In Arun Karthick’s Nasir, premiered as a part of We Are One global film festival, nothing happens dramatically and nothing changes thematically, so to speak. We are just left following one day of Nasir (played with subdued diligence by theatre actor Koumarane Valavane), a representative of one among the muslim ghetto of Coimbatore, who’s conducting a dignified social life as a local salesman.
The film opens with Adhan, the islamic call to prayer, eloquently establishing what it is setting out to do. We simply cut to Nasir’s family, his wife Taj, the physically abled Iqbal and his Mother with poor health. Fatima is leaving for her hometown for 5 days. Before we see their separation, we see the interiors of the film’s political and aesthetic design, where the muslim ghetto preaches their peace-less confinement as a minority community and where, when it reaches the public outskirts there’s overt communalisation of agendas on loudspeakers, masqueraded as sacred addressing.
The crux of the film on an intimate level is anti-hate and the quotient of ‘love’. The protagonist seeks solace in poetry. He is romantic and the film’s most intimate clutches are short monologues anchoring it’s narrative, which are Nasir’s poetic love letters to Taj. Like the separation that is obstructed in between the social chaos, is many of those intimate moments that exasperatingly fades away with external interruptions―of intolerance. Arun Karthik’s filmmaking is punctuated by those minimal (at the beginning) to unbearable amplifications (the climax), like verbal violence transcending into physical violence, bigotry into heteronomy.
Out of the many brilliant things about Arun’s filmmaking, there is the psychology to violence that follows the narrative trajectory. The politics of Nasir is never overt, it’s a subsidiary undercurrent. It’s about a man from the oppressed group unaware or keeping silence of the material circumstances of hate around him. The hate he finds in the employers house (the same politics of vegetarianism thrusted in our Country), the hate he overhears in a phone conversation of the same employer where the man insists that a Hindu festival should march through a muslim area, the islamophobia rooted in his co-worker who finds voyeuristic pleasure in mob lynching videos, the hate monger speeches he oughts to hear from the traffic signal against muslim community that are publicly endorsed as nationalistic―as with the purpose of hindutva nation building. The narrative is a sprawling dive into these realities we are enduring.
It’s also quite fascinating to see the filmmaker encoding these nuances even in the technical design as it’s a rarity to find 4:3 aspect ratios even in the indie circles. Most of the stories from our Cinema are told in the widescreen format, it’s baseless how some of them compliment the narrative. Nasir uses the compact space for it’s benefit, inducing the conducive claustrophobia of environment majestically onto celluloid.
Secularism comes of as a blown-out pun, from the lens of a society, in the film. The contrived secular design of the textile and the persuaded and compassionate lunch outs between two people―are fruitful instances of dark humour. Another instance where our notions are cramped is how Arun Karthik breaks muslim stereotypes with the representation of his middle aged protagonist. Beautifully dignified as Mushin Parari’s muslim representation in Malayalam Cinema.
The moment that thresholds rays of optimism and hope in the film are quietly savoured by the noir aesthetics. An instance is the kind of friendly compassion Nasir’s employers teenager son treats him with, unlike how his family does―a hope for radical future―is later turned down in how it shows the drugged (symbolic, maybe?) youth. Another instance is the climax, of course, staged without any cinematic gimmicks at it’s most dark and unsettling way possible. As opposed to Raju Murugan’s Gypsy, where the desperation to show terror topped the cinematic objective.
The terrifying climax of Nasir might come across as a sudden outburst to some, but it’s a perfectly calibrated step, planned inch after inch in the filmmaking. The mob violence is not an eruption, it’s an act of injection. A larger part of social injection that has been normalised in our racial conditioning, designed socialisation―through exaggerated history lessons, hindutva propaganda and censored modes of expression (As even the OTT platforms are being subjugated under censoring these days, have to wait and watch how Nasir would be perpetually available for Indian streaming).
Nasir is a timely reminder that powerful political expression in cinema doesn’t necessarily need the back-up of overt gimmickry, showy radicalism, superficial drama, or self indulgence ridden monologues. Here there’s poetry, poignance and political discourse―and that too without falling out of the beauty of noir aesthetics.