Nakkash movie cast: Inaamulhaq, Sharib Hashmi, Kumud Mishra, Rajesh Sharma, Gulki Joshi
Nakkash movie director: Zaigham Imam
Nakkash movie rating: Two stars
Bhagwan kaun hain? Allah ke bhai.
This kind of naïve question can only come from the mouth of an innocent child. But the answer, from a father to his son, is strangely healing, even if briefly, and even if it feels like wistful wish-fulfilment in these riven times.
Nakkash takes its title from the art of ‘nakkashi’ in which the artist embellishes the canvas with molten precious metal. Inamulhaq plays Allah Rakha whose livelihood is tied to the ancient temples in Varanasi because of his ‘pushtaini’ profession. His father, and his father before him, were commissioned to work on the interiors of the temples, and they did so without any trouble.
But now, with the ‘mahaul’ being what it is, Allah Rakha is under the needle of suspicion. Why does a patently Muslim man take of his skull-cap, wear a ‘teeka’, and sneak in and out of the temple in the dead of night, or at the crack of dawn? ‘Musalmaan ho ke Hindu banta hai sala,’ a snarling cop asks him, and we fear for his safety, as the film goes on to make the point about ‘dharm ki rajniti’ versus ‘karm ki rajniti’, and the growing ‘bhedbhaav’ among us.
Clearly the intention of the film is to hold a mirror to where we have reached as a nation, with hatred and bigotry replacing trust and ‘bhaichara’, the sort of intention we need to see more of because it would seem only cinema can join the vanishing dots of the India that used to be.
And Nakkash does work up to a point in underlining this, especially because it is set in Varanasi, the default setting of movies wishing to bring up the Ganga-Jamuna ‘tehzeeb’, whose idea has been so severely under threat. No better place to do this than one of the most ancient cities in the world, the beating heart of India.
And a lot of that has to do with the conviction the talented Inaamulhaq brings to his part, both as an artist whose devotion to his art is above all else, as well as a man of faith. The bond between him and the young actor who plays his son is both real and moving: you feel for them.
Where the film falters is in ratcheting up the drama around them: Sharib Hashim as the best friend who goes over to the radicalized, proselytizing side of Islam, does add some spark to the film, but Pawan Tiwari as the right-wing politician whose ambitions override the beliefs of his pundit father (Mishra), the local cop ( Sharma) whose only job seems to be a show of brutal strength, have predictable arcs.
And the end feels flat. You are left wishing for a little more optimism. Or is this what we have to live with, going forward?