Director: Mostofa Sarwar Farooki
Actors: Irrfan Khan, Nusrat Imrose Tisha, Parno Mittra, Rokeya Prachi, Rashad Hossain
Streaming on: Netflix
I have not read Humayun Ahmed, but I'm familiar with the following the late Bangladeshi author has among readers in West Bengal. His Himu, a Dhaka-based nomad who likes to wear pocketless, yellow panjabi, is a cult—so is Misir Ali, another of his creations. In Bangladesh, Ahmed was a national figure, whose works are part of school textbooks. He also lived dangerously: he married a woman the same age as his daughter when he was 57, leaving behind his first wife and children. Ahmed passed away in 2012—he was suffering from colon cancer.
A couple of years later, Mostofa Sarwar Farooki, one of the leading independent filmmaking voices from Bangladesh, decided to make a film loosely based on the last few years of Ahmed's personal life—even though Farooki has officially denied to call it a biopic. In a casting coup, he got Irrfan Khan to play the character and the film, made in 2017, ran into trouble with the Censor board in Bangladesh, and for some reason never got shown in India. Last year, Irrfan died of cancer. This week, the film has dropped on Netflix and somehow, the film has turned out to be a lot less interesting than this backstory.
For one, it remains completely uninterested in the character's inner, creative life—he is a filmmaker here, and his name is Javed Hasan. It's a deliberate choice on Farooki's part, who wants to focus on the aftermath of such a transgressive act on Javed's family members: his wife (Rokeya Prachy), daughter (Nusrat Imrose Tisha) and son (Rashad Hossain)—and to an extent, his girlfriend (Parno Mittra), but I'm not sure if it serves the film well. You see Irrfan's character largely in relation to these people—'It's like he was born in the age of 50,' says his daughter, Saberi—but you get little insight into the individual.
Irrfan does wonders with what little he's got…There's a carefreeness in the performance that's a testimony to the level of comfort he had achieved with the medium in his final years
Irrfan does wonders with what little he's got, whether it's him smoking a rolled cigarette alone at the dinner table or an ill-tempered shout at a servant. The Bangla accent takes its time to settle in, but he finds an organic way to make it his own, by holding on to the phonetics and the rhythms of the language. There's a carefreeness in the performance that's a testimony to the level of comfort he had achieved with the medium in his final years, seemingly unaware of the camera, but hypnotising you with his presence.
At one point, Javed quips to his wife, as they walk down the slope of a hill, lamenting that their life has become like an 'art film'. I cracked up because that's exactly what the film had begun to feel like; Farooki trades his fresh, inventive visual style we had seen (in films like Television and Ant Story) for something sedate and decidedly 'artsy', and despite this moment of self-reflexive honesty, the movie doesn't quite transcend that artsiness. It feels strangely unemotional—a bit sad, given that Doob deals with a theme right up the filmmaker's alley: the desires of the human heart.