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It’s surely a coincidence that a few doors down in the Dubai multiplex from The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, the small Bangladeshi film Ant Story tells a parallel tale about Mithu, an incorrigible daydreamer from the Third World who gets ever more embroiled in his fantasies. Though very different from director Mostofa Sarwar Farooki’s much-lauded Television, it opens up another vein of wry comedy based on real-world characters and situations. A welcome push comes from entertaining neophyte actor Noor Imran Mithu as the fantasist, whose well-meaning but cloying ways drive a famous actress (played by Indian actress and model Sheena Chohan) comically over the edge. There’s no great pay-off here, but given Farooki’s status as a maverick Southeast Asian director, this indie should stand a good chance of circulating.
Actually Mithu is such a well-rounded local character that he probably was created with no help from James Thurber. We meet him skulking around a street market looking for a cell phone. When a shady character offers to sell him stolen goods, he attempts to con the thief. A jobless college grad who lives in the suburbs with his parents, he’s roped into selling shares in a Ponzi scheme, and proves so adept at it he’s promoted. But his big break comes when he gets a call on the hot phone he’s just bought. The angry owner is a sexy movie star named Reema (Chohan), who demands her phone back. He politely complies, but first copies a compromising video of her and her boyfriend.
The dance of manipulation between Reema and Mithu is the heart of the film and brings out the worst in both of them. Threatening to post the video on You Tube and ruin her career, Mithu worms his way into her home and her life. First he forces her to pose as his fiancée to make his ex-girlfriend jealous. Then when he catches her at home alone, he proposes they play “husband and wife” in a long set piece that’s both laugh-out-loud funny and somehow poignant. The tacky décor is a perfect counterpoint for his deadpan fantasy enactment, recalling Todd Solondz in a calm moment.
Though he’s a liar, a blackmailer and a giant pest, Mithu is so utterly human it’s impossible not to feel sorry for the guy, though this is a far cry from caring about his fate. After he dreams that ants are crawling all over his face, things take a bleaker turn and the film ends on an almost realistic note. The door is left open a crack, however. After all, Mithu still has a carton of SIM cards at home waiting to launch his next fantasy.
Farooki is very good at pushing humor to the edge of pathos without letting it fall in, abetted by the casting coup of the utterly natural non-pro Noor Imran Mithu. As his nemesis and fantasy wife, Reema is flashy stuff but over-the-top.
The film also winks its eye at bigger, if equally unlikely, national daydreams in the slogan, “Let’s bid farewell to poverty by 2017!”
Venue: Dubai Film Festival (Muhr AsiaAfrica Feature competition)
Production companies: Chabial, Impress Telefilm
Cast: Noor Imran Mithu, Sheena Chohan, Sabbir Hasan Likhon, Mohini Mow
Director/Screenwriter: Mostofa Sarwar Farooki
Producer: Mostofa Sarwar Farooki
Director of photography: Golam Maola Nobir
Editors: Mostofa Sarwar Farook, Khaled Mahmud Rajon
Music: Armanul Hoque, Hridoy Khan
No rating, 93 minutes
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