Nasir is a powerfully effective film about a subject that at first glance appears to be mundane: one day in the life of a man who works as a salesman at a fabric and sari shop.
For those who are unfamiliar with Indian politics, a little background is in order. India has a population four times that of the United States. About 80% of its citizens are Hindus and 14% are Muslims. Despite India’s history of religious tolerance, there has long been an element of Hindu fanatics who believe that India should be an all-Hindu nation. It was one such Hindu nationalist who assassinated Mahatma Gandhi in 1948. Another anti-Muslim Hindu nationalist is Narendra Modi, who was elected prime minister in 2014. In 2019, he was re-elected in what was widely described as a “landslide.” Actually Modi’s party, the Bharatiya Janata Party, earned only 37% of the vote, but because of India’s first-past-the-post electoral system without runoffs, his party gained complete control of the Indian government even though the vast majority of Indian citizens didn’t vote for Modi or his party.
Now, back to the film. Nasir, the protagonist, is a Muslim in the Southern Indian city of Coimbatore, which is the hometown of writer-director Arun Karthick. Coimbatore has an urban conglomeration population of about two million, fewer than 9% of whom are Muslim. Nasir (Valavane Koumarane) and his wife are responsible for his aging mother and his mentally handicapped nephew. He doesn’t want his wife to go away for a couple days to help with a family marriage, but, in the morning, he accompanies her to the bus station anyway. As the day proceeds, he prays, eats, worries about his financial situation and meets with a friend who tries to convince him to take a job in Abu Dhabi, where he could send home enough money to relieve his family’s financial insecurities. But Nasir can’t bring himself to leave his wife with the burden of running the household alone.
As quiet as is Nasir’s life, the threat of Hindu nationalism is never far away, coming out of loudspeakers and in overheard conversations.
As average as Nasir is, he writes poetry. When his co-workers teasingly ask him to recite one of his poems, they are startled to discover that he is quite eloquent.
At the end of the evening, Nasir closes up the shop and, while walking home, composes in his head a letter to his wife. And then, suddenly, everything changes.