(This review contains spoilers.) “As soon as they set me free, I want to come back to you.”
Halkara is the International Feature submission for Nepal. The film takes place around 2020 when Nepalese workers were leaving their homes and families behind to work in Doha, after Qatar secured the hosting rights for the World Cup. The Nepalese workers who ended up going to the Middle East had to endure severe exploitation, which almost resembled modern-day slavery. The death toll is over 6,500 and many more have gone missing. This is the story of Ram and Mia.
The film takes place in a small village in Nepal. Due to a traumatic past event, Ram is struggling with alcoholism and is unemployed owing debts to everyone in town. Luckily, one day, a government service position as a postman opens up, left vacant due to the former employee pursuing a job in the Gulf. His job is to go to the remote villages around the country delivering mail to the rightful owners. Most of the mail is coming from men who are stuck and enduring torturous circumstances in the Middle East. En route to one of the villages, Ram meets Mia, a married woman whose husband left for Qatar a week after their wedding and has now gone missing for the last two years.
Today, migrants account for an average of 70% of the employed population in the Gulf, and over 95% in Qatar. Extreme heat exposure and long gruelling hours has become the leading causes of death for these men who come from Nepal, India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka. As most of the men are forced to work outside, heat rashes, cramps, heat exhaustion, or heat strokes are a daily occurrence. And due to wage theft, illegal recruitment fees and passports being taken away, these men are usually left stuck in these conditions until their contracts have been completed. And those loved ones left behind are in a constant state of worry and uneasiness not knowing if they’ll ever see them again.
Is trading a hut for a sandcastle worth it for a potential better pay? Can we blame these men for leaving when it is a necessity rather than a choice? Halkara is a film focusing on those who remained, on those families stuck in an endless loop hoping for a letter to know that their husband, son, or brother are still alive. Will the letter reveal that they are well and that they’ll be coming home soon? Or will it reveal that their lifeless body is being sent back home in a coffin?
Do I write I am alright and coming home soon? Or shall I write I am just surviving the inferno? For the postman, his job is to deliver the letters and hope that what’s inside isn’t the worst case scenario.