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Nasir – More to Observe than to Watch

Politics

Nasir – More to Observe than to Watch

Varun Wadhwani.

Nasir could be any of us with different gender, orientation, religion, or social status, with similar struggles to make ends meet, compromising with the beliefs, identity, or even self-esteem but the social and political scenario around makes him stand apart.

Adapted from the short story A Clerk’s Story by Dilip Kumar, Arun Karthick’s Nasir won the NETPAC Award for the best Asian film at the IFFR film festival.

Nasir is a film which is more to observe than to watch. It captures the normalcy of life extraordinarily. Here everything seems real and relatable. The cloth store, the waterlogged narrow lanes, busy markets, women in the kitchen cutting onions and grating coconut, the neighborhood, and Nasir.

Nasir played by Valavane Koumarane feels authentic. It is a story that covers a day in the protagonist’s life but feels like a lifetime. The chaos, the struggles, the turmoil, the helplessness he goes through is a lot to handle in just one day. Nasir is a salesman in a cloth store. He is not broken, he finds his strength in his family. He is responsible but feels incapable.

Nasir could be any of us with different gender, orientation, religion, or social status, with similar struggles to make ends meet, compromising with the beliefs, identity, or even self-esteem but the social and political scenario around makes him stand apart.

It reminds me of Anubhav Sinha’s Mulk. Here as well religion has an important role to play. The only difference is that the setting was more democratic and legit in Mulk than in Nasir. Nasir lives in a Muslim mohalla where teachings and preachings from the mosque can be heard out loud when he passes by. “What constitutes a right Muslim?” is being played. When he reaches a market where Ganesh idols are being sold, “Hindus are in danger” can be heard loud and clear. He seems to be unaffected and unbothered by all of this. A lot going inside, no units of decibels can be loud enough to replace that. He has a loan to repay, an ailing mother who needs immediate treatment, his nephew who he needs to admit to a special school, and his wife who is leaving for three days to a wedding. The frustration and inability to be competent enough are visible.

He is not hyper-religious. He doesn’t wear his religion on his sleeves because he cannot afford to. In the first scene when the Azaan is playing, he is sleeping until the light covers his face. He cleans and garlands a Hindu deity in the shop he works owned by a Hindu in another scene. The owner seems to be “tolerant” as he has a photo frame in his shop having spiritual symbols of Hindu, Christian, and Muslim religions. Nasir overhears an imperious man belonging to an extremist political party maligning and generalizing the Muslims because they are not letting the religious procession in their streets. Nasir is silent, unreactive, and apathetic.

Being a sales clerk, he is also qualified to do things that don’t come under his Key Responsibility Areas. He has a nephew to feed at home but he also has to deliver hot food to the cashier’s son in his school. The actor’s brilliant depiction of frustration, anguish, and helplessness can be felt while he waits for the tiffin box to hand over.

The film also shows the other male sales clerks having explicit conversations around the only female clerk Nandini(played by Niveditha) while she is busy doing her work. She does not seem to be uncomfortable. What Nasir is to that political party man, Nandini is to her male coworkers. Apathetic!

Soon after Nasir recites a poem to his colleagues in which he says, “life is nothing but loneliness and silence”, we see him eating alone while listening to a ghazal. It is both metaphorical and literal. In one scene where he is riding a scooter to deliver a sales order, the provocative commentary of “my religion is the best” on the roads can be constantly heard. In fact, it is a constant whenever he is on the road.

Nasir is a man having his struggles in life. Religion is a part of his life as it is for most of us yet he became a victim of it. It is a film that is contemporary yet changeless drawing references from the current political and social environment and discourse around and across the country. It is uneasy yet compelling. It leaves you with a lot of questions and contemplations, at least it did for me.

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