This post first appeared on Totally Filmi on September 1, 2011.
“I come from a long line of poor and stupid coolies,” says Dhani, not without some bitterness. It’s a bitterness that’s justified: Dhani’s father left Trinidad for Canada, promising to bring Dhani and his mother later, leaving them with little more than the family doubles business (doubles — two flat breads filled with channa — being the tasty street food of Trinidad and Tobago). Dhani’s bike doubles as his stand, and one day just before Christmas, he gets a request for doubles with slight pepper, and looks up to discover the man making the order is his father.
Dhani is angry, guarded – and suspicious, figuring his father must want something. And he’s right. His father has a request, and it’s a request that will not only re-open old wounds, but that will, ultimately, lead to a kind of grudging forgiveness.
Director Ian Harnarine packs a lot into this short film. Dhani’s father is not the only one with an ulterior motive here – Dhani and his mother agree to let him stay for a few days, because they need to figure out how to get him to sign over the house to them, a house, as Dhani’s father proudly says, built on doubles money. Dhani confesses that the doubles business isn’t doing well. “If doubles not selling, then something wrong,” says Dhani’s father.
Turns out, Dhani doesn’t know the secret ingredient for the channa filling. “You always made the channa,” says Dhani’s mother.
When I first read the film’s title, Doubles With Slight Pepper, I was curious. Firstly, I wasn’t familiar with what doubles were, despite the fact that Mr. Totally Filmi’s family hails from Trinidad (he did, however, try to explain “Shark and Bake” to me, but I’m not sold). But I was curious — and as I confessed to Ian Harnarine, I have a kind of obsession with chickpeas, so I had to go find out more. Turns out there’s a small shop here in the University town I live in – a shop that “sells roti and doubles to white folks”, much like the one Dhani’s father dreamed about running with his family. And you know what?
Doubles are tasty. They are filling, they are the kind of perfect quick snack you can pick up on the run, or, as in my town, on a late night after the bars close just to sustain you ‘til you get home. Doubles, I’ve discovered, are kind of the ultimate comfort food, tasty and filling and just a bit spicy — if you order them with slight pepper, that is.
So it’s no surprise then, that the doubles form the core of Harnarine’s film. Doubles that build a house, doubles that sustain a son and his mother, doubles that a worried mother gives her son to eat, doubles that bring a father and son back together, even if a little grudgingly.
Ian Harnarine’s Doubles With Slight Pepper is a gem of a short film,. It’s spare, with a story and dialogues that pack emotional weight. “All I want to do is look you in the eye,” says Dhani to his father, “and make sure I don’t see myself.”
The performances, too: Sanjiv Bhoodu as Dhani strikes the right notes, from bitterness to anger to hope to resignation, all with a great deal of subtlety.
Errol Sitahal is lovely as Dhani’s father, dropping back into his family’s life almost as if he’d never left, yet showing subtle moments of regret and realization of the distance that actually separates them.
Dhani’s mother (Susan Abraham Hannays) nicely serves as a bridge between father and son, practical and tender by turns.
Absolutely. And I highly suggest you watch the doubles, too.
Ian Harnarine’s Doubles With Slight Pepper will have its World Premier at this year’s Toronto International Film Festival, screening on Monday, September 12th at 6 p.m. at TIFF Bell Lightbox 3, and on Tuesday, September 13th at 3:30 p.m., also at TIFF Bell Lightbox 3.