LIFF 2018 Special Review: Doob: No Bed of Roses

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London 24 June – 6.30pm Genesis Cinema
Birmingham 25 June – 8.30pm The Mockingbird Cinema & Kitchen

“Why does your father always cast you in his films?” a young Nitu asks Saberi as the two eat from their lunch boxes. “If you want, I’ll ask him to cast you next time,” Saberi tells her friend. When the camera pans left and right again, we see the two girls as young women, sitting on the edge of an auditorium balcony at their school reunion, the strain of talking to each other evident. What caused that rift between them is what Doob sets out to explore.

Flashback to seven years earlier, when Saberi is on a trip with her family: her father, well-regarded filmmaker Javed Hassan (Irrfan Khan); her mother, Maya (Rokeya Prachy); and her brother, Ahir (Rahad Hossain). Saberi is clearly devoted to both her parents, though it’s immediately obvious that she’s trying to patch some problem between them, as she advises her father that his “heroine” is only trying to make things right, so he should make an effort, and advising her mother on what to wear to go out for a long walk with her husband.

Javed spends the walk reminiscing about when they first got married, calling it the best time of his life, but Maya wonders why everything he says is about the past, as if they have no present or future as a couple, a comment that knocks Javed into utter silence, unable to form a response. Because for Javed, their life is “such a drab arthouse movie,” “impossibly beautiful and uncertain.” Life becomes much less drab and much more uncertain when the family returns to the Bangladeshi capital, Dhaka, where a scandal brews surrounding Javed’s latest film – his debutant actress, Nitu (it seems that Saberi made good on her promise to ask her father to cast her friend in a film), decides to leave his film, causing an uproar because she has revealed to the press that she has developed a “special friendship” – a phrase loaded with meaning – with the director.

The morning the scandal breaks in the paper, Javed finds himself alone in the house, calling out to his wife, wondering where his tea is. His family has abandoned him, setting out for Maya’s mother’s home. Javed goes to get them, wondering why they would have left without even speaking to him. A furious Javed calls the editor of the newspaper that broke the story – wondering why, when they are friends, when Javed has helped him out in the past, that he would allow such lies to be printed about his family. And though Javed denies any special relationship with Nitu, Maya’s accusations and distrust cause only arguments in an already fractured marriage. Despite Javed’s assurances there is nothing between himself and Nitu, Nitu’s actions (sending Javed a lunchbox, sneaking over the balcony at the film city where Javed has chosen to stay in order, as he says, to give his family time to heal) are enough to suggest that even if it were true before the story broke, that might not be so after the fact, and when Javed finally marries Nitu and moves her into the new family home (which his wife and children have left), Javed, his family, and Nitu end up caught in a whirlpool of emotions and deceits that threatens to drown them all.

The irony in all of this is that Maya, Ahir and Saberi, having cut ties with their husband/father, learn to live on their own and become happier in the end. Maya becomes a teacher, and her children learn to appreciate her more than they did when she was married to their father. Nitu, on the other hand, becomes spiteful and sharp-tongued, ordering changes in the household decoration in order to efface what were Maya’s choices, annoyed with Javed buying his daughter an iPad (which Saberi refuses to accept).

Doob stands in contrast to director Mostofa Sarwar Farooki’s previous two films, Television and Ant Story – not only because those films used black, occasionally surreal comedy to convey their messages about contemporary Bangladeshi society. Doob sees Farooki take a step forward as a director – things that were hinted at in the earlier films (the use of camera angles, for example) are used to much greater effect. Farooki also benefits from an exceptionally talented and polished cast – not the least of which is reknowned and respected actor Irrfan Khan. It would have been easy to make Javed into a lecherous middle-aged man only interested in his daughter’s classmate; Khan brings his typical grace to a role that makes us see not only Javed’s massive flaws as a father and husband, but also allows us to appreciate that this is a man who is also profoundly unhappy and lonely.

Even if that cannot justify his relationship with his daughter’s friend, we understand that his actions will, in the end, leave him separated from his family. Javed attempts to contact his daughter, but one phone call, in which he begs her to speak with him, echoes an earlier conversation, before the scandal hit, in which Javed suggests that, “God allows people to die when they lose communication with their loved ones.” Javed’s ex-wife and children allow that communication to come to an end; life for them moves on. Life for Javed does not.

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