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Art Has No Religion

Saturday, June 01, 2019
By Deepa Gahlot

Zaigham Imam
bInaamulhaq, Kumud Mishra, Sharib Hashmi and others
Rating: * * *

Characters in Zaigham Imam’s Nakkash, say with an air of fear or apology that the “mahaul” has changed. Which means that in Varanasi, where it was not unusual for Muslim craftsmen to work in Hindu temples for generations, religious bigotry has raised its ugly head.

Allah Rakha (Inaamulhaq) is an engraver of beautiful gold-leaf frescos, a craft that his family has been practicing for generations. Bhagwandas Vedanti (Kumud Mishra), the priest of a major temple, who has given Allah the job of decorating a Ram Mandir, does not discriminate on the basis of religion, but even he advises caution. (The names of the two noble characters mean God.) So Allah changes his appearance when he goes to the temple and returns home.

His own community has ostracized him because of his work in temples, so that his son is refused admission to the local madarsa. His only friend is rickshaw driver Samad (Sharib Hashmi), whose problem is a cantankerous father, insisting on being sent for Haj. This cheerful man is later driven to religious conservatism.

Around the city, the Hindutva brigade is led by political hopeful, Munna (Pawan Tiwari), who happens to be Vedanti’s son. Allah’s pride in his work and Vedanti’s belief in the excellence of his “nakkashi” are destroyed when the artisan is arrested for theft of the temple’s gold jewellery.

After establishing the characters and their connections, instead of delving deeper into the issues, the film falls back on characters uttering platitudes on religious amity, like “Bhagwan kaun hain? Allah ke bhai.”

Imam has his heart in the right place, and what the film wants to say is very important in today’s fractious times, but except for a few scenes, the somewhat contrived story is not gripping enough; instead of building up tension, it wanders off into a pointless subplot about the widower Allah Rakha’s second marriage to Sabiha (Gulki Joshi), whose feistiness in her introductory scene does not lead to anything.

The actors lift it with sincere performances, and Inaamulhaq carries off the lead role with conviction. At least the film talks sense, for which it deserves audience support.

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