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Nagesh Kukunoor's 'Dor': a tale of migration and connection

On May 18, 2009

I just wanted to share with readers of a wonderful Hindi film, 'Dor' (2006) which paints a vivid and moving picture of the struggles of migration from India to the Gulf. The word 'dor' roughly translates as 'thread' and refers to the strings of human experience that can bind two entirely unrelated individuals together. The film focuses on the two young women, Meera (Ayesha Takia) and Zeenat (Gul Panag) from completely different social backgrounds in India, whose husbands leave for Saudi Arabia to take up work. As Meera, a Hindu girl who has recently married into a conservative Hindu family in Rajastan, and Zeenat, and independent Muslim woman, learn to deal with the absence of their husbands, they each receive a horrifying phonecall that will change their lives forever. Zeenat's husband has been falsely accused of murdering Meera's during a dispute in their labour camp in Saudi Arabia. Zeenat's husband faces the death penalty, and has only one hope of escape; if Zeenat can seek a pardon from the widow of the dead man. Zeenat knows that the two men were in fact best friends, and to the horror and admiration of her community, sets out on a journey from her home in the Himalayas to the deserts of Rajastan to try to track down the woman who holds the key to saving her husband's life.

This clip shows Zeenat setting off on her journey, with only a photo of the two men as a clue. Meanwhile Meera's relatives come and take away her jewelery and pack up all of her colourful clothes - a Hindu custom when a woman is widowed.

By focusing on the lives of the two women affected by an incident in Saudi Arabia, Dor shows us that migration for work is never just about one person - for every individual who leaves their home country to work as a labourer in the Gulf there are loved ones and community networks left behind. The shock waves from a building site injury in Qatar, a legal misunderstanding in Saudi Arabia or an employer in the UAE withholding a couple of months' pay travel far, and leave a lasting impact thousands of miles away from the Middle East.

The plot of the film may be far-fetched, but Dor is subtle reminder that, however anonymous their blue boiler suits or maid's uniforms, all migrants have their own identity, history, and that ties of the heart are just as powerful for the Indian living in a Gulf labour camp as they are for any other person.