Somewhat overshadowed by all the hype surrounding Aynabaji, this year’s Oscar submission in the Best Foreign Language Film Category from Bangladesh is the story of a farmer’s son, an expatriate worker who lost everything in hopes of earning a few extra dollars abroad – a story that is all too common in this part of the world, and yet has remained largely untouched.

Oggyatonama (The Unnamed) boldly approaches the issues surrounding subcontinental expatriate workers in the Middle East – administrative loopholes, identity theft and the astonishing lack of regard for these migrant workers on both sides of the coin, at home and abroad.

Directed by Tauquir Ahmed and starring popular names like Shahiduzzaman Selim, Mosharraf Karim and Fazlur Rahman Babu, Oggyatonama is solid storytelling paired with brilliant acting, shamefully held back by a very evident lack of resources.

Initially set in a small fishing village, the story starts off by introducing Beauty, a local girl with high aspirations of leaving her impoverished rural life and migrate to the UAE for work. She’s seen trying to juggle two relationships at the same time with men who could both help her out – Ramjan (Shahiduzzaman Selim), a local ‘dalal‘ with a reputation of ‘handling’ these migrations, and Farhad (Mosharraf Karim), a lazy police officer, who promised to get her the police permission.

The scene, albeit inconsequential in the big picture, works to set the premise for the whole story quite successfully. Soon, things begin to unravel as the police station receive news of a dead body held at the customs under the name of Syed Abdul Wahab, an expatriate worker in the UAE from the same village. On informing the family, they find out that Wahab is alive and well and has been working in Italy for the past two years.

Further investigation into the issue reveals that Ramzan had doctored Wahab’s old passport and used it to send Asir, another villager’s son, abroad; which meant that the body with Wahab’s ID in fact, belonged to Asir – the same guy who Ramzan had planned to marry off Beauty to in order to send her to the UAE, despite Asir already having a family of his own.

When the coffin is finally brought back to the village, Asir’s family is in for yet another surprise when they find out that the body does not belong to Asir, or any Bangladeshi for that matter. This instigates a wild goose chase all over the capital with Asir’s father (Fazlur Rahman Babu), Ramzan and Farhad desperately trying to get to the proper authorities to make sense of the situation.

What is good about the movie is the magnitude of problems it manages to touch.

What is good about the movie is the magnitude of problems it manages to touch – the lack of migration infrastructure, the administrative loopholes, corruption and grey moralities all across the system and the collective disregard for immigrant rights. However, as ambitious as the project was, it fails to hold attention for long. What starts off as a story with immense potential ultimately drags on to a very underwhelming and rushed ending.

By the end of the movie, you’re left questioning if certain characters really added enough to the plot. It seemed as though the makers bit off more issues within the system than they could chew, and ultimately failed to make any substantial statement at the end of the day – for change or for protest. What could’ve been a movie that could inspire change simply turned into an inconsequential rant about issues that we’re already aware of, covered up under the overused shroud of humanity and empathy.

Tauquir Ahmed, the director has been quite frank about these film making limitations when it comes to producing non-commercial works, “We do not have enough resources to make films to compete in the main competition; we work through various limitations. But I hope one day, if not us then filmmakers from our next generation will make films that will be in the final contention for the award.

tl;dr Oggyatonama manages to capture the greys surrounding migration issues on this side of the world with the story it wanted to tell and the acting, but falls short in terms of execution and production quality due to a very obvious lack in budget and planning.

by Afsana Khan