Push Cart Vendor Turns Hollywood Star
|Life is indeed stranger than fiction. The recent award-winning film Man Push Cart is a story about an immigrant Pakistani rock singer, who is reduced to pushing a coffee and donut vending cart in Manhattan. Ahmad Razvi, who plays this role, is a non-actor who in real life did push a coffee cart – and has now become a Hollywood star, winning international awards for his acting!|
Razvi, who lived with relatives in Pakistan, came to New York when he was six years old to join his parents who had immigrated earlier and then scrimped and saved to bring their three children over. The family lived in the kitchen of their pizza joint, as they did not have enough money to rent an apartment.
“It was so exciting. I thought New York City –snow and tall buildings!” he recalls, ” I didn’t know the difference if I was in a kitchen or in a bed.”
Gradually the family moved to a friend’s home and then to an apartment in the projects in Brooklyn. Life was hard in the gritty projects and when he was 12, Razvi worked a paper route, waited on tables after school, and helped his father in the grocery store they owned. He was even a pushcart vendor for a year.
“I wanted to go to college, but I couldn’t, so I worked with the transit authority, waited on tables, did odd jobs and landed up starting my own construction company and from there it grew,” he says. The construction company, with his brothers as partners, was successful and he also opened a small restaurant: “We had big dreams and goals for our life and we were always aiming higher. The toughest thing is being proud and maintaining who you are.”
Then 9/11 happened and life changed for the Pakistani community in Brooklyn. There were gunshots in the neighborhood and even his restaurant was shot at. He says, “People were scared to come out and walk the streets.” There were arrests and deportations, and he and his father, who is a community leader, co-founded COPO (Council of Pakistani Organizations) to assist the Pakistani community. Razvi himself started a basketball program to help South Asian kids.
It was during these dark days that Iranian-American filmmaker Ramin Bahrani, who used to frequent his restaurant, offered him the lead role in his independent film, which was inspired by Razvi’s life. This powerful film has had rave reviews, and Razvi seems to have finally achieved his American Dream – recognition with his very first film, which has been shown in 15 countries and has won six awards. He’s already working in two more, including Train Wreck, a Hollywood film.
“It’s making such a big change in my life. It’s a big turnaround. I never thought I’d be acting,” says Ahmad Razvi. “I’m there now. But I want to make a difference, I want to show what desi people are all about, why we are labeled this way and stereotyped. I want to walk away from all that.”