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A chilling film for terrifying times

August 23, 2020 10:32 IST
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Arun Karthick's Nasir is not the story of one man.
It's a documentary on the scary, majoritarian, hateful road India has taken, discovers Mohd Asim.

Valavane Koumarane in Nasir

IMAGE: Valavane Koumarane in Nasir.

For three days Nasir has been sitting heavy on my chest. Smoking a bidi. Lost in his thoughts. Silent. But there is a whirlwind inside him. Daily, mundane, family concerns bothering him. Medical tests that his ill mother urgently requires. A special child who he wants to send to a special school.

Off and on he escapes from his worries into the world of poetry and ghazals. Or, by writing love notes to his wife. Even in those notes, his worries and financial questions cruelly creep in.

Nasir is a fictional character in the Arun Karthick movie by the same name. Most of you would not have watched it as it's still doing rounds of the select circuits awaiting a wider release. I hope it does.

We all need to meet, see and know Nasir. I got to watch it thanks to my friend and well-known film critic Shubhra Gupta.

Nasir could be any average folk around. There is nothing extraordinary about him. A family man going about his life with the concerns of bread and butter, hoping and toiling to make it better for the people he love and care for. His wife, mother and a special kid.

Nasir is each and every one of us.

He walks down the street with hate speech and religious sermons, one metamorphosed into the other, blaring from the loud speakers. He walks past the walls with hate graffiti.

He goes through his work at a garment shop where people casually and at times threateningly talk about keeping Muslims in their place.

Nasir has little mindspace for all the cacophony of hate and religious bigotry that occupies all spaces around him. He has his own pressing concerns. Or he has just become immune to the 'normal' around him?

Maybe, he feels that all the hate that is being blared out of the loudspeakers or spewed by people who share the same spaces as him is not for him.

He is liked and trusted by people around him. No harm will come his way. His struggles are economic and emotional, religious.

A riot breaks out. Killings and arson start in the neighbourhood. Nasir's shop is shuttered early. He walks back home. He is not worried. He is just as stoic as he generally is.

He buysidlis for his family on way back, lights his bidi and walks in the silent darkness.

A commotion is heard in a narrow dark alley. 'See, a Muslim!' The mob shouts. Nasir is lynched to death.

The mob just saw him as a Muslim and that was the reason enough for a life to be brutally ended.

The mob doesn't see a caring father, a loving husband, a responsible and concerned son, an honest worker, a human.

Nasir in that moment was just a Muslim for the blood-thirsty mob.

Credits roll.

The film ends.

Life goes on. In its one brutal take after another.

It's Akhlaq one day, a Pehlu the next, a Junaid some other day, then a Mohsin, a Tabrez... then even names and faces get blurred.

Arun Karthick's film is a documentary of our times. How our public discourse, political propaganda, unbridled bigotry has reduced Muslim citizens of India to just Muslims.

The dehumanised, demonised 'Other'.

This discourse puts a premium on getting rid of Muslims. The killers are celebrated. They are feted. They move on to the next target.

The violence now is, in Arun's own words, so random that you never know when you will be the next. Not that India has not seen communal violence in the past.

On the contrary, we have had too much of it. But the violence earlier was seen as a bad phase happening in its time and space.

This new violence is a scary normal. It strikes from nowhere and everywhere.

You could be out to graze your cattle, or buy medicine or just celebrating your festival with your loved ones at home.

The mob can get you anywhere. It needs no reason or excuse. Being a Muslim is enough.

The mob will invent its reasons and excuses. And there will be no justice. The vicious cycle has taken a life of its own taking one life after the other.

But this seemingly random violence is organised at its core. There is a sinister method to this madness. Look around.

The political discourse.

The primetime targeting.

The hate and venom on social media.

The vile WhatAapp forwards.

The dinner-table discussions.

The systematic erasure of Muslims from public and political spaces.

It's all planned.

Director Arun Karthik

IMAGE: Director Arun Karthik after winning the Netpac Award at the International Film Festival in Rotterdam.

The violence has been so normalised that people have become immune to it. They just keep going about their lives. There is reasoning, sickening justifications, and most unfortunately, celebration of daylight, cold-blooded murders.

Violence is not just that one fatal blow. The killing or physical harm to a person. No.

The denial of voice is violence.

The denial of justice is violence.

To force people to give up their identity is violence.

The constant fear of violence is also violence.

The celebration of violence is also violence.

What Nasir's child, wife and mother suffer after he has been snatched away from them by a sudden, brutal, stroke is also violence.

Arun Karthick's Nasir is not the story of one man. It's a documentary on the scary, majoritarian, hateful road India has taken.

Watch Nasir if you get a chance. It will disturb you, it will shake you.

And most importantly, it will make you look for the next U-turn on this highway of hate that will only end in collective doom.

Mohd Asim is Delhi-based journalist.

Feature Presentation: Rajesh Alva/

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