Reviewed by: James Gracey

Based on the Danish cult film of the same name, Pusher is a gripping, hard edged crime drama which, like its source material, pulls no punches in its depiction of drug dealing and the seedy underbelly of society where it takes place. Drug pusher Salim (Assad Raja) becomes increasingly desperate after a botched deal leaves him with a large debt to merciless drug lord Davar (Marc Anwar). Throughout the course of one week, Salim goes to increasingly fraught lengths to attempt to pay him back before time runs out and he must suffer the hefty consequences.

While director Raja sticks closely to the narrative of the original film, particularly in its matter of fact depiction of the dank and sordid world of drug dealing, his reinterpretation stands apart with its backdrop of a tightly knit British Asian community – a community often depicted as one poised precariously on the brink of tearing itself apart due to generational conflict. Raja’s London-based, Hindi-language film also differs with the inclusion of a sub plot involving Salim’s tragic family history and a less ambiguous denouement; but one which still hints at eventual redemption.

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Far from being as exploitative as its subject matter could potentially allow, the film depicts, in a more or less realistic and non-preachy fashion, how drugs and gangs are a detrimental force. Pusher in no way glamorises its subject matter; instead Raja opts to depict proceedings in taut, handheld close-up, thrusting us into the midst of ensuing chaos and despair. Oddly enough, the film’s tone and stripped bare representation of the knock-on effects of drugs has resulted in it being banned from some independent cinemas in Mumbai. A statement issued from the Abu Hanifa mosque stated that “the content of the film – sex, drugs, gambling and violence – defy Islamic teachings and will simply harm,” a message Raja reiterates in a straight-up, blunt and, at times, brutal manner.

Pusher is further bolstered by a compelling performance from its director/co-writer, as Salim, a likable, though ultimately flawed rogue, who becomes increasingly submerged in dangerous circumstances beyond his control. He decided apparently to embark on the project after becoming frustrated with the British film industry and its lack of decent roles for British Asian actors. The film’s gritty, frenetic style lends it a very realistic tone, while the soundtrack is coloured with a lively fusion of bhangra music and hip-hop style grooves.

While Raja never outwardly condemns Salim - his actions are shown to convey an increasingly desperate and scared young man - he presents the character as a realistic and ultimately damaged individual with more than a tinge of tragic pathos. His backstory is gradually revealed, ensuring that while the audience might not completely sympathise with him, they are at least able to view him as a fully rounded person who suffers the consequences of the bad choices he has made. Raja is backed by a reliable and convincing cast, including Bollywood star Mahima Chaudhry, as Salim's long suffering girlfriend, and Pusher marks him as one of the more interesting filmmaking talents emerging on the British scene at the moment.

Reviewed on: 14 Oct 2010
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Asian pusher has one week to find the money he owes a ruthless London drugs lord.
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Director: Assad Raja

Writer: Jens Dahl, Assad Raja, based on the original screenplay by Nicolas Winding Refn

Starring: Assad Raja, Mahima Chaudhry, Marc Anwar, Pasha Bocarie, Mohammad Zadran, Lalita Ahmed, Munir Bolia, Charu Bala Chokshi, Saima Khan, Alyy Khan, Natalie Pandya, Ahmad Riaz, Mani Liaqat, Daljit Singh, Omar Zaman

Year: 2010

Runtime: 107 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted

Country: UK


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