Nothing much seems to happen in Nasir. An ordinary salesman in Coimbatore carries on with his humdrum day. Waking up to the sound of prayers, performing the banal rituals of life – filling up buckets of water at the community tap, dropping off his wife to the bus for her travels, selling saris in a local clothing shop, wondering about the possibility of getting a job in Abu Dhabi to improve his status and condition. All the while, he’s hoping against hope.
Director Arun Karthick takes the viewer along Nasir’s (Koumarane Valavane) journey through the day. We become one with his fly-on-the-wall camera, if there were any walls around, that is. It’s a rare experience of intimacy one feels with Nasir and a sense of dormant participation in his life as we walk about with him. Karthick turns us into the invisible presence that Nasir himself might be unaware of but we are there with him to hear Ilaiyaraaja in the morning and ghazals in the noon. Karthick’s camera lingers on, not just on the moments. It pauses on faces, uncomfortably long at times, going penetratingly close to catch expressions that say more than words.
Nasir is a quiet film, that doesn’t speak much but still manages to say a lot. There are markers of need and necessity, hints thrown about penury without elaborating on them. There is money stashed away in various corners of the house but the savings still don’t add up to much. In a daily diary, or rather an internal monologue with himself, Nasir talks about an ailing mother and a challenged kid. An expression of pain, but with dignity in tact.
In this routine of strife and struggle, religion – faith or spirituality, whatever you may call it – is not a sight to behold. It plays like the background score, you hear it. What could have been a delicate, incidental sound gets amplified into a cacophony; violent in the noise it generates and in the deed as well. Not just the camera, it’s Nasir’s soundscape that leads in creating an evocative sense of space. And drama where there is otherwise none.
You can see religion running like an invisible thread through the cloth of life, seemingly non-threatening. And yet rearing its ugly head for sure. The dualities are underlined yet not force fed to the audience. Morning prayers in a shop are done by the workers irrespective of their religious beliefs, the gods in the little alter cut across faith. The helpful boss calls you bhai and is willing to lend you money for your needs. But the colleague who listens in appreciation to your poems – about solitude, silence, love and mallige flowers – could as easily be talking about throwing stones at your community.
The uneasy and steady ‘otherisation’ is a reality that we can’t deny and it hits harder because of a matter-of-fact portrayal in Nasir. More so with the protagonist, surrounded by hate speech, seemingly remaining unaffected by it.
An adaptation of Dilip Kumar’s short, ‘A Clerk’s Story’, the 75-minute film is pithy, terse, impactful and contemplative, specially the abrupt note on which it ends. Despite it moving languidly towards the direction you might have guessed it would take, it doesn’t feel ominous in the build up. You could still be nursing a sliver of hope even as Nasir marches on mercilessly to the chronicle of the end of secularism, harmony, peace and tolerance. It pierces, stings, aches and shatters all the more for that.
Nasir has its Asia premiere on May 6 as part of MAMI Year Round Programme Home Theatre. Check: mumbaifilmfestival.com/mamiyearroundprogramme