Bangladeshi film on migrant workers’ woes wins award at SAARC film festival

Bangladeshi film on migrant workers’ woes wins award at SAARC film festival

Colombo, November 26 ( The Bangladeshi film Oggatonama  (The Unnamed) on the woes of workers  who go abroad for petty jobs, has won the award for the Best Screenplay at the SAARC Film Festival which concluded here on Saturday.

The jury said that the award was being given Oggatonama “for creating a very humanistic and coherent story combining a strong range of characters and complex interplay of moods.”

A very pleased screenplay writer and director Tauquir Ahmed said: “I am honored. Films from Sri Lanka, Nepal, and Afghanistan were very good and therefore, the contest was tough. I am glad to have won this prize against stiff competition.”

Ahmed said that he was able to “connect” with the audience through the film which dealt with some disturbing issues faced by Bangladeshi labor migrating to the Middle East and other countries to eke out a living.

“The workers are exploited and abused, even sexually. There are no human rights as far these people are concerned. I wanted to bring these things out through cinema and I believe I have been effective. Some in the audience at the showing here were in tears,” Ahmed said.

At the end of the show, the audience clapped in appreciation. The film had struck a chord among the Sri Lankan audience because Sri Lanka also sends lakhs of workers both men and women to the Middle East, Italy and Korea. It is not unusual to get back body bags from these places. Some workers come back with body parts missing. Agents who are but racketeers squeeze these poor rural folk dry and the overseas employers hold on to wages for months if not years.

Oggatonama is the story of an un-named dead body of a worker which arrives in a Bangladeshi village from another country. The story revolves round a human trafficker Ramjan and a local policeman Farhad who come in contact with each other because of their involvement with a woman of easy virtue who is in search of a better life as a migrant abroad.

But Farhad and Ramjan unwittingly get entangled in the mystery of a dead body and the rest of the film is about their travails in disposing off the body which nobody claims.

Director, screenplay writer Tauquir Ahmed

Ramjan had sent a young man called Asir abroad faking his identity. Against this background the dead body of a worker arrives in Asir’s  village. Ramjan, the local recruiting agent, tries to foist it on Asir’s father forcing him to own the body as his son’s. The father refuses to fake his own identity and take the body. The police too try to foist it on somebody and wash their hands off of the morbid case. Moreover, the body is not even that of a Muslim (not having been circumcised) for a Muslim to accept. Ramjan bribes the police to hush the case up.

However, Asir’s father, Ramjan and Farhad feel it is their bounden duty to find out the whereabouts of the dead man’s family and handing over the body to it.  The trio goes from one government agency to another to locate the family but in vain. Finally, the father says that he will give it a decent burial whether it is his own son’s or somebody else’s son, whether it is the body of a Muslim, Hindu or a Christian, from Bangladesh, Kerala or Sri Lanka.

The film shows how even in the midst of corruption, illegal activities and avariciousness, human instincts and the goodness in men survive and surface from time to time.

“What set me thinking about the theme of a returned dead body was an incident related to me by my domestic help. A dead body had been sent to her village but it did not belong to any family there. She couldn’t remember what happened after that. That set me researching on the theme for six years. Finally I produced a play entitled Oggatonama.”

When the play proved to be a success I wanted  more people to see it and started working on a film script. But nobody wanted to finance a film based on a morbid subject like this,” he recalled.

“Eventually, I decided to work on a small budget and using an ordinary camera. The cast were drawn from my friends in Bengali theatre,” Ahmed said.

There was another hurdles to be crossed. Not being a typical commercial film, Oggatonama was released in only 10 theaters in Bangladesh. But when it attracted a crowd, the number of screens increased to 15.

“But my happiness was short lived. It was taken off in a week!” he recalled.

In the meanwhile, somebody had pirated the film and put it up YouTube. This got a million viewers. Then his producers put it legally on the YouTube and the viewership rose to 10 million.

“A film rejected locally turned out to be an international hit!” Ahmed exclaimed.

Subsequently the film got viewed in 20 film festivals abroad including the Kolkata film festival, and has bagged 10 awards.

Asked what he planned to do in the future, Ahmed said that he stands for socially committed cinema and would like to work on  themes relating to human rights, rising above nationality, caste and creed.

(The picture at the top shows a distraught human trafficker Ramjan being confronted by the police)