Nasir Movie Review: Arun Karthick's superb second feature, about a Coimbatore Muslim, is a political film about an apparently apolitical man

In his second feature film director, Arun Karthick looks at hate speech, Islamophobia, and fear of being a minority in an increasingly hostile society by taking the violent, obvious signs of hate and disparity that could have gripped the narrative into a frenzy of known, exposed attributes of life as a marginalized citizen. Instead, he pushes these acts in the peripheral limits of the narrative for the longest of times, refusing to give his audience anything more than little, nuanced notes to have a sense of a constant fear that a seemingly “apolitical” person has in his day-to-day life.

Karthick seems to look at the very subject of hate speech in a cinematic language a little differently. Nasir is about finding the brutal aftermath of violence in the little, seemingly unimportant gestures that are often missed when a narrative starts focusing on the more dynamic, popular images of violence in a movie.

Telling the story of a man who has little understanding or concern about the politics of his surroundings, Nasir works by making political hate a distant, almost uneventful background. It exists as that voice on the other side of the loudspeaker or a peripheral conversation while the screen is centered on Nasir (Koumarane Valavane) as he navigates through his life with an oblivious disregard for the growing religious divide around him.

Here is a man who is unconcerned about what might bring up the growing intolerance. In a way Nasir captures the essence of a regular middle-class man. Stuck in his struggles to find enough money to run his family, Nasir has little time to understand the world of politics and religion beyond how it affects his most immediate, urgent reality.

Karthick brings a novel cinematic grammar in his exploration of communal tension by extracting the essence of the mundane repeatability of daily life. It builds up slowly – almost unnoticeably – like life often moves from one moment to the other. There is no real moment of drama in the film until very late. All we see till then is a life so ordinary, so simplistic that we are almost sucked into believing that it would continue its slow progression without any diversion from its limited, structured existence.

But here is where Nasir finds its strength. Unlike a film on hate speech or violence that carries an air of uncertainty over every moment of its narrative, this film moves with such an unassuming repetition that it never crosses our mind that all of this was originally meant to be about religious hate. Like Nasir, we are led into believing that the religious tension will remain a passing commentary, a series of references peppered across the narrative carefully for those who enjoy finding meaning in the little detailing.

Yet, when the gut-wrenching climax comes, it does not feel out of place. You are believed into realizing that in all of those news incidents that we read in the leisure of our rooms, there lies this helpless arrogance of someone who is convinced that the violence will never touch anything near them. But when it does, things spiral down so quickly that all you get is a bloody, wordless rumble of chaos.

Karthick uses a hand-held camera to make us feel like a part of this violence, much like how a hand-held camera was used to amplify the terror of that wonderful climax scene of Bhonsle. All we hear are chants of motherland’s love, while we see the land tattered into a bloodied reflection of the act of few. As unassuming as the rest of the film, the final frame is again a quiet one, only this time we have realized that there is no existence in a divisive society divorced from politics. And it was probably Nasir’s hope of doing that that led him to a downfall he never saw coming despite its warning lurking around the narrative continuously.

Disclaimer: This article has not been written by Film Companion’s editorial team.

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