Review Hindi

Nakkash review: Contrived narrative about a Muslim craftsman in Benares

Release Date: 31 May 2019 / Rated: U/A / 01hr 44min

Read in: Hindi

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Sonal Pandya

The film by Zaigham Imam does raise important questions but fails to point to any answers.

Inaamulhaq's Allah Rakha Siddiqui is a rare sight in Zaigham Imam's Nakkash. The talented artiste engraves the walls of Hindu temples and is a trusted worker at a temple supervised by Vedantji (Kumud Mishra). Allah Rakha is just the latest in a long line of craftsmen from his family who do this work; they are a rare breed.

But in the new reality of Benares, where communal strife is on the rise, thanks to political machinations, Allah Rakha is ostracized by his community for choosing to work in a temple; his son is refused admission in a madrassa. The widower, though hurt, carries on because he does not differentiate between religions. For his safety, though, he must change his attire and appearance to enter the temple.

Once, Allah Rakha is even hauled up by the police and Vedantji has to vouch for him. His world revolves around his son Mohammed and for him, he remarries so Mohammed will have a mother’s influence. But the simple craftsman’s life grows complicated thanks to his friendship with Samad (Sharib Hashmi) whose money troubles cause problems for them all.

It becomes increasingly hard for Allah Rakha to separate his religion from his work and those around him continue to harp on his choice of profession. The end result is predictable yet heartbreaking. The problem is that writer-director Imam is unable to deliver on a solution after creating Allah Rakha’s obstacles.

The movie raises important questions about religion and prejudice but fails to point to any answers. Most of the characters are broad caricatures. Vedantji’s son Munna (Pawan Tiwari) is the typical politician, willing to do anything for votes and a position of power, while Hashmi’s Samad, after finding Allah and redemption, can even stoop to selling out a friend.

The milieu of Benares is established well, but the story and direction does not capitalize on certain character arcs, and for some their motivations change abruptly and without explanation.

Kumud Mishra’s Vedantji as the understanding priest and Hashmi as Allah Rakha’s best friend have performed well, but Inaamulhaq, while well-meaning, is too understated for a leading role. He needed a bit more screen presence to be more convincing. However, the scenes between him and his young son are lovely, especially when he explains why he works in a temple despite being Muslim.

The editing and pacing of the film also feel off. It wasn’t clear whether the reaction shots chosen were due to the performances or a deliberate choice of the editor Prakash Jha and director.

Nakkash attempts to tell a story of an ordinary Muslim in Benares, trying to eke out a living as a craftsman in this so-called modern age. Ultimately, it feels like the film took on more than it could handle with religion, politics and more, and ends up fudging the landing.

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