‘The Unnamed’ (‘Oggatonama’): Film Review | Kolkata 2016

THE UNNAMED - Still - H - 2016
Courtesy Impress Telefilm
A bold, unsettling mix of tragedy and gallows farce.

A coffin which is supposed to contain a farmer’s son is delivered with the wrong body in it in Bangladesh’s foreign-language Oscar submission.

Among several new films dealing with the drama of expat Indian workers in the Emirates (another is the Malayam Pathemari), The Unnamed (Oggatonama) chooses the risky approach of tragicomedy to bring home the toll on loved ones left behind. Directed with spirit by actor turned writer and helmer Tauquir Ahmed, the film has ambitions that sometimes outstrip the results onscreen. But on balance, it’s an entertaining and engrossing watch with a moving payload at the end. It won best feature at the Cutting Edge Film Festival and has been to several Asian fests in the U.S. (Ahmed won the directing award in Washington, D.C.) It is Bangladesh’s foreign-language Oscar submission this year.

The black humor of coffin jokes has been a movie staple ever since Rene Clair had mourners jog after a runaway coffin in his silent Dadaist comedy Entr’Acte. What makes The Unnamed special is the way it boldly alternates this type of surreal gallows humor with a genuinely moving human tragedy set in a dirt-poor fishing village. There’s little blending here; it’s more a seesaw of contrasting moods.

The story begins as a kind of tropical bedroom farce as local girl Beauty (Nipun Akhter) juggles two lovers who might help her get a work permit for Dubai and leave the poverty of the village behind. One is Ramjan (Shahiduzzaman Selim), a fixer who supplies false documents, and the other is Farhad (Mosharraf Karim), a lazy local cop he catches hiding under her bed. Her plan is to “marry” the already-married farmer Asir (now working in Dubai) and travel to the Emirates as his wife.

The tone abruptly shifts to tragedy, however, when the family of Wahab, another youth who works in the UAE, is notified that their son has been killed in an accident — even though they know he’s alive and well in Italy. Ramjan is made to confess that he doctored the boy’s passport and sold it to Asir, so he must be the one who died.

The news comes as a huge shock to Asir’s old father (Fazlur Rahman Babu), who is called on to go to the capital to collect his son’s body. To defray expenses, the poor farmer mortgages his house. His high-mindedness is in stark contrast to the callous reaction of Ramjan, who is forced to accompany him by the (mostly comic) police to make sure things go well. The complex situation that develops at the airport teeters on tragicomedy. But when, after many travails, the little party brings the coffin back to the village for Muslim funeral rites, it’s discovered the man inside is dark-skinned and hasn’t even been circumcised.

From this point on, the story becomes more surreal by the minute, juggling a who’s-in-the-coffin chase with the poor farmer’s anguish — he still can’t get his son on the phone and his whereabouts are unknown. Instead of washing his hands of the affair, he mortgages the rest of his land to return the body to the authorities and, hopefully, to his family. Easier said than done, as the body begins to decompose en route.

Though uneven, Ahmed’s direction is bold, colorful and aimed at making some solid points about human nature and human dignity. While some characters like the police officer are too broadly drawn for comfort, the story springs to life with pro actors like Selim in the role of the nervous Ramjan and especially Babu as the tearful, shell-shocked father who doesn’t seem fully aware of the experience he’s living through. His final speech, in which he cuts right through the bureaucracy and determines to act piously towards the dead man, whoever he is and whatever religion he belongs to, is so unexpectedly rousing it drew applause from Bengali audiences at the Kolkata Film Festival.

Venue: Kolkata Film Festival
Production companies: Impress Tele Films

Cast: Shahiduzzaman Selim, Mosharraf Karim, Fazlur Rahman Babu, Abul Hayat, Nipun Akhter, Shatabdi Wadud
Director-screenwriter: Tauquir Ahmed
Producer: Faridur Reza Sagar
Executive producer: Ebne Hasan Khan
Director of photography: Enamul Haque Sohel
Production designer: Kazi Rakib
Editor: Amit Debnath
Music: Pinto Ghosh
World sales: Impress Tele Films

Not rated, 92 minutes