Dubai: In what is a first for the Gulf News Media Group, a story carried by its sister publication XPRESS last November is now being turned into a Bollywood film.
The yet-to-be-titled movie, directed by Ribhu Dasgupta of Te3n fame and produced by Arslan Goni, Sam Fernandes and Rajat Shrivastav, revolves round the true story of a helpless UAE resident Zainab Fawad, whose plight was reported by XPRESS Editor Mazhar Farooqui in a cover story on November 17, 2016.
Abused, rendered homeless and jailed, the 44-year-old Indian expat was divorced from her Pakistani husband and separated from her four-year-old twin boys following a catastrophic turn of events. She was living on the brink at the time, even as she contemplated ending her life.
But following an overwhelming response to the XPRESS report, Zainab’s twins Mustafa and Muzammil, who were stranded in Pakistan since April 2014, were not just reunited with their mother in Dubai, but also able to go to school for the first time.
Speaking to XPRESS from Mumbai, Goni said, “When we came to know about Zainab’s story through XPRESS, we realised it had to be told. As they say, every film has its own destiny.”
Goni said soon after, he travelled to the UAE with Dasgupta and the others to seek Zainab’s consent for the project. “We spent over a week in Dubai meeting Zainab, Mazhar, Farhat Ali Khan and Juhi Yasmeen Khan who played a key role in turning things around. The film will be based on actual events and everyone who has been part of the story will be duly represented.”
He said the script is still under construction and it is early days yet to talk about the cast.
Zainab, who is still coming to terms with the development, said, “XPRESS has changed my life. I thank Allah, Mazhar Farooqui and bless each one of you for reuniting me with my kids.”
She said, “I hope the film will do well. It is an encouragement to every woman never to lose hope – after all it is not easy for an Indian woman to get her children back from Pakistan.”
Farooqui said, “It is not everyday that you hear of a newspaper story turning into a movie. I am curious to know who will play my role and can’t wait for the release.”
Recollecting his first interaction with Zainab, Farooqui said he had chanced upon a desperate message she sent him on Facebook last November.
“Since she was not on my Friend’s list, the message she inboxed me had gone into the ‘other box’. When I called her, she was in a bad state. She claimed she had only half a packet of biscuits left with her and was on the verge of killing herself. It was only the thought of her boys that was stopping her from going ahead.”
Subsequently, Farooqui met Zainab, who was so broke she could not even pay for her taxi ride to the agreed venue at Majas Waterfront in Sharjah. With tears rolling down her eyes, she narrated her story.
A bachelor of arts graduate from Gujarat, she had come to the UAE in 2003.
Four years later, she married a Pakistani man whom she met at a Jebel Ali company where she had taken up an admin job. In 2012, she delivered twins Mustafa and Muzammil and the family lived happily in Sharjah.
But the bliss was short-lived.
Zainab claimed differences cropped up after her husband set up an event management firm in her name and the family moved to an apartment in Al Muhaisnah, Dubai.
“Things came to a head when my husband took the kids, (both Indian passport holders), to Pakistan. Any hope of reconciliation was lost in late 2014 when I went to a police station in Dubai to report a missing wallet but was put behind bars as the event company had several bounced cheque cases. I spent nearly one month in prison,” she had told XPRESS.
After being released from jail, Zainab claimed in the XPRESS report that she roughed it out in airport waiting areas for two months before taking a sharing accommodation in Al Rigga. Between July and September 2015, she was arrested two more times for unpaid court fines and a case filed against her by the landlord of their Al Muhaisnah home.
The gut-wrenching story touched a chord with XPRESS readers as hundreds wrote in from as far as the UK, US and New Zealand, wanting to reach out to her.
As Farooqui said, “I had to stay up at night to respond to the 1,000-plus messages we received on email and XPRESS WhatsAPP number.
The story was picked by the Pakistan media and soon, officials from the Indian/Pakistani embassies and several local NGOS also contacted XPRESS to seek details of the case. Following their intervention, Zainab was reunited with her boys after three years.”
XPRESS reported the heartwarming reunion at Dubai Airport in a follow-up story on December 30.
Farooqui, who drove Zainab to Terminal 3 and back home said, “As journalists, we do many stories but nothing can be more endearing than seeing a mum, who had lost all hope, reunite with her children.”
There has been no looking back since for Zainab and her boys.
Both Mustafa and Muzammil have been enrolled at the Al Salam Private School in Al Nahda – thanks to the UAE’s Good Samaritans, who have risen to yet another occasion in the Year of Giving.