|Ahmad Razvi and pushcart.|
Ahmad has a son that's been taken out of his life. He desperately wants to reconnect and live with his son. All the monotonous work is fueled by that desire. He has other personal issues that are revealed later in the film.
Ahmad does odd jobs such as painting for a customer. This customer-turned-employer realizes that Ahmad was popular back home (Pakistan) and suddenly he's Ahmad's best friend and he's trying to make things happen for Ahmad, and himself.
All these threads track in realistic and affecting ways. Ultimately, the film is good at what it is.
Part II: The Bechdel Test and Man Push Cart
Bechdel Test: The Bechdel test asks if a work of fiction features at least two women who talk to each other about something other than a man. The requirement that the two women must be named is sometimes added (Wikipedia).
This film fails. So, does that mean Roger Ebert failed his readers. Is this film bullshit? Only in the most all-encompassing sense. The fact is that the Bechdel test is too lenient and too strict. Too lenient because one scene where two or more women talk about non-man topics out of an entire movie is still pretty limiting. Too strict because sometimes the subject doesn't allow for women in such doses: The Shawshank Redemption, Escape from Alcatraz, Papillon, and any male prison film, generally.
Plus, what about The Thing? Sure women could be present like in the prequel but that doesn't stop Carpenter's film from rocking the hell out of an auditorium nor many women from loving it. Furthermore, Carpenter's Halloween had massive helpings of girl-on-girl screen time although much was boy talk (written by the woman, Debra Hill), but not all was boys.
Back to Man Push Cart, this film is told from a closed perspective. To have a conversation between two or more women and separate character arcs doesn't fit the model of this story. Indeed, they could have done Woman Push Cart, maybe they should have. However, the real sad thing is that there are plenty of men out there whose realities don't include women or much women. So if the stories of those men are to be done justice, then we have to endure the bleak, testosterone heavy wastelands of their lives.
All this said, I didn't really enjoy Man Push Cart, precisely because it is so bleak. Once was enough for me.
Even Quentin Tarantino, popular among women for writing so many interesting women characters, tends to fail the Bechdel test. Death Proof, however, passes with flying colors. Yes, I'd like cinema and the audience to realize just how cool and interesting women can be. And the women need to get on the ball, no more sideline criticism. Either more women need to write or more women need to spend much more time with writers.
Yet, as a discriminating actress, and as a writer looking to be a better citizen, it's a great rule for it's practicality and simplicity.