Nasir: Merciless time and mold stains on the wall

Do we communicate, stand in solidarity with the Nasirs and Tajs or would we, taking a leaf from Hollywood, make films and homages like ‘Munich’ or ‘The Hunters’ long after the oppressed are beaten to their core and made stateless ? Movie Review by Aamir

Arun Karthick’s ‘Nasir’ won the NETPAC award for Best Asian Film premiering at the International Film Festival of Rotterdam. The film was screened in the Tiger Competition section.

In his second feature film (after ‘Sivapuranam’), Arun Karthick tells the story of a Muslim salesman and how his life turns out in a day. Nasir, his wife Taj, mother Fathima and nephew Iqbal live in a small chawl in Ukkadam, Coimbatore.

Nasir is one of those films which take you into the lives of its human beings. Whether you are a Muslim, Hindu or of any faith, inherently, you are a Nasir. Bound to your immediate physical reality, trying to find air to breath and poetry to love.

That poetry in Karthick’s film is everywhere throughout the film. Be it the kisses Nasir (a brilliant Koumarane Valavane) gives to Taj or in the moments he waits for the Aviyal tiffin to get ready so that he can take it to his boss’ son.

In an interview with Satyajit Ray, Pierre Andre Boutang asks him about how he weaves the minute relationships between the characters, and between the characters and nature. For me, a film works when its characters connect to their surroundings and their visceral realities, whether it is Pather Panchali or Baby Driver. How they would hold a cup or how they would subconsciously touch a bud of a plant or how somebody would button a bed ridden character’s shirt roots the characters into the universe they are weaved into.

In Nasir, there is a space for everyone. Be it his grandmother, or the kid – Iqbal. Be it the rose plant in his house or his constant companion of beedi smoke.

Finally, after a while, there is a film, which champions for the people who cinema off-late has tended to ignore. This is not a story of a common man placed amidst an uncommon situation by the director and elevated into a messiah or a martyr. In a hopeless, unkind world, the life of Nasir, like the aspect ratio and color of the film is reminiscent of ‘simple’ and nostalgic harmony a big part of the population believed in -a life that we hope that it would extend till we die a relatively peaceful death. Hopefully near our loved ones and not at the hands of a deceiving state.

I loved the film most for the space it gave- not just to its characters but also to the viewer which is something that has become a rarity. Be it in social life or in film language there is not a moment where you can breath. It’s all about paisa vasool. Little coffins of entertainment.

In Nasir, though, even the mold stain on the walls of the house, the grandmother’s gaze, her relentless push to continue walking and breathing in life – they all occupy their rightful space.

As the working class in India struggle, keep on living with empty stomachs and die walking kilometres, something I read from an article comes to mind. It was about Covid 19 testing in India. It was about how people, especially the working class, would not go to test for the virus because they are not used to going to the doctor’s for a simple test. They wait and wait, carry on with their daily work, despite ailing from various diseases. Only when the shit has hit the ceiling that they would go consult a doctor. In their minds, it is etched that it is pointless or – somewhere there is an idea that since they struggle, the inevitable won’t happen.

In Nasir, the ending is pretty predictable and that is the part which is hard hitting. That in a way, you feel guilty about predicting how this movie is going to end.

A mass extermination is not, alarmingly, unimaginable. Even, the once so-called ‘secular’ spaces have been infiltrated and contaminated by fascist forces. The Delhi pogrom was just a mini-experiment. When a fascist ‘think thank’, tracing its origin story to a homage to totalitarian forces of Mussolini’s Italy and Nazi Germani, controls the state, where do we go from here ?

Do we communicate, stand in solidarity with the Nasirs and Tajs or would we, taking a leaf from Hollywood, make films and homages like ‘Munich’ (Steven Spielberg, 2005) or ‘The Hunters’ (Amazon series, 2020) long after the oppressed are beaten to their core and made stateless?

A hero is not going to rise out of a chawl. He or she is already a hero and we have already killed them.

(Another film which is a must watch is Ronny Sen’s ‘Cat Sticks.’)

At some point in the film, I found myself enjoying the music with Nasir and the grandmother, while the former was taking his afternoon nap. I also found the beautiful world of Iqbal and his aquarium dreams.
A line from the poem Nasir recites in the film comes to mind.
“Merciless time flows in space,
to rest in centuries..”

Dir: Arun Karthick
2019, 85 minutes
Language: Tamil
Cast: Koumarane Valavane, Jensan Diwakar, Sudha Ranganathan

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