films allow the migrants to feel the unexpressed emotions of the subconscious. It explicitly presents the passionate and convulsive relationship that prevails between the migrant and his family. 

The pace of mobility makes the social identity of the migrant more challenging. Whether by compulsion or choice, migration creates transformation in the identity of the migrant. Geographical dislocation constitutes the texture of migrant life. Naturally, space becomes an essential element in the construction of identity, and it facilitates the definition of the self and the other in contemporary times. Hence the concepts of home and host become essential in the construction of the self and the other. The unspeakable experience of the migrant subject is enacted through the narratives of home video films. Consequently, the narratives created by these migrants unfold the location of the self between home and host land. For the migrant, home becomes a locus of attachment, host land as a site of situated interaction, and migrant identity becomes the social status of migrants’ individuality. Home video films successfully interact with the identity and presentation of the migrant’s life by being strangers to their family and themselves. 

Besides, home video films show the silent unrest and agitation of the wives of migrants who are compelled to await the arrival of their husbands for many years. Home video films are concerned with the quest for the personal identity of the migrants, and it takes the audience into the world of inter-subjective exchange. The films project the migrant as a person who sacrifices (him/her)self for the greater common good of the family to address familial conflict that is engendered due to the absence of the husband from home. The urge to sacrifice oneself for the good of others is valorized in home video films. The debates over extramarital relationships are not concerned about halal or haram. An extramarital relationship is seen as leading to the breaking up of a family “if the woman does it.” The patriarchal authority asserts this as social convention. Through the portrayal of the institution of family in crisis, home video films challenge patriarchal authority.

The patriarchal authority tries to brand married women who elope as sexually deviant. It is made to appear that women from respectable families would never cross the line of morality created by society. Home video films treat this question not as an issue of religion or morality but as a question of personal freedom, particularly for women who face loneliness, lack of love and support from their husbands and families. It is by privileging family values over personal freedom that women’s freedom is negated. Naturally, wives are deeply attached to their husbands’ families even as their husbands are in the Gulf. Religious authorities try to limit women’s freedom by punishing women who elope with other men. In the name of protecting women, their freedom is curtailed. This heightens the need to create a space where such issues can be looked at from the perspective of personal freedom and rights. Most home video films question the general notion that modern technology leads to a decline in morality. It also questions the role of religious leaders: they cannot decide who goes to heaven and who goes to hell. Religious leaders must take the initiatives to solve the problems of people. It is essential to ask how much space women get in a culture that emphasizes patriarchal values and how far society can go on without addressing women’s bodily autonomy. Muslim organizations have historically ignored these issues as men primarily head them. Sexual rights can be realized and exercised in an Islamic framework, so long as individuals have the freedom to think for themselves. Many of the advocates of sexual rights want to take religion out of the familial space. However, it may be noted that adherence to religious principles is not necessarily a form of regression. The narratives of home video films propose not a sexual revolution but a sexual re-evaluation. Women’s right is curtailed by the interpreters of Islamic jurisprudence, who present their views in violation of truth. But they are followed blindly by many. It may be suggested that the problem is not with the religious text but the narrow reading of it. 

In Kerala, intra-religious debates on various issues regarding religious practices are more vibrant than in other parts of India. When it comes to issues of women, especially sexuality, all are united to speak in a single voice to suppress women. Over the ages, the patriarchal nature of Islamic society has encouraged a particular reading of the text that condemns women’s rights: men are presented as people with the capacity to give women pleasure while women are passive partners. This is a way to subjugate women and to control their sexuality. Home video films try to raise and criticize the very notion of religious preachers that female sexuality and the female body are the markers of family honor. The difference in sexual freedom is a significant concern regarding the equality of the sexes in Islam. Home video films try to raise voice against the attempt to control female sexuality while men have the freedom to pursue extramarital relationships. There is a need to look at the possibility of understanding the relevant norms and practices while discussing the body and sexuality of Muslim women. The religious preachers are concerned about identifying women’s bodies and social code. Home video films raise their voice against attempts to control women’s mobility. Thus, the films address women’s rights in public spaces, in their husbands’ homes, where they live alone with their children, et cetera. Home video films also problematize the limited time “allotted” to women to go out.

Home Video Films and Islam

The narratives of home video films show much concern that Islam is repeatedly and consistently exploited to justify dishonest behavior among Mappila Muslims. The general notion of binary can mediate the existing notion of a binary opposition between the Malayalam film industry and other parallel cinemas. Though the format and production vary, home video films are not in opposition to Malayalam cinema. The narratives of Malayalam cinema include peripheral portrayals of Muslim life of Kerala, whereas home video films examine the deeper narratives of the society and culture of Mappila Muslims. In Malayalam films, the nature of the mediation is quite different but equally embedded within the subject matter. Here, the absent-versus-presence binary opposition is mediated by the adaptations of the Muslim theme to Malayalam cinema: absence is transformed into a surface-level representation. 

Home video films negate the notion of morality defined with the help of Islamic law, and they insist on moral considerations outside the formal law. This halal way of life is considered inherently superior to all others, and the followers of any other way are considered either infidel (kaffir) or sinful (fasiqun). This way of interpreting everyday practices refutes the subjectivities of the interpreting agent and aesthetic judgments. Communities with declining moral values are often pulled into a cycle of reinforcing their negative image by using different discourses. The images projected in these discourses need to be turned more reflexively through characterizations of the community and their cultural geography to feel good about living there, investing there, or moving there. The worldview of Mappila Muslims evolves and develops over time, reflecting the continuum of social values within and around the community. This consciousness is an articulation of the community’s historical, cultural and economic context and an augmentation of Mappila Muslims identity. This community identity and character are strengthened by balancing the inherent conflicting nature of past, present, and future social values. Adopting a public form and its development provides an opportunity to establish a shared vision for the community’s public realm. The group identity of Mappila Muslims depends not only on shared communication within the group but also on interaction with other groups, which helps define and reinforce a sense of ‘belonging.’ This esoteric-exoteric factor (Jansen 1965) is vital to understand Muslim communities in transition. It may be felt necessary to combat stereotypes or, in a negative way, extend a group’s stereotypes of others, thereby defining it more clearly by what it is not. Certainly, communicating exoterically is part of the reason for the construction of expressive behavior. The representation of the community also works esoterically to communicate between groups, with awareness or recognition of other communities’ identities, values, etc. In addition, there are different kinds of form, which derives its fundamental meaning from its direction towards insiders, not something necessary to communicate within the group alone, but also as an expression of intergroup values (Bauman 1971). In other words, groups communicate within their boundaries and communicate with other groups about themselves. 

This social matrix of group formation is vital to the case of Mappilas in home video films. The Mappila Muslims use spaces to reinforce their beliefs even when they cannot meet each other in daily life. At this juncture, the narrative of home video films is a way to manage or influence their behavior, both on and off the field. Home video films are an outward expression or enactment of inwardly experienced values, beliefs, and attitudes of Mappilas. However, home video films as a medium are more of a consciously constructed narrative that can lend a sense of conscious control over the boundaries of the community’s roles. In general, narrative deepens and enriches the meaning of a tradition, reinforces cultural values by establishing a specific cultural system. In addition, home video films can be seen as a field of tension between conservation of tradition and experimentation, between the solid maintenance of older ideas and the dynamism of new ones. This can be seen in the portrayal of religious authorities (exploitation in the name of religion such as issues of dress code), the question of equality among Muslims in-home (alienation faced by migrants), and host land (discrimination faced by non-native in the Gulf States) and debates on gender issues (women’s right to visit public places) in home video films. As there is no single codified Islamic law across the globe, home video films reflect laws on family, equality, and gender have to be interpreted according to the regional variation of Muslim society. This tension between formal Islamic law and moral consideration has been portrayed in all these home video films. This cultural form acts as a mechanism to reinforce norms and accommodate changes in beliefs and attitudes or account for new forms of social condition to emerge. It focuses on people and how people communicate within the particular contexts that shape their cultural expression. Hence, home video films provide a way to understand more significant concepts related to social and cultural forces and how these forces mold the everyday life of Mappila Muslims and Gulf migrants of Kerala. The upward mobility gained by the migrant community, the overall structure of the economy, and the social and political matrix constitute the context in which economizing behavior occurs. This affects the individual and community to re-examine the changing social morale of their family and society. The importance of cultural production can also be understood as the most critical element of identity available to the natives of Malabar. 


 Thus, as witnessed in the above discussion, the history of Mappilas and the migration to Gulf countries depicted in home video films revolve around space and place, mobility and location, the community, and morality. Moreover, it reiterates the region-specific and religious concentration of the concerned community. Thus, Mappila home video films can be viewed as a mediated path rather than viewed in opposition to the Malayalam film industry. 

Home video films never questions or challenge the representation of Muslims in Malayalam cinema but are self-critical of the life and culture of Mappilas. Home video films depict the life of Muslims in a more people-centric way, more historical, and less theological. This critical approach to tradition has continued, and Muslims have emerged stronger through contemporary social changes. These narratives emphasize several moral and humanistic aspects of the Islamic tradition. Considering the numerous cultural interactions and intellectual transmissions between the Mappilas and Gulf countries, it is highly probable that every significant value has a measure of Muslim blood in it. This is not merely a matter of acknowledging the Gulf’s economic contributions to Malabar, rather a recognition of the mixed lineage of ideas, a simple and straightforward taxonomy of moral values. 

In the changing socio-political situation of Kerala, Muslims ought to critically evaluate the prevailing systems of belief within Islam and reflect upon how these systems of belief might have contributed to, legitimated, or otherwise facilitated the internal issues within the community. In this orientation, the prime and nearly singular concern is to have a fresh look at the community in a more profound structural way. As a result, home video films have accommodated the integrity and viability of the Islamic texts and, in the process, have arrested and stunted the development of Islamic normative ethical thinking. Here, home video films remind people that the real challenge that confronts Muslims today is that political interests dominate everyday life to an extent. Moral investigations and thinking are marginalized in the public sphere. At the same time, home video films are a kind of preface of new waves of representational practices and try to draw attention to new social structures and value judgments of a rapidly changing community with a fossilized religious and moral understanding.


1 The works like Pravasiyude Kurippukal(Notes of the Emigre) by Babu Bharadwaj, a number of films in the 1980s and 1990s, television programmes like Pravasalokam(The World of the Exile) telecast by Kairali TV, all of which have had the Gulf experience as their central concern.
2 The Native American and African community also produce similar kind of films to tell the history and everyday life of the community. For details see Rosa Fregoso (1993), Gairoonisa Paleker(2019), Yang and Ebaugh (2002), Peggy Levitt (2004), F.Yang and H. R Ebaugh.(2002), Shannon McCabe(2011), Daniela Berghahn (2013), S.E wilmer (2011). Recent studies on local film practices in India have pointed out how these practices produce notions of identity for the regions and people involved. Debates are there on similar local film production and the aesthetics of the new film culture. It is considered as amateur fiction film, realistic film, middlebrow films, and aesthetic alternative. For more details see Mohamed Shafeeq Karinkurayil (2019), M.Schleiter (2014), A.Kumar (2013), Shannon McCabe (2011),Geoffry Nash(2013), Tehelka Magazine (2010).
3 The five parts are (1) Interdiction (2) Progression (3) Climax (4) Return or fall (5) Catastrophe. For details see Gustav Freytag (1968).
4 He has directed twelve films in as many years and they are NingalenneBrandhanakki/You Made Me Mad (2000); VaraneVilkanund/Bride Groom for Sale(2001); NashtaPariharam/Compensation) (2002); ParethanThirichuVarunnu/The Deceased returns(2003); Kudumba Kalaham Nooram Divasam/Domestic Quarrels 100th Day(2004); Aliyanoru Free Visa/A Free Visa for Brother-in-Law(2005); Pathiyathrakkoru Ticket/A Ticket for Half Journey(2006); AanayittoruAyalvasi/A Masculine Neighbor(2007); Oru Dirham Koodi/One More Dirham(2008); Kurukkuvazhi. Com./Shortcut. Com (2009); Pennorumbettal/When the Woman Starts Fighting (2010); OlappurakkenthinuIrumbuvathil/Why this Iron Door for a Hut /Akom Production(2012). The locations of most of the films are Gulf countries. 
5 In the present international migration scenario, the major shares of the professionals migrating to Euro-American continent are from southern district of Kerala whereas the migrants to the Arab Gulf hailed primarily from Malabar.
6 The term Nostalgia originated in the late eighteenth century as the diagnostic term for the homesickness suffered by young Swiss men who were commandeered to military service and sent to foreign parts, which included places within Switzerland that lay beyond the soldiers’ native villages and valleys.
7 These films such as Jeevithanauka (The Boat of Life,director:K.Vembu,1951), KandambechaKottu (The Patched-up cloth, director:T.R.Sundaram,1961), Lailamajnu (director: P. Bhaskaran,1962), Kuttikuppayam(Baby frock, director: M.Krishnan Nair,1964), Kasavuthattam(Silk Scarf, director:M.Kunchako,1967), Ummachu(Beloved, director: P. Bhaskaran,1971), Swayamvaram, (Marriage by Choice, director: Adoor Gopalakrishnan, 1972), Vilkanundu Swapnangal (Dreams for Sale, director: Azad 1980), Angadi(The Market, director: I.V Sasi,1980), Elippathayam(The Rat Trap,director: Adoor Gopalakrishnan, 1981),Eenadu (This Land/This Region, director: I.V. Sasi 1982), Maniyara(Bridal Chamber, director: M.Krishnan Nair,1983), Manithali(Nuptial Thread, director: M.Krishnan Nair,1984), Varavelppu (The Welcome, director: Sathyan Anthikkad 1989), Gandhinagar Second Street (director: Sathyan Anthikkad, 1986), Naadodikattu (The Gypsy Wind, director: Sathyan Anthikkad 1987), 1921(director: I.V Sasi1988), Amina Tailors(director: Sajan,1991), Gazal(directo:Kamal,1993),Gharshom (The Exile, director: P.T. Kunhu Muhammad 1999) and so on.
8 The migrants from Kerala to the Gulf region include women in large numbers even though not equal in number to their male counterparts. The present study deals with the issues of Male migrants in the home and host land. It is beyond the scope of this article to look at the issues of women migrants.


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Dr. Hashik NK
Assistant Professor
Department of Cultural Studies
Tezpur University