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Arun Karthick's Nasir with theatre actor Koumarane Valavane wins best film at NYIFF 2021!


Image Source: NYIFF 2021!


When a colleague of ours says ‘See you tomorrow’, do we know that this might be our last meeting with him? Anything can happen to us while walking back to our house after a day that seemingly appeared normal. This is what happens with the protagonist in Arun Karthick’s second feature film Nasir. The film begins with a shot of Nasir sleeping on the floor with the sound of morning prayer in the background. He wakes up and gets into his daily routine. Though the present day is nothing different from other days, he has some extra things to do today. His wife is to go on a trip to her village for a family wedding and he is supposed to drop her at the bus stop. Being a salesman at a local garment shop, the lack of money to run the household is as routine a part of his life as is the filling of water pots at the mohalla tap every morning. There are several other problems – his mother needs to be treated for cancer, there is his differently-abled adoptive teenager son Iqbal who needs constant attention and care. These, however, unlike some other filmmakers would do, are not treated extraordinarily. They blend in with Nasir’s daily existence as if these are the things that give meaning to his life. And they do. He is not sad nor does he complain. Rather, he is hopeful. In the mental letter he writes to his wife, he mentions the possible solutions for his problems and how is working towards achieving them. This is not all. Nasir, an ordinary salesman, is also a poet of extraordinary talent who has understood ‘what else is life if not loneliness and silence.’ He knows he has no hold on his life and there is no point in complaining. He has accepted his mundane daily existence and finds solace in the music of maestros like Begum Akhtar. Arun Karthick, along with cinematographer Saumyananda Sahi, brings this mundanity on the screen converting it into calming poetry of sorts, tranquility making us a part of Nasir’s daily life. As Nasir passes through the streets, we can hear political hate speeches delivered against the community Nasir belongs to. But there is no sign of caution or alert on the faces of the people on the street. Their lives go on as usual showing us that the speeches and political campaigns targeting certain religions have become a routine thing that needs no special attention.

Image Source: NYIFF 2021!


And though Nasir prays at the mosque daily, he has no qualms in cleaning and garlanding the idols and photographs of gods of other religions as a part of his job at the shop owned by a Hindu man. Also, there is no sign of enmity between him and his other colleagues because of the difference in their religions. However, this extra impetus on religions through images and sounds signals that something harsh is brewing in the background. Towards the end of the film, we hear a voice announcing that there are riots in the city and a frenzied crowd is burning down the shops. The shop is closed and Nasir leaves for his house, thinking about what all he needs to do in the coming days. The riot has not affected him, he is as calm as he was in the morning. As he is mentally talking to his wife (and himself), he suddenly finds himself in front of the mob who without wasting a moment, catch him and lynch him just because he belongs to a certain community. The camera that otherwise glided calmly throughout the film suddenly matches the frenzied movement of the crowd leaving us with a still extra-long shot of Nasir lying on the road lifeless that remains on the screen for a minute and a half for us to see and think about what we as humans have become.

Image Source: NYIFF 2021!


The film is an Indo-Dutch co-production and was the recipient of the Hubert Bals Fund in 2018. The screenplay, adapted from noted Tamil writer Dilip Kumar’s short story The Clerk’s Tale, was written after the 2016 Coimbatore riots triggered Arun Karthick into making this film. Karthick mentions in an interview that he rented a room in an area similar to the one we see in the film where he spent two years working on the script. Along with the impeccable writing and flawless performance by Koumarane Valavane as Nasir, Karthick’s formal choices make the film unique. He uses the 4:3 aspect ratio with curved edges to limit what we see so that we can focus on Nasir. Sound, at times, is a more important aspect of the scene revealing more than the images can. The director knows what he wants to say but he lets us see and hear it rather than telling us and this, I guess, increases the impact of the film. Nasir, to sum up, is an account of a day in a salesman’s life that brews calmness only to rupture it and leave you disturbed for days to come.


The film is being currently being screened at the New York Indian Film Festival powered by MovieSaints.com.



Cast and Crew:

Director: Arun Karthick

Cinematography: Saumyananda Sahi

Editor: Arghya Basu

Cast: Koumarane Valane, Sudha Raghunathan, Yasmin Rahman



 

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