In a First, Arab Actor to Star in Malayalam Movie

Many Malayalam filmmakers have portrayed lives of expatriates in the Gulf countries and shot movies in beautiful locations of the region, but none of them dared to cast actors from the Arab world thus far.

The trend, however, is set to change with award-winning Malayalam film maker, T A Razak, deciding to rope in a renowned Arab actor for his next movie, Uppappa (Grandfather), which will be shot in Calicut and Dubai from January 15.

Salim Bahwan, an actor and director hailing from the Gulf state of Oman, is set to make history as the first Arab actor to star in an Indian movie.

Salim Bahwan
Salim Bahwan

A self-confessed fan of Bollywood and Indian language movies, Salim considers the invitation to associate with Uppappa as a high point in his career. “It is a dream come true for me as I always draw inspiration from Indian films,” he said.

According to Salim, it was legendary Bollywood actor Dharmendra who inspired him to become an actor. “I watched a Dharmendra film for the first time when I was just seven years old. As I walked out of the theatre in Muscat (capital of Oman), I made up my mind to become a film star,” he said.

He began to associate with theatre groups when he went to the United States and United Kingdom for higher studies. A few years later, he landed in minor roles in soap operas aired by the State-owned Oman Television.

Salim’s big break came in 1992, when a renowned Kuwaiti director chose him for the television series, Akhir Al Ankood (The Last Grape). “I worked alongside leading actors from the Gulf region. It was the turning point in my career.”

His career blossomed when he finally got a chance to switch from television to the big screen in the first Omani feature film, Al Boum, in 2006. Later he donned the lead role in Mark Ratering’s English movie Pirate’s Blood. “The film had six heroes from six countries. Working with professionals from different countries boosted my morale as an actor. I learned valuable lessons about film production. Those lessons helped me direct three films – Baht An Mushtaheel (Search for the Impossible), followed by Maraah Fi Alomer (Once in a Lifetime) and Kissat Mehra (Dowry Story) – which were well received by Arab film lovers.”

Uppappa will be a milestone for Razak, it will be his 50th screenplay
Uppappa will be a milestone for Razak, it will be his 50th screenplay

As his fame grew, Salim had to make some tough choices too. “I rejected a proposal to work with Hollywood star George Clooney in a film that showed Arab society in a negative light,” he said, noting that he would never accept a role in a film that depicted Arabs or Muslims in a negative way.

However, he didn’t have to think twice when Razak told him the story. “It is a challenging role. And I am sure the film will create ripples all over the world. Malayalam has produced renowned artistes like Mammotty and Mohan Lal. I had worked with technicians from Mollywood during the filming of my movies,” Salim said.

The film narrates the mental agonies of Ibrahim, who marries off his daughter, Nasriya, to an Arab merchant, Kamal Yousuf. Yousuf goes back to Dubai after his father falls ill. He cannot comeback to Calicut owing to family pressure. He divorces pregnant Nasriya. The story develops through the life of Nasriya’s son.

Nusrath Jahan
Nusrath Jahan

Veteran Malayalam actor Siddique plays Ibrahim, while Salim dons the role of Kamal Yousuf. Nuzarath Jahan is the heroine.

The movie marks a milestone for T A Razak too. A veteran who entered film industry in 1991, he will be penning his 50th screenplay for Uppappa. He has won four Kerala state film awards for best story and screenplays.

Razak said he is happy to cast an Arab artist for the first time in an Indian movie. “I thank Salim Bahwan for accepting the role.”

Nuzarath Jahan, who shot to fame with her role in The Written, a short film that depicted the life of Reyhaneh Jabbari who was executed in Iran for murdering a police man who tried to rape her, said she is thrilled to act in a movie with an Arab star. “I am so indebted to Razak for deciding to put me in the lead role. It is a huge challenge and I hope to be true with it,” she said.

The director hopes to screen the movie in international film festivals before its commercial release.