"How long you been here?" the successful businessman asks the fellow Pakistani immigrant who is serving his coffee from behind one of the silver push carts that populate New York's street corners. "Much too long," answers Ahmad (Ahmad Razvi), and the other guy says that he hears that before going on his way.
But Mohammad, the businessman (Charles Daniel Sandoval), doesn't hear a thing. From the comfort of his spacious Sixth Avenue apartment, it's hard to imagine the tedious routine Ahmad goes through every day. Before the crack of dawn, he picks up his cart at a garage, pushes it through the traffic to his spot, doles out tea and bagels all day long, and then takes the train back to Brooklyn after dark. Sometimes, he spies on his young son, who has been living with the in-laws since his wife's death.
Things seem to look up for Ahmad when Mohammad finally realizes why Ahmad looks so familiar: ten years ago, the push cart man had a hit CD in Pakistan, and Mohammad, already speed-dialing his well-connected Desi friends, promises he'll get Ahmad's music career back on track. In the meantime, would he mind painting Mohammad's apartment? The in-laws still won't let him see his son, but on his evening rounds selling porno DVDs for extra cash, Ahmad falls for a cute Spanish newsstand girl (Leticia Dolera.)
Ramin Bahrani's tale of stoic suffering makes a visual metaphor out of the title--like Sisyphus, Ahmad keeps pushing his burden uptown, but every night, the cart returns to where it came from. The melancholy story is told with empathy and restraint; Ahmad's unmoving face is a mask of loss, but he never lets go of his dignity.