Cast: Valavane Koumarane, Sudha Ranganathan, Prasanna, Sabari, Yasmin Rahman, Niveditha, Jensan Diwakar, Bakkiyam Sankar
Direction: Arun Karthick
Writer-director Arun Karthick's Nasir, based on Tamil writer Dilip Kumar's short story, Oru Gumasthavin Kathai (A Clerk’s Story), doesn't talk much, but its silences are not silent.
Nasir hears and observes a lot and yet it is often quiet because there are things it wants us to hear and see. Sometimes, its long, quiet sequences reverberate with the film's sharp politics, and sometimes they hum as Nasir romances the beauty it sees all around, in the everydayness of life.
As it walks a busy, noisy street, or quietly turns a corner, when it stops at a shop or rides a scooter on the highway, we hear the religious sermons competing with each other, and see how one particular chant is getting louder, and its threat is getting closer.
Nasir is both, a brutal and a beautiful film that tells the story of an ordinary man. And as that story unfolds, another starts to take shape as a daunting backdrop the story of a nation that boasts of lofty ideals even as its soul is being pierced by violence that openly craves and draws blood and yet manages to hide behind headlines.
The statistics barely register now. Nasir makes them register.
The film is set in Coimbatore where it spends a day with Nasir (Valavane Koumarane), a saree salesman, lovingly observing the spaces he inhabits, and listening to the dialogue in his head.
The day breaks with a beautiful, soulful azan while Nasir is sleeping in a checkered dhoti on a chattai (reed mat), and ends as he is returning home late at night, carrying four idlis, two dosas.
In between these two scenes lies Nasir’s life and the fault lines that have fractured our neighbourhoods, cities, hearts, minds.
In the morning, Nasir drops off his wife Taj (Sudha Ranganathan) to a bus depot, asking her again if she really wants to go to a relative’s house, and at night, as he walks back home, he is having a conversation with her, in his head. There is Ammijaan’s operation for which they need money.
There’s also his nephew Iqbal who should be put in a special school, and a wedding in the family.
In the garment shop where he manages the saree counter, next to counters for shirting, salwar-suits and undergarments, everyone likes and respects Nasir, but they call him “Bhai”.
Nasir, a portrait of a man and a nation, is made up of small slices of the ordinary and the routine opening the garment store, dressing up mannequins, garlanding the statues and portraits of Hindu gods behind the cashier’s desk, gossiping about the love lives of colleagues, listening in as a list of the best local restaurants for lunch is rattled off that are suddenly, often, interrupted by hate.
Nasir, however, is too preoccupied with matters of life, not death. So busy is he worrying about and negotiating these and communicating with his beloved Taj that he doesn't see what's stalking him.
Nasir is not just political but it's also determined to cast us -- in the role of observers, of course, but also of jurors and the accused.
As it makes us stare at its last frame for what feels like an uncomfortable eternity, it’s almost as if the film is waiting for us to begin walking back, tracing Nasir’s steps in a slow rewind to the day that was, to find answers to who, what, and why.
If you can stay the course, from the silent, almost still scene you will hear a gut-wrenching wail rise.
Nasir's message is severe, but it’s a delivered through the movie's keen gaze which sees beauty everywhere around it — in the ageing wall and pealing paint, in the call of the muezzin, street lights reflecting in puddles...
As Soumyananda Sahi's camera accompanies Nasir to various places, it either fixates for a while on the inanimate and animate things, people and creatures enlivening and humanising Nasir's world, or it frames Nasir in sumptuous images.
So, before we watch Nasir perform wazoo at the masjid, we see the clock on the wall, watch mugs dance in the concrete tub of water as a goldfish pouts for air.
And at the shop, before he starts showing sarees to customers, Nasir is framed as a small but delightful figure against vibrant sarees stacked in shelves.
Like his nephew Iqbal squishes crayons and colours his book of “Fishes”, Sahi's camera adds spirited colour to vignettes of still life. And sometimes, when Gautam Nair’s background score joins Sahi, there is stunning lyricism in their jugalbandi.
I am finding it difficult to articulate how good all of Nasir’s actors are who seamlessly merge in their characters, as if they were creatures born in that very setting. The actors are often observed in close-up and yet not for a second do we see their “acting”.
Valavane Koumarane, a theatre actor and director with his sharp features and receding hairline, brings a quiet, affecting dignity to the character of Nasir despite his meagre means and desperate circumstances.
Nasir has been chosen as one of the two Indian feature films by We Are One: A Global Film Festival that runs from May 29 to June 7 for free on YouTube.
The 10-day collaboration among 21 international film festivals from around the world, including Cannes, Tribeca, Berlin, Venice, Sundance, Toronto, New York, BFI London, Karlovy Vary and Locarno, includes more than 100 films, including 13 world premieres and 31 online premieres.
Nasir will stream on June 6. Don't miss it....