“The tidal wave of migration that began 20 years ago continues…”
That is how Kesang Tseten begins his documentary sequel to the 2008 film In Search of the Riyal. He tries to locate migrant workers he had filmed a decade ago, to find out what has become of them.
Were their dreams realised? Did the Nepali workers in Qatar and UAE find what they were looking for? Were the intervening years kind to them?
In The Riyalists, acclaimed film-maker Tseten (pictured, above) spends the first five minutes setting the stage for the journey ahead. We get to revisit young Nepalis on scaffolds whom we first met in the previous award-winning documentary.
Ten years ago Dhanvir Jogi, a lanky lad from Terathum left behind his three-month-old son and started training at an institute in Kathmandu. He was diligent and hopeful, but worried about falling sick in the hot desert.
In In Search of the Riyal Prem Bareily who often faced the stigma of being a Dalit back home in Dharan, did not shy away from his fears: “They might be talking about killing me but I wouldn’t know… I won’t understand their language.”
Bhoj Darzi was fully aware of the risk he was putting himself into. He had heard of Nepalis returning home in coffins. Yet he took a loan in the hope of trading his job as a tailor in Jhapa for a more financially secure position in the Gulf.
Shy and awkard, Nabin Rai, has a sad story with a happy ending. Tseten narrates: “It was the image of Nabin in his crisp white shirt and his newly married wife sporting a blue umbrella that remained etched in my mind from the earlier film.”
But after two years in Qatar, Nabin came back to find that his wife took off with another man and abandoned his twin daughters. Nabin remarried and left for Dubai. Today, he is a foreman at an offshore gas rig and earns a good salary. He gets to visit home every three months where he is building a new home for his family.
Dhanvir, who is with the same construction company in Qatar, has managed to acquire some land, get his sisters married, send his son to school, but missed out on his upbringing. “I was thin and young when I came,” he says on camera, “I’ll go back old.”
Prem left Doha because he was not paid on time and mistreated by employers, and now works as a silversmith but faces stiff competition. He proudly shows the best worker certificate he received in Qatar and often regrets his decision to return. “I make good enough living here but there is no saving for future,” he rues.
In Bhoj, there is no trace of a young man who once explained with wonder how the food tray inside planes worked. He was deported from Dubai for going on strike, framed by fellow workers. He left for Qatar next but returned shortly afterwards when his wife fell sick. His mother and wife run a local garment factory and he recently overtook his dead brother’s profitable piggery. He believes Nepalis can make it at home if they work hard.
The four men are just a few of the hundreds of thousands of Nepalis toiling abroad.
Their lives are mostly fascinating, not tragic. But what draws audience to these individuals is Tseten’s simple but compelling storytelling, his poignant narration, flawless direction interwoven with clips from ten years ago. Viewers will be struck by his compassion for less fortunate compatriots.
There are moments of laughter, of camaraderie, of loss and farewells. Through it all, Tsenten is with us, uncovering men’s lives, sharing their grief and intact hopes, bringing us an intimate portrayal of Nepali migrants away and at home.
The day this documentary will be launched, another 1,500 young Nepali men and women will fly off, forsaking their fields and families for the hopes of a better future. This film will help us understand why they leave despite real risks, and the need to create opportunities at home.
Directed by Kesang Tseten
Sunyata Film Productions, 2018