Comic Sans

A comedian’s turn as a grieving father in a Malayalam hip-hop single

Mamukkoya on the sets of ‘Native Bapa’, where he essayed the role of a man whose son is accused of having been a terrorist. COURTESY AKHIL KOMACHI
01 May, 2013

ON AN EVENING IN NOVEMBER 2012, workers and passersby milling around an old warehouse near a beach in Kozhikode were greeted with the unusual sight of veteran Malayalam film actor Mamukkoya in their midst. Clad in a blue dhoti and an old white shirt, Mamukkoya sipped on a glass of sulemani tea, waiting for his shot to be called. But when he took his place in front of the camera, onlookers who might have expected him to break into one of his famous goofball performances were disappointed—instead, he spoke lines that were tinged with grief.

The actor was shooting for the music video of ‘Native Bapa’, a hip-hop song by the Kozhikode-based group Mappila Lahala, named after the 1921 uprising of Kerala’s Mappila Muslim community against the British rulers and their feudal supporters. The group comprises friends who met often at film festivals and cultural events around Kerala. Muhsin Parari, founding member of the band and the video’s director, explained that during these meetings, they discussed “the state and plight of our community in terms of representation” in popular media. “We were sick of the popular narratives endorsing the stereotypes of Muslims and Dalits as savages, and we wanted to give different perspectives of these to Kerala society,” Parari said. “We formed a band to engage with multiple genres of music.”

‘Native Bapa’, the group’s first song, features a Malayalam prose-poem written by Parari in 2008 in reaction to the killing by security forces of four alleged terrorists that year in Kupwara district, Kashmir. Among those killed was 22-year-old Mohammed Fayaz from Kerala’s Kannur district. His mother reportedly refused to accept the dead body of her son, calling him a traitor to the nation. “This unusual reaction from a mother triggered frenzied debates in the mainstream media,” Parari said. “The lady was celebrated as the champion of patriotism and secularism. I thought it was ridiculous, what the media was doing with a mourning mother, and I wrote this poem.”

Mamukkoya’s portion of the song—which is interwoven with rapping by Harris Saleem—is the imaginary monologue of the dead man’s father, who is ridden with angst at his son’s death as well as his being labeled a terrorist. Mamukkoya plays the father in a powerful, restrained performance, returning again and again to the song’s haunting refrain—“Bomb?” He is a man too surprised to react to his son’s death, too baffled to grieve.

Over his 30 years in popular Malayalam cinema, Mamukkoya has been seen in numerous comic roles, some as iconic as the swindler Gafoorka (Nadodikkattu, 1987, and Pattanapravesham, 1988), who promises gullible people that he will arrange for them to emigrate to the Gulf, only to offload them in another Indian city and tell them they are abroad. His ability to play Mappila accents and colloquialisms became something of a signature. “We chose Mamukkoya because he is often used by the mainstream movies to ridicule Mappila slang and culture,” Parari said.

Uploaded on YouTube on New Year’s eve, 2013, ‘Native Bapa’ attracted attention quickly. In a few days the video had 70,000 hits, and that number has since climbed past 1,70,000. Although the group has not recovered their investment of Rs 2,00,000, they are already planning future projects, including a rock presentation of ‘Kozhipank’ (Sharing the Hen), a Malayalam poem by K Satchidanandan, and a hip-hop take of a Mappila song written by Kambalath Govindan Nair during the Malabar uprising.

“When I learnt about the ambitious project of these youth, it sounded like a good idea,” Mamukkoya told me over the phone from Kallai, Kozhikode. “Apart from that, I thought it’s an opportunity to convey my rage as a Muslim who, some years ago, was detained at an airport in Australia simply because his father’s name was Mohammed. I felt very satisfied when people understood that I was not kidding this time.”