Friday, April 30, 2010

Man Push Cart

Directed by Raman Bahrani in 2005, Man Push Cart depicts the story of a former Pakistani rockstar who now earns a living by selling coffee and donuts from his pushcart on the streets of Manhattan.

The protagonist Ahmad, is a young man who seems numbed from the joys of life, because he has stopped living. He now only exists. He fends a way of living by rolling his push-cart during the early hours of dawn and arranging his mobile boulangerie to serve his customers with a fresh cup of coffee and donuts while they rush through the streets to get to their jobs. The bustling city around him is contrasted with Ahmad’s morose life with little else happening other than finding menial jobs to make ends meet.

His meeting a fellow Pakistani who recognizes him as the once famous Pakistani singer allows him the company of someone who not only understands his plight, but also is willing to help him. His possible romance with a Spanish girl at the magazine stand does not develop because Ahmad’s past does not let him. His love for his dead wife and longing to see his son who is in the care of his in-laws are verdict to his want to belong and his attachment to family. Ahmad also finds a kitten and takes it home to care for it. His very own little friend.

The story reflects the life of those in the streets of big cities who are often ignored, yet play a vital role in many peoples’ lives. Hunger pangs are satiated by a quick donut, or some bread that is easily available at the pushcart. Who would bother to ask the name of a vendor? Or care to know about his past? Why would anyone want to pause to think about their lives, their struggles for livelihood and their families? The stark contrast between the very well off and the not so well off is brought out with the selection of the theme. But for me, it ends there.

My first reaction to Ahmad’s character was that of a lack of life. There was a certain listlessness in his appearance, a lag in his thoughts and actions. For some reason, I felt a certain disconnect. Although I’m sure that the director only intended the bleakness in his character to embody his true inner struggle, the actor failed to communicate it in a believable performance. The emotions simply fell limp. Maybe he’s devoid of feeling any emotion, but that didn’t materialize in effect either.

The inability of the actor to translate the essence of his lonely being disappointed me immensely. Since the entire story revolves around creating sympathy for this character and people who may be leading lives like him, but more so for this particular character because of his past stardom, a weak presence only deteriorates the threads that hold the story together. The vacant eyes of Ahmad were not a vacant that conveyed a void, but a shallow dissonance of expression.

Ahmad’s desperation in the end when he loses his pushcart falls flat. The only part in the film when emotions rise and his frustration reaches a height, Ahmad’s acting does not convince me. Still. How he goes back to being the man with a new pushcart remains unexplained. Forgivable, as this is not an area of concern since it only underlines the fact of how someone when pushed beyond his boundaries and on the edge of living on a shoestring would go to any extent to retain a job they hold valuable.

The film has a good story, with an intention of exposing the lives of the people who live unrecognized, with little money and no real hopes, except to fend for themselves and their families. Watch it for its portrayal of the fight for survival at the most basic level, its attempt at expressing how a man’s past can be a closed chapter once the leaves of happiness fade.


  1. sometimes Directors rush thru what they can only get from such inexperienced actors; unlike Satyajit Ray, longs years to get right actors, may be he had characters never materialized cos he couldn't find right actors. Recently Prakash Raj acted in Priya Darshan movie 'Kanchivaram" to win Bharat Award. Priyadarshan had this character for 10yrs and he asked Prakash Raj to act or not taking film at all. Directors look thru actors in materializing their characters... even songs when they tune, they know who will sing it or who only can sing it like who only can act thats how classics are created; great actors chose from characters rather act whatever characters come to them. The films fail due to inadequacy of director vs actors. To me Paa is good story handled badly by director and script writer... Man Push Cart may be another example vice versa.

  2. How true what you said! Man Push Cart is a good example. Although it got many good reviews, it simply did not work for me. Only because the character failed to convince me about his state in the film.

    It's all in the hands of the Director. What he visualizes, he must be able to express it in the best manner and this can be possible only by getting the perfect actor for a particular role. Priya Darshan is one of those great Directors who through his perserverence to the get the perfect actor, resulted in making the perfect film because of a flawless performance.

  3. Man Push Cart really worked for me. In fact, I was deeply moved by it. The decision to not use professional actors, I think, is a deliberate choice made by Bahrani, and you can see the same style in his other films Goodbye Solo and Chop Shop, which I find to be equally brilliant.

    The simplicity of the main character actually reminded me so much of the countless young immigrants who come here to Australia as students doing odd jobs in cafes, 7-Eleven stores or supemarket check-out counters. We see their faces for a few minutes - while buying a coffee or swiping your card for the weekend grocery shopping. A quick hello-how-you-doing, thank-you-very-much and have-a-good-day. These are not actors whose souls are bared on the table for us to examine. They are plain-faced, but you can feel an untold story of pain, a sense of struggle, a passionate yearning for success in their demeanor, in their eyes. So, getting back to the movie, I thought it was a judicios, realistic and genuine potrayal of loneliness - of loneliness in an overcrowded place.

    Bahrani has explained that the ending is inspired by Camus' 'The Myth of Sisyphus'.

    From Wiki:
    In the essay, Camus introduces his philosophy of the absurd: man's futile search for meaning, unity and clarity in the face of an unintelligible world devoid of God and eternal truths or values. Does the realization of the absurd require suicide? Camus answers: "No. It requires revolt." He then outlines several approaches to the absurd life. The final chapter compares the absurdity of man's life with the situation of Sisyphus, a figure of Greek mythology who was condemned to repeat forever the same meaningless task of pushing a boulder up a mountain, only to see it roll down again. The essay concludes, "The struggle enough to fill a man's heart. One must imagine Sisyphus happy."

    I implore you to watch the movie again or his other movies, and hopefully you'll see the quiet, restrained and subtle brilliance of Bahrani's oeuvre.

    For further exploration of the current neo-realism movement among independent filmmakers, I highly recommend the Portugese director Pedro Costa, or the Thai director Apichatpong Weerasethakul.

    Have you seen any of Werner Herzog's films? He's one of my favorite moviemakers. Here's a little short film by Bahrani and narrated by the eccentric Herzog: