Directed by: Mostofa Sarwar Farooki || Produced by: Abdul Aziz, Irrfan Khan, Ashok Dhanuka, Himanshu Dhanuka
Screenplay by: Mostofa Sarwar Farooki || Starring: Irrfan Khan, Nusrat Imrose Tisha, Rokeya Prachy, Parno Mittra
Music by: Chirkutt, Pavel Areen || Cinematography: Sheikh Rajibul Islam || Edited by: Momin Biswas || Country: Bangladesh, India || Language: Bengali, English
Running Time: 105 minutes
Though I have seen well over a hundred South Asian films at this point, the number of non-exclusively Indian productions from the subcontinent I’ve watched is at a whopping count of two (2): A Nepali heist movie called Loot (2012) and Bangladeshi filmmaker Mostofa Sarwar Farooki’s No Bed of Roses (even then, the latter film still counts as an Indian coproduction). India’s multiple film industries produce more features than any other national film culture on the planet, but its utter dominance over the South Asian film market is hard to understate. Aside from India’s massive and still growing population (over 1.42 billion as of this essay), the country’s rich musical heritage combined with its broad demographic sphere of dozens of ethnolinguistic groups allow its film industries to appeal to the entire South Asian diaspora.
I have struggled to find convenient distribution networks for Pakistani, Nepali, Sri Lankan, and Bangladeshi films as an outsider to the Indian subcontinent myself; even filesharing torrent sites are slim pickings with these types of movies. No Bed of Roses represents one of a handful of films from those countries that (1) was available to me in some form on the Internet (Netflix in this case) and (2) whose description appealed to me enough to take a chance on it (lead and late actor Irrfan Khan as a famous Dhaka filmmaker whose marital infidelity tears his family apart). As usual, social dramas from smaller regional industries with those types of premises resemble the independent film festival favorites from elsewhere, including the West (Roses premiered at the Shanghai International Film Festival and was Bangladesh’s Best Foreign Language Film submission to the 2018 Oscars); I remain split on whether to deride this picture as pretentious, slow-moving awards-bait or commend Farooki for his tasteful, realistic depiction of a nuclear family falling apart as the result of a patriarchal affair. Like most socially transgressive yet cinematographically inconsistent festival darlings, the cinematic truth perhaps lies somewhere in the middle.
Bangladeshis will no doubt note the narrative’s resemblance to the tabloid marital controversies of the late venerable Bangla scholar, writer, and filmmaker, Humayun Ahmed, who in 2004 left his original family at age 56 to marry actress Meher Afroz Shaon, over 30 years his junior and whom he first met as a teenaged actress in the 1990s. This classical homewrecker scandal is the throughline of Roses, where Khan becomes involved with the friend/rival (a distasteful yet somehow relatable Parno Mitra) of his college-age daughter (a multilayered performance by Farooki’s wife, Nusrat Imrose Tisha) and throws his family into chaos. Khan’s diegetic wife, Rokeya Prachy, and son, Rashad Hossain, both give understated, sad performances compared to the more active, fiery characters played by Khan, Mitra, and Tish, and in some ways feel like audience surrogates given their passive yet sympathetic nature.
In terms of visual language, most sequences are well composed and maintain stylistic consistency throughout the narrative, though I remain frustrated by the amount of unnecessary handheld camerawork for this otherwise quaint drama. The use of unconventional building architecture in both indoor and outdoor scenes is also memorable, dovetailing with creative blocking to either juxtapose the emotional distance between characters or emphasize the closeness of their relationship. Last but not least, Farooki weaves multiple time-jumps and flashbacks within sequences via camera pans, such as when a shot of Khan’s living room whips from Mitra settling into her role as his new wife to Khan’s death several years later, where numerous funeral guests recite Islamic prayers and Mitra now sobs with a four year-old son.
Those time-jumps are also a source of Rose’s biggest problems. Beyond critiques like the cheapness of the aforementioned handheld camerawork and Khan’s overwhelming English dialogue compared to the native Bangladeshi castmembers’ majority-Bengali dialogue, what kneecaps Roses for me is its clumsy nonlinear storytelling. I don’t know whether most of the flashbacks to earlier, happier times in Khan’s family were scripted in advance or created through post-production editing, but the entire first act (~40 minutes) of the film is nearly impossible to follow; we don’t know most of the characters yet, their personalities are not contrasted well to start, and the pretentious monologues by Khan in conjunction with the vague edits make the passage of time between scenes unclear. Maybe this hazy, stream-of-consciousness storytelling was intentional, but if so, that was an asinine directorial decision.
Mostofa Farooki’s No Bed of Roses is an interesting piece of filmmaking about an identifiable controversy of Bangladeshi popular culture, which thankfully doubles as a universal human premise whose thematic impacts can be appreciated outside the Bengali diaspora. At the same time, I don’t see this movie appealing too far beyond the arthouse crowd and, given its somewhat incoherent direction, I’m not sure that it deserves to; the performances are strong across the board and the story finishes well, but it’s debatable whether the film’s cinematographic style meshes with that story enough of the time. Put another way, Roses doesn’t encourage me to explore South Asian cinema much further outside India’s established filmmaking industries.
SUMMARY & RECOMMENDATION: With a juicy yet tragic premise and a relatable cast, No Bed of Roses dissects marital infidelity’s effects on the nuclear family like Paddleton (2019) analyzes assisted suicide or Like Father, Like Son (2013) breaks down accidental child adoption.
— However… unlike a Paddleton or Like Father, Like Son, Roses’ direction and feature-length editing can’t get out of their story’s way and dull the emotional impact of the core premise.
—> ON THE FENCE
? I see three Bengali-language performances in Irrfan Khan’s filmography. Is he fluent in the language?
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