When asked to define himself, he smiled at me. "I don't know what I can be called! Some call me a journalist and some say I am an activist. But recently, they have tagged a new role with my name, Rafeek the filmmaker," Rafeek Ravuther said humbly, while adding that for him all these three roles connect with a common factor.
"As an activist, I work as the Indian coordinator of a global migrant organisation. As a television journalist, I am producing a programme for a television channel (Indian) for the last one decade to trace out the missing and stranded Indian migrants. And now, as a filmmaker, I am making a film which again discusses migration issues," said Rafeek, while attending a call on his cellphone, which rings continuously as the number is scrolled on TV screen frequently for those who want to trace out their beloved ones who have gone missing or stranded in the Middle East countries.
Rafeek's television show Pravasalokam has so far helped hundreds of hapless, missing and stranded Indian migrants, mainly those who hail from the south Indian state of Kerala.
"My debut film also talks about migration issues," Rafeek said after completing the phone call.
"It was a lady from northern part of Kerala. Her husband is missing in one of the Gulf countries. She claims that he has not called her for the last one year. They want to broadcast their difficulties in my show," Rafeek, who is dealing with issues faced by migrants, on the small screen for the last 11 years, said.
"Till now, it was only on small screen. By with my debut movie EMS-um Penkuttiyum, I am trying to move on to the big screen," Rafeek said.
EMS-um Penkuttiyum is the celluloid adaptation of a famous Malayalam short story written novelist Benny Benyamin, who became famous with his novel Aadujeevitham.
The movie is to be shot in United States and United Kingdom. A week ago, the songs were shot in Sri Lanka.
"It is woven around the humanitarian issue of migration around the world — an issue or a process that might have been as old as the history of human evolution itself. Whether it is political or for a livelihood, EMS-um Penkuttiyum suggests that migration is most importantly a human condition that goes beyond ideologies, cast or creed," Rafeek, who lost one of his cousin brothers in a foreign country, said.
The main characters of this movie are migrants to the US. Jos and Sini (Malayalam actor Srinivasan and south Indian actress Kaniha) are Indian migrants in US and Selvan (south Indian actor Narein) and Amala (India-origin US citizen Sasha) are Tamilians from Sri Lanka having migrated to the US. The characters of the film — Jos and his wife Sini, a childless couple — are Indian migrants living in America. Accidentally, the Sri Lankan Tamil girl (Amala) manages to get into the car without Jos' knowledge. When Jos notices the girl at home, she pleads for help.
Eventually, he manages to hide her in his house for a whole night, without even letting it known by Sini. Actually, Jos had no such intention to hide her in that way; it was Amala's threats that forced him to do so. From here, the movie takes a twist.
"Even while handling romance in the movie, I have tried my best not to deviate from my main theme. I want to portray migration. If we take the total number of migrants all over the world, then it will be the sixth largest populated country. So, I know that I have to be quite serious and sincere while making a movie on migrants," Rafeek, who has discussed post-war migration from Sri Lanka, said.
"As my movie also discusses the migration issues faced by Sri Lankans, many advised me to watch the Lankan war movies. But I deliberately kept away from it. I didn't want those movies to influence me. Anyhow, my movie is not discussing war. It is all about migrations," Rafeek said.
Innocent, Geetha, Thampi Antony, Karunaas, and Saravanan are the other actors in the movie. The music is composed by Ilayaraja and the movie is edited by Samjith Mohammed.