Mumbai, 10 May 2020 0:49 IST
Based on Dilip Kumar's short story A Clerk's Story, Nasir is a sharp but beautifully crafted portrait of an ordinary Muslim going through his day even as the shadow of communalism looms.
In its own subtle, quiet style, Nasir says a lot without saying much. Early in the film, we see Nasir join his wife as she leaves to take a bus to her maternal home. As they walk through the predominantly Muslim quarter of their neighbourhood, we hear through the speaker the sermon of a preacher. We don't see much change, other than the street. But slowly, subtlely, the language over the mic has changed. We are aware that Nasir is an outsider in the new street.
Arun Karthick's film accomplishes its humanist portrayal through visual and poetic elegance. Based on Dilip Kumar's short story, it revolves around a day in the life of Nasir (Koumarane Valavane), an ordinary salesman in an apparel store in Tamil Nadu. Nasir is bogged down by personal worries and money problems even as an impending riot looms over the city.
Arun Karthick transforms the audience into a fly on the wall in Nasir's ordinary life. We see him take a few lazy naps on a busy day while listening to a ghazal, help his wife fill water at the community tap, and watch his developmentally disabled son, Iqbal. We are witness to the depths and details of an otherwise ordinary individual we would have ignored if he had crossed our paths.
Karthick places this detailed sketch alongside the discordant noises of communalism growing around Nasir. These run in the background of his life. As he drives down to deliver lunch for his employer's son, or to try and sell the coats for some advance, they ring around. Yet, it is only the audience that feels the dissonance. For Nasir, it is part of everyday life. He knows he has to go through this.
He does. With a stillness that is enviable. Koumarane Valavane plays Nasir with a delicateness that is haunting. The character's silences are his most defining traits. Surrounded by loudmouths, boasters and megaphones, he remains quiet. The breakthrough moment arrives when Nasir recites his own poem to his colleagues. It reveals the internal depth of an otherwise ordinary man.
This remains in contrast to the invisible divide that is gnawing through Nasir's world. The small shrine to the gods of three religions decorating the clothes shop is no prevention when his boss throws a racist jibe at Muslims. He does not feel it odd, or wrong to do so. It is part of his routine. The philosopher Hannah Arendt observed that the most dangerous part of evil-doers is that they are 'terrifyingly normal'. Arun Karthick reminds us of that again and again.
Cinematographer Saumyananda Sahi captures some beautiful moments on camera. The opening montage is an ode to still life and the pattern continues through the film. The seamless collaboration of the visual and human poetry unfolding in the story makes for an intense watch. The palettes of colour, from the blues to the pink and red hues in the shop, add to the story's detail.
Through all this is Nasir. Quiet, humble, ordinary. In his own way, reminiscent of anyone else, and yet a person on his own. At a time when death is increasingly being counted in statistics, reducing its basic humanity, Arun Karthick's film is a reminder that the ordinary is worth fighting for. And that there is a more dangerous virus at large that seeks to reduce this ordinariness into nothing.
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