Ant Story (2013)

Review #1,122

Director:  Mostofa Sarwar Farooki
Cast:  Noor Imran Mithu, Sheena Chohan, Mukit Zakaria
Plot:  Every day on the way back to his suburban home, Mithu, a struggling young graduate, looks towards the dazzling city of Dhaka.  As he feels he has no chance of being a part of that world, he embarks on a journey of faking, lying and fantasizing.  He finds immense pleasure in his own world, because 'truth is what one has, while lies are what one creates'.

Genre:  Comedy / Drama
Awards:  -
Runtime:  93min
Rating:  PG

Ant Story is, according to writer-director Mostafa Sarwar Farooki in a post-screening dialogue, a "spiritual sequel" to last year's critical hit from Bangladesh, Television (2012).  The latter dealt with themes of censorship and the imagination, of the restriction of action and the freedom of thinking, all under the context of a Bangladeshi village with an ultra-conservative chief. 

In Ant Story, the setting is changed to the urban city, where a young middle-class man called Mithu (Noor Imran Mithu) faces an unprecedented situation in his life: he buys a mobile phone from a stranger only to find out that it is stolen property belonging to a famous homegrown actress. 

Stuck in the vicious cycle that is the fraudulent multi-level marketing business, Mithu eyes an opportunity to get rich faster by blackmailing the actress.  Not to mention if she doesn't agree, Mithu will release an explicit video in her phone to the public.

That is the gist of Ant Story, but its execution is not merely a straightforward narrative. Farooki injects moments of black humour, many of which are characteristically sharp, and explore themes of reality and imagination, in this case, of acting and manipulation to the main character's advantage, or is it to his detriment?  It is another vicious cycle, one that has far more devastating consequences. 

Operating like a free-wheeling comedy, Ant Story seems set up to be an entertaining allegory of the Bangladeshi middle-class' attitudes and aspirations.  However, I feel it struggles to fulfill its potential.  The film doesn't quite engage as consistently as Television did, and there are some stretches in Ant Story that I was left disinterested.

The lead casting, however, is spot-on.  Farooki said that he cast his leading actor because of his eyes, and to some extent, those unblinking, staring eyes coax us to focus on his on-screen interactions with his fellow cast.  His performance is quite excellent, and occasionally he would remind me of Clive Owen. 

As a friend whom I first met at the Singapore premiere of Television at the Perspectives Film Festival 2013, I look forward to seeing Farooki's next project, No Land's Man.  I maintain my opinion that Television was the better film, more culturally rich and a breath of fresh air from the new Bangladeshi independent filmmaking scene. 

Ant Story lacks that spirit, though it is not lacking in intent.  As far as I'm concerned, Farooki is perhaps the most important voice to emerge from that part of the world in the last five years.  I look forward to meeting him again.

Verdict:  It struggles to fulfill its potential, but it is not without writer-director Farooki’s characteristically sharp humour and penchant for excellent casting.


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