Dhaka Metro Review: A ‘Trippy’ Road Trip

Hoichoi’s first Bangladeshi original web series is a hallucinatory drive across the country and a wickedly funny comment on the absurdist world we inhabit

Director: Amitabh Reza Chowdhury

Cast: Neville Ferdous Hasan, Aupee Karim, Shariful Islam

Streaming on: Hoichoi

‘My feminist wife knows every little detail there is to know about the affair between Simone De Beauvoir and Jena-Paul Sartre … The Second Sex has her literally drooling. I have tried it a few times but could never make it beyond page 3 … 50 Shades is the most I can take … the extent of my knowledge limited to how many underwear I have in my closet – all branded.’

With that scintillating piece of confession, Abdul Kuddus leaves his plush Dhaka home in his station wagon and takes off on a journey, one that might offer him some sort of closure, a different perspective on life … and then again, maybe not, because there’s nothing predictable about Dhaka Metro. Over nine episodes, the series takes the viewer on a ride that employs the tropes of a road movie, yet consistently breaks the stereotypes associated with the genre. What makes it a fascinating viewing experience is the rich tapestry of characters and the incredible set pieces – often bordering on the absurdist – that the filmmakers conjure.

It begins with a young boy (Shariful Islam, the star act of the series) literally forcing himself into Kuddus’s car – a boy who admits to having many names: ‘my father calls me Jamal, my mother Tutul, my sister Tetul, some village elders address me as Salim’s son, others call me “harami”.’ He himself prefers Rahman, the ocean of compassion. A repository of philosophical insights that are as amusing, coming as they do from one so young, as they are simple yet profound, he offers just the right complement to Kuddus’s ‘life sucks’ point of view. Then there’s the woman (Aupee Karim), again multiple names – Jaba, Joygun – escaping after a hatchet job on her husband, or is it her second husband, or has she committed the gruesome killing at all?

There are the incredible sequences – a traffic jam that recalls Godard’s Weekend. A ‘high school’ where students are trained in the art of thievery

Nothing here is quite what it seems – the proceedings a hallucination of some fevered mind. Consider Rahman running to embrace a man as his father who fails recognize him, as does the uncle farming alongside the man. Or the man who comes running after Jaba calling her his wife, while another addresses her as Shabana’s mother. There’s the poet Hasan (Manowar) who drives a truck, and claims to be an old college friend of Kuddus, though the latter is clueless about the man. A moment later, though, he says he had heard that Hasan had died in a road accident. Hasan corrects him – ‘no, I committed suicide’ – before proceeding to take him to a brothel, to celebrate the death of poetry, where we witness the incredible sight of a prostitute having an orgasm even as Hasan recites a poem.

Then there are the incredible sequences – a traffic jam that recalls Godard’s Weekend. A ‘high school’ where students are trained in the art of thievery and whose principal gives Kuddus a lesson in free-market economy and hence the importance of the school: money has to go around for a capitalist society to function and that is what his students are facilitating. A highway hold-up where Kuddus and his co-passengers are relieved of the car at gunpoint, with the robbers quoting the Buddha all the while and sermonizing on the essence of peace and non-violence.

There’s also a village in the back of beyond where an old woman in traditional white strums the guitar and sings Bob Dylan, claiming to be an old friend of the legendary singer, and who refuses to meet him because she disapproves of his relationship with ‘that woman’ Joan Baez! And in an almost Felliniesque ‘thanksgiving lunch’ sequence with the woman singing Dylan, the villagers discuss the merits of Trump vis-à-vis Obama and ‘the curse of America’.

What accentuates the impact of these characters and episodes, which run the risk of but never become gimmicky, is the matter-of-fact, almost offhanded manner in which they reveal themselves

Then, in the most outlandishly hilarious scene of the series, a police officer registering a report on Kuddus’s stolen car (‘How many wheels does it have? Are the wheels round?’) proffers advice on the importance of Vaastu in positioning the toilet in one’s house before going on to expound in graphic detail on the relative merits of German, French and American toilets and how they reflect the national character.

What accentuates the impact of these characters and episodes, which run the risk of but never become gimmicky, is the matter-of-fact, almost offhanded manner in which they reveal themselves. And in keeping with the unpredictable nature of the narrative right through, things taken an unexpected turn in the finale, so that unlike in a road movie, there’s no closure.

If a journey is a means to understanding the self, it can never end. As one of the episodes quotes Proust, ‘The true paradises are paradises we have lost’. These are characters travelling in search of a paradise in a world where all paradises have been lost.

"Shantanu Ray Chaudhuri : Shantanu Ray Chaudhuri is a film buff and editor who has worked with some of India’s best-known authors like Gulzar, Kiran Nagarkar, Manu Joseph, among others. He has also commissioned and published a number of books on cinema which have won the National Award for Best Book on Cinema and the MAMI Award for Best Writing on Cinema and which have been best-sellers. In 2017, he won the Editor of the Year Award, instituted by the apex publishing body, Publishing Next. He is also the author of two books: Whims, a book of poems, and Icons from Bollywood.."
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