I’m on a boat. I’m on a boat. Everybody look at me.
The movie starts out with a group of men carrying a coffin onto a two-level orange ship. On the upper level, a young lady named Dishi takes a photo of the coffin on her cellphone.
A man named Atik walks to the stairway to the upper level with an attendant carrying his luggage, barely noticing the “circus” on the lower level.
Atik gets the room right next to Dishi. As Dishi puts away her phone, Atik gets a call from someone telling him to avoid taking calls from unknown numbers. Atik tells the person on the phone that this is his private, personal number. The person warns him against eating food from the ship on this thirty-hour journey (!), but Atik assures him that he has brought snack. The person says that there will be a driver at the dock for him tomorrow.
A man comes to ask Atik and Dishi for their dinner orders. Atik asks only for ice cubes and Dishi tells him to get the order from her sister and brother-in-law, who are in the room across from the dining area. So the man goes to see Matin and Ayesha, but Matin says that he does not want to get an upset stomach by eating the unhealthy foods on the ship. Well, fine.
Dishi goes back on her phone, texting…someone who has just arrived on the boat while Atik makes another call, yelling at a subordinate for not being able to manage things at work while he is out for a couple of days.
The lower class area of the ship seems rather crowded as more people walk in. Monsur sits down near the cage where the coffin is stored and looks in, until another man, Mofizul, guides him back to the crowded passenger area.
Atik exits his room, only to get pelted in the back with a ball. Ayesha apologizes to Atik for the misbehavior of her young son, Rayan. Atik seems to shrug it off.
Monsur and Mofizul are still walking back to the passenger area when Mofizul decides to call his father. He starts to cry. The coffin on the ship contains the body of his wife, badly burned in a factory fire. Mofizul guides Monsur to a seemingly random spot and has him sit down.
Atik has his factory manager call him discreetly. Atik tells the manager to close the factory and deal with the insurance issues tomorrow. Ah…so…it must have been Atik’s factory that burned down. A little later, he sees Rayan running around as Dishi takes selfies. As they leave, Mofizul appears. Apparently, he is allowed up in the first class section. Actually, not much seems to be preventing anyone from going there.
Mofizul asks Atik whether he is getting down at the last stop. Atik says no and asks why he asked. Mofizul tells Atik that he is a frequent traveler on this ship and am familiar with the regular passengers. He also says that Queen Elizabeth had stayed in the same room that Atik is using on this trip. He is about to continue, but it appears that Atik is not interested, so Mofizul leaves.
The ship finally leaves the harbor, starting its 30-hour trip from Dhaka to Mongla.
After chatting with the…captain?…Mofizul goes back to the masses. He overhears a young man talking about a job test and asks what it is for. Prison Department. Mofizul comments that the man will be around thieves and frauds for life. Fun. It is unclear if he is being sarcastic, but the young man, Saiful, says that it all depends if he qualifies as Mofizul walks away.
It is the evening when Atik receives a phone call. Apparently, the factory manager had been asked why Atik’s phone was switched off as well as the amount of money that he owes to the bank. Additionally, he has been negotiating with the police and managing the media, though they have been a hassle. He assures Atik that there is nothing to worry about.
Mofizul sees a young man checking out a card that another passenger had given to him. A card about…male medication…huh. Mofizul starts talking to him about it…at a volume that is not exactly quiet. He tells the man that the medication sellers are all cheats. He then asks whether the man is married. No. So, Mofizul starts going on about what the scriptures say about how a suitable bride will make everything else unnecessary, following it up with some rather sexist-sounding judgments over a woman’s facial features. It is unclear whether the man believes Mofizul, but he does not say to leave him alone, so Mofizul promises to continue the conversation later.
The factory manager calls Atik again, asking about compensation for the families of the victims. Atik initially says 50,000 taka, which is around $600. The manager says that the families would protest, so Atik doubles it, but specifies no more. The manager asks where he is, and Atik yells that that is none of his business.
Mofizul appears again. Still annoyed, Atik asks what Mofizul’s intentions are. So Mofizul introduces himself as a poet, writer, and herbal practitioner. Still rather skeptical, Atik asks him what he writes. Mofizul lists random stuff, but it appears to fall along the lines of spirituality and self-help. He also says that he can tell a person’s nature by studying his physical features. For instance, Atik’s wide forehead and long neck means that he must be a good person. Well, I am sure that that convinced Atik of Mofizul’s credentials.
Mofizul goes into some…I don’t know…about how a person’s body tells a story of…their past…or something. Atik asks again what he really does. And…uh…it seems like Mofizul is just someone trying to write advice books and weather the age of the internet, though it has been difficult. This includes pretending to be a woman when writing about household chores. Okay…Atik asks him how he makes his living, so Mofizul hands him a business card.
And then it comes. Mofizul notes that passengers can get bored on such long journeys. So, Mofizul can provide them with “educated girls” to keep them company. WHAT?? At this, Atik has finally had enough of Mofizul’s nonsense and throws the card back at him. Finally, Mofizul goes away.
Dishi stops by her sister’s room and Matin tells her that, no that her exams are over, she should come intern for him at his car showroom. She refuses to work at what she calls his garage, looking for a more sophisticated job. Ayesha says instead that there is an attractive proposal for Dishi…for an arranged marriage? He works at Telecom and his photo is on Facebook. Dishi expresses…mild interest.
Mofizul walks over to Monsur, but he appears to be lost in his own despair, so Mofizul goes over to this other guy who is reading something on his phone. He tells the guy to take his hand on his forehead, as that reduces his intelligence. Right…well the guy takes his hand off of his forehead…and puts a blanket over his head so he can look at…porn…well…
The young man from before calls Mofizul back, saying that his philosophies were interesting. So, Mofizul goes over to him and talks about more…stuff about what a woman’s physical features say about her personality as a wife. The young man asks whether these insights are difficult to test before marriage. Mofizul responds that no experiments would be needed with the right wife. That is a completely unhelpful answer. Regardless, Mofizul gives the man a business card.
Speaking of throwing, Rayan throws his ball at Atik again. This time, it is Matin who apologizes to Atik. Atik says that it is okay. And Matin takes that exchange as an opportunity to promote his car business and maybe network a bit. Atik is not all that interested, barely looking up from his phone, but he sits down with Matin’s family, and engages in conversation with Matin…sort of, until he gets another call and leaves, giving Matin an opportunity to complain about his attitude to Ayesha. Ayesha tells him to let it go, but Matin feels like Matin is treating him like a second-class passenger.
Mofizul walks through the “circus” to give some tea and biscuits to Monsur. Monsur shakes his head, but an irritated Mofizul gives him the stuff anyways. Monsur holds the glass of tea in his hand, not even looking at it.
Mofizul walks around so that can sit with Monsur. Monsur finally starts talking, recounting what his wife had shouted over the phone during the minutes before the fire got to her. She was saying that the factory is on fire and they were trapped inside. She told him to take care of their son. At the time, he was trying to rest from his taxi job and did not understand what she meant until he heard all of the screaming. He starts to cry and Mofizul puts a hand on his shoulder. He asks how old his son is. Five. Mofizul says that kids that age can cope with tragedies, so it should be no problem. Dude. Was that supposed to help Monsur feel better? Well, he starts crying even harder. Maybe it helped? I don’t know.
Saiful, the would-be prison guard is on the phone with someone. Apparently, his bribe of 800,000 taka was not enough for the job that was being offered? Well, then how about 1,000,000 when he gets appointed? The person on the phone is just insulted now and hangs up on him. He does some multiplication and finds that at 20,000 a month, it would take four years to get to that amount.
Dishi is outside, when she sees Atik pacing around. She tells him to sit with her. And, so he does. He had mentioned in the conversation with Matin that he owned multiple businesses. Does that mean that he has traveled abroad? Yes. Paris? A couple of times. She says that she wants to study abroad. He asks where she studies. She graduated from Dhaka University, honors in Sociology. She admits that she is not quite sure what she wants to do with her life. She does not want to do a typical job, but do something for the people. So, not her brother-in-law’s car shop. She tells him that she had founded an organization with her friends that collect funds from different sources to help needy people. Atik seems to approve of this, telling her to keep it up. Oh, she gets a call; it is the mystery man. So she gets up and leaves to talk with him privately.
A man approaches Saiful. It is a former acquaintance. He asks whether Saiful finally got the job. Saiful shakes his head. And he will be crossing the age limit (30 or something at the time) for a government job this year. The acquaintance says that Saiful should have come to his office like he had advised. He gives Saiful his card, and goes back to his wife in their cabin.
Saiful goes to his friend to gripe about the guy, saying that the guy had no place to live for a time and that the two of them had to share a bed for a year. And now, he is showing off his status. The friends seems to be more interested in whether the guy’s wife is attractive.
Dinner time with Ayesha’s family. Atik walks by and they invite him to eat with them, but he declines, saying that he will eat in his cabin. Ayesha says that this is all food that they brought with them, as they don’t trust the ship’s food. Atik tells them that he brought snacks that should last him until they arrive at their destination after breakfast. Matin tries to convince him, but is distracted when Rayan tips over a water bottle. Atik takes the opportunity to slip into his cabin. Matin says that Atik looks suspicious.
Atik is having his snacks when he gets another call. Apparently, the fire is being telecast live. Does that mean that it is still going? And thirteen bodies have been identified. There are accusations that the fire was preplanned for the insurance. Atik says that that is nonsense and hangs up. He tries to call the factory manager, but apparently the number is unreachable.
As the ship is docked at a port the mystery man calls Dishi again, wanting to meet her. Dishi tells him that they cannot meet while there are people around. Well, the mystery man comes up anyways, sees Atik right there, and then goes back downstairs. After Atik goes away, the mystery man returns. Oh, we have seen him before. Dishi embraces him outside her cabin, apparently forgetting that Atik also has a window in his own cabin. In any case, the two go into Dishi’s cabin to…ahem…
Outside of the circus where a blindfolded man throws burning knives at a volunteer, Monsur gets a call from his son, who wants to talk to his mother. Monsur stammers for a bit, eventually saying that she is asleep. His son asks if she brought the light-up shoes that she had promised to buy. Monsur turns the phone away as he cries for a bit, but eventually says that she has the shoes. He then says to hand the phone to grandpa, but we don’t hear the rest of the conversation.
Dinner time for the masses. Mofizul notices that Monsur has not been eating, just kind of resting his hand in his food. When he points that out, Monsur stars…moving the food around with his fingers. Well, that is different.
Later on, Mofizul guides a passenger to…uh…I guess one of the educated girls that he had mentioned to Atik. We don’t see where they end up.
But, oh. It sounds like Dishi and the mystery man are still going at it, keeping Atik awake. So, Atik sneaks outside and picks up Mofizul’s business card that was still on the floor. Hmmm…
Well, Rayan is able to sleep despite Matin playing some videogame and letting his phone ring. After some subtly prying comments, Ayesha comes out with it. They should get a mutual divorce. Matin tries to dismiss this, but Ayesha is not having it. She says that she had sold off her jewelry and invested in his business. And now he wants to take all of it to Canada? Of course, that is not the only issue, but that will come later.
And…erm…it looks like Atik did spend some time with one of Mofizul’s educated girls.
The ship has stopped. The mystery man starts to panic a bit. Have they arrived at their destination? He needs to get dressed and leave. Dishi asks how long will they have to keep doing this. The mystery man says that they can talk about this later, but he needs to return to Dhaka. And he leaves.
Well, the morning comes and the ship is stuck. It is difficult to see anything in this fog. Only a few people are awake at this time, but the ship had better start moving soon.
This movie is based on two short stories called Moulik (Original) and Saipras (Cyprus) Shahaduz Zaman. I am not sure which parts of the movie are from which story, though. Since there are so many characters with their own storylines that could have taken place off of the ship, it is difficult for me to tell without knowing the two short stories.
This is one of the first movies from Bangladesh that was made available on Netflix. It is a bit of an interesting choice, as it is not a comedy, action adventure, or romance. But, perhaps it was picked due to it having a subplot that concerns factory fires, which, unfortunately, may be the one thing that most people in the West may think of when they hear about Bangladesh. It is not really about the fire itself, but about how people in the country react to it and deal with it.
Monsur is, of course, utterly destroyed. Perhaps there are others on the ship who lost someone in the fire…or in a fire. Atik is trying to get away from the consequences of it. And there are others who are sad about it, or at least understand that it is bad. But, this one turns out to be a relatively low-casualty one compared to others. It is only in the discussion because it is the most recent. Yes, it is terrible, but for the people of Bangladesh, life goes on. Except for the lives that don’t. How many people even know about the coffin on the ship with them?
Pretty much the entirety of the movie takes place on this paddle steamer. And, it is a real ship, around 100-years-old maybe. And this took place on a real trip from Dhaka to Mongla. At least one trip. I have no idea what route it is taking, but it is a normal route, apparently. Whether Queen Elizabeth actually rode in that room, I don’t know. So, that means that the design of the boat was real, that much of the crew was genuine, and that some of the passengers were genuine passengers. It also meant that there were some restrictions that the movie had to work around which may have affected the plot, though I am not sure what they could be. I also am unsure how much of real life affected the film.
Using a genuine trip gives the overall movie a dash of authenticity. The people just sitting around or milling around, and especially the “circus” performers and the crowd around them. The people on the shore. The other boats. It also means that there was little cheating in terms of the setting and the space. I may not always get exactly where certain areas are in relation to other areas (it is a little difficult to figure out what is the lower level and what is the back end of the upper level), but it all seems to fit, unlike with other movies where the setting is integral to the story Sometimes that stuff is in the background and sometimes it is foregrounded to imply the passage of time. If that makes the main actors stick out a little bit, well…it is an acceptable trade. And it can sometimes be fun noticing which background character ends up playing a part upon rewatch.
The actors appear to represent the various classes in Bangladesh. Atik and Dishi’s family appear to be of the upper classes, though it may be that Dishi and Ayesha come from money, while Atik and Matin are nouveau riche, with slightly less than secure status. There are the various young men like Saifal who are struggling to move up. There is Mofizul who can hustle his way on all levels, even the captain on the tippity top level. Then there is Monsour, a working man with few prospects beyond what he has. It would have been nice for some of the lower class women (or even some of the “educated girls”) to be featured as a balance to both the men and the upper-class women, but I guess that that was not to be.
The characters are familiar. Matin is a go-getter businessman and his wife is put-upon, investing her interests into their son. Dishi is a rather social media-obsessed young woman whose kind-hearted intentions may be undermined by her own self-centeredness. Mofizul is supposedly a spiritual expert who turns out to be a pimp; if he is not an outright fraud, then he is at least a hypocrite with a severe case of cognitive dissonance when it comes to helping people. Monsour is just the suffering poor man. Atik is…kind of a new character. He is a mean business owner and…arguably a murderer, but he seems very quiet and understated. His demeanor, in addition to his clothes, do not really fit the stereotype of a wealthy person. Plus, he does seem to be haunted by the fire and his own complicity, but much of his struggle is internal, something that he tries to hide from others.
Now, one could ask why a rich person would take a 30-hour trip from Dhaka to Mongla on a boat where they don’t trust the food provided when they could have taken an 8-hour car trip or a flight to Barisal and then a car trip to Mongla that would total 3 hours. Yes, I did look this up. But, again, there are signs that both Atik and Matin may not be quite as wealthy as they present themselves. And…maybe the laid-back scenic route of the ship ride was preferable to a comparatively quick car trip. And, barring a private helicopter ride to Kolkata in India and then just disappearing, perhaps Atik considered this the best way to keep a low profile.
There is also a through-line of exams. All of the young people seem to be caught up in exams, since it pertains to their job prospects. The young men in the lower classes fret about it. Dishi kind of worries about it. Even Ayesha gets upset when she learns that Rayan fared not as well on a test than one of his schoolmates did. But it seems to be important only officially, and the results of it can be affected by bribes. Corruption is everywhere, and practically an open secret. Dishi seems to have her whole life ahead of her, but mostly because her family’s money allows for all of these paths to be open to her, and that every good intention that she may have is nonetheless standing some sketchy foundations. Is the whole society based on lies and delusion?
It is difficult for me to exactly get a bead on whether the director is trying to say something about corruption in Bangladeshi society, or even judgment about the characters themselves. Yet, there is a clear air of anger throughout the film. Is it angry at the rich? At the government? At a people who accept this status quo? Whatever it is, it threatens to trap everyone in it and engulf them all.
Yeah, I like this movie.
WTF ASIA 177: The Shadow Within (Japan: 1970, approx. 98 minutes)
WTF ASIA 178: The King of Masks (China: 1996, approx. 101 minutes)