[Film Review] In Search of the Riyal

In collaboration with a reputed non-profit organization in the United States, the Centre for Knowledge Societies has embarked on a project to document Nepali workers migrating to the Gulf. As part of the ongoing research, the team watched a documentary – ‘In Search of the Riyal’.

The film is a vivid, yet comprehensive exploration of the gamut of issues associated with migration. Director Kesang Tseteng breaks the film down into sub-plots – ‘going’, ‘being there’ and ‘returning’, that mark the journey of the migrant workers from their villages in Nepal to the big city of Doha. Tseteng films in several locations – outside the Kathmandu airport, migrants’ homes, and ‘recruitment agencies’ that act as middlemen. He introduces us to the migrant families, and takes us into their living rooms and kitchens to give an idea about their social and cultural constituents which force them to migrate and work in foreign countries. We meet the wife, mother and children who are sometimes teary-eyed with the man of the house leaving; and at other time, hopeful and proud of the valuable Riyal that might end their hardships. The latter part of the film takes off to Doha where we are introduced to their working environments, mostly as labourers in construction sites, waiters at restaurants and care takers at animal sheds.

It is interesting to observe the course of documentary spread over many years. Tseteng follows a migrant from the time when he was preparing for his journey to Qatar, into working as a scaffolding worker for seven years since.  The man reminisces on times past and narrates his experiences at his job.

We are introduced to the inner worlds of the migrants – we meet them at lunch when they are eating rice and curry. At the Nepal embassy in Doha, we see a man reading out a letter to the camera stating desperately his wish to return to Nepal. He mentions that he has no money as his employer has not paid his salary; that he had sold off his land to make arrangements to migrate; and with no  recourse left, the Nepali ambassador must intervene to get him home.

The team at the CKS office in New Delhi has been engaged in exhaustive research in the last couple of months. Having burnt the midnight oil, and having watched the informative documentary, we look forward with renewed vigour towards our fieldwork in Nepal in the next few weeks.

With additional inputs from Shruti Jain, Srija Sinha Roy and Aastha Singh

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