Pathemari : Keeping up with the Joneses



Pathemari (2015)


In the technologically modern world, Traveling to UAE might be a ‘click’ away, but to work is still seen as prestige and modest way of earning tax-free income. But does anyone know at what cost?

It’s a harsh truth much to our discomfort : Family and own desires. This week new release Malayalam film ‘Pathemari’ is a chilling ode to fifty years of Gulf expatriation from the lush Kerala.

Set in the 70’s era, in the wake of blooming of Arabian gold, Narayanan (Mammootty) along with his close friend Moideen (Srinivasan) decides to move to Gulf with a need to secure their family from poverty and bestow them a comfortable lifestyle. Unlike today, where you reach the Arabian Peninsula by 3 hours flight journey, Those days, migrants had no options but to travel by Arabian boat ‘dhow’ (Pathemari) marked with hardship and uncertainty.



Mammootty with Jewel Mary (playing his wife Nalini)

Despite facing geo-climatic hurdles and endless days of no proper two time meals, migrants reach Khorfakkan Island (Situated in the Gulf of Oman), manages to reach the mainland & soon find employment to serve their family.

Directed by Salem Ahamad, who had previously helmed the gratifying ‘Adaminte Makan Abu‘ (film about a perfume seller’s struggle to fulfill his Hajj dream), Pathemari is also about an ordinary man with an extraordinary will to pursue his basic dreams.

The film has evoked lot of memories of countless fathers and youngsters (particularly from Kerala) living in the Middle East and emotionally strike a chord with them. Having seen my father work in UAE for so many years and with me now, joining the bandwagon of migrants, I can relate to the film in much detail and considerably more sentimentally than anyone else.

While I was immensely disturbed throughout, Salem has successfully emphasized on a phrase, I believe, no one has seem to have noticed.

‘Keeping up with Joneses’

It generally means comparison to one’s neighbor as a benchmark for social class or the accumulation of material goods. In Narayan’s case, he has to live up to the expectations of his family and one disagreeing word could possibly cost him breakdown in relationships. Film focuses on how the migrant is treated indifferently by his family and often taken for granted.



Mammooty as Narayanan


Take the scene where Narayanan’s elder brother orders (literally and shamelessly) him to send a whopping amount of Rs 25,000/- to invest their ancestral plot. What offended me from the sequence was the fact that elder sibling didn’t find it necessary to ‘ask’ whether will it be possible for him to send it or not? given the fact that he has his own family to nurture and his job doesn’t offer an increment.

Hypocrisy is subtly exposed in the scene where Narayanan is reluctantly obliged to satisfy the needs of his niece’s future in-laws for wedding arrangements just because ‘her uncle is from Gulf’ despite themselves being a wealthy.

Earlier days, People working in Gulf could manage to visit India once in a year or two. That means, his visit is highly anticipated not only by his own family but also his friends. Shopping becomes a duty and skipping even one person in the town would earn social embarrassment.


In the course of fifty years of his expatriation, Narayanan has given his family a comfortable life to live but unfortunate enough to not see his ailing mother the last time, living in absolute poverty, inability to revive his romance with wife and painfully misses the opportunity of watching his kids growing up in his presence resulting in drastic fading connection.

This brings me to analyze on two important unseen turmoil that could lead to such tragedy : Lack of Proper family planning and the mindset of ‘Marriage is the solution of all problems‘. Let’s dissect it.

1. It is seen that Narayanan, at a very young age, is forced to take up the responsibility of funding his family in order to get his three sisters married off and would do anything to meet ends.

It’s a very simple concept, Weren’t his parents aware about their economic condition? Didn’t this problem surface in their mind that having more kids could only lead to more inadequate financial glitch? Hadn’t Narayanan be an obedient child, They could’ve faced the possibility of helplessly watching him, in fitting rage of poverty, getting hold by wrong people, who could’ve radicalized him in anti-social activities. The lack of family planning must be regarded as one of the root cause of financial deficit

2. Narayanan is observed to be taking every family member’s account into consideration as he is the only proper bread-winner with relatively good income (unaware about his circumstances). It means, not only his parents and siblings but also his wife and kids as an addition. Marriage is often deemed as a social solution to all problems.

But the fact is, Marriage only leads to more complications in terms of economics. It’s a herculean task to manage everyone’s need and if wife isn’t a working member, Heaven help you.

Being a married guy, Wife and kids naturally comes first but at the same time he is bounded with his siblings with whom he have had lived for years together. In this emotional turmoil, he does tend to lose focus easily and causes him severe trouble. Film also conveys a message that surrounding around him needs to change and sensible to his emotional and family needs.


The film portrays a discomforting life of Malayali women where they are just expected to be in a kitchen, serve food, look after children, internally tolerate husband’s family (particularly siblings) but aren’t traditionally allowed to work.

At 109 minutes, Pathemari is crisply edited and screenplay doesn’t seem to wander from key points. Not surprisingly, Mammootty is remarkable as the expatriate Narayanan, playing it with genuine vulnerability, turning out to be the real draw. He is terrifically supported by Srinivasan as his best friend cum roommate and Jewel Mary as his supporting wife Nalini.

Pathemari is a gut-wrenching experience and celebrates the spirit of migrant with delicate poignancy and salutes them for their undying spirit.

Strongly recommended to everyone regardless of where you belong.

~ Nived Nambiar



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