Nakkash Movie Review: Inaamulhaq shines in a mediocre film on communal harmony
Though urgent and brave, this film about a Muslim craftsman working at a Hindi temple lacks dramatic drive
Two turrets of a Hindu temple flank a crescent moon. A man tiptoes down the stairs, slings a saffron pouch, and rides off. At the ghat, he offers the first namaz of day. It's not the most subtle start to a film on Hindu-Muslim harmony, but arriving as it is in the India of today, feels just about right.
Zaigham Imam’s Nakkash tells the story of Allah Rakha Siddiqui (Inaamulhaq), a Muslim engraver tasked with designing the inner sanctum of a Varanasi temple. Allah’s ancestors have professed this tradition for years, under the patronage of trustee Bhagwan Das Vedanti (Kumud Mishra), but changing times have compelled the master craftsman to arrive in disguise, dressed as a Hindu man. Allah’s caution is two-fold: a single father, he fears not only for his life or that of his son, but is also afraid to bring further shame on his community, which has ostracised him for working for the opposite quam.
Director: Zaigham Imam
Cast: Inaamulhaq, Kumud Mishra
Like his debut work, Dozakh in Search of Heaven, Zaigham has a lot to say about communal tensions in Uttar Pradesh, but approaches his new film calmly. There's the stillness of Iranian New Wave cinema in the early scenes. Some details are fetching: the boy calls his father’s best friend ‘ammi’; a man reciting the Gayatri Mantra in Urdu gets confused for singing a qawwali.
The film’s main conflict builds up in the second half when a newspaper article on Allah Rakha causes local politician Munna Bhaiya to lose his candidature. There are direct references to lynching and encounter killings, as well as the majoritarian politics played by a certain party. It all feels very urgent and nonpartisan, until a mural of Akhilesh Yadav pointlessly pops up over lines of flattering dialogue.
Limited to talking heads, the cast is mostly fine. Pawan Tiwari plays Munna Bhaiya like Spike The Bulldog. Inaamulhaq makes the most of his rickety persona portraying a helpless man (few Hindi film actors embody the common man like he does, nodding his head and saying ‘Sahi baat hai’ just to get out of a weighty conversation).
The performances become dull after a while, and so does the script, which feels the need to cook up plot twists as it goes along. Nakkash is a well-intentioned film that does not overstate its bravery, but suffers on account of length and lack of dramatic drive.
One scene, however, stuck with me. “Who is Bhagwan?” asks the protagonist’s son. “Allah miya ke bhai,” comes the reply. It's the plainest translation anyone has ever drawn of universal brotherhood, but perhaps that's what makes it so effective. Sometimes children need to be taught in children’s terms. And so does a nation.