The best new Indian film screened at the Indian film fest in Delhi, “Naseem” uses the delicate relationship between a 15-year-old girl and her grandfather to describe the growing political tension between Moslems and Hindus in 1992, which led to the destruction of a medieval Muslim mosque and violent riots in the streets. Beautifully told tale, which shows no violence whatsoever, will certainly show up at fests this year, and could get a good shot at Western arthouses with careful handling.
In a middle-class Muslim household in old Bombay, Naseem (Mayoori Kango) is a lively schoolgirl who has a particularly close relationship with her bedridden granddad (Kaifi Azmi). The wise, gentle old man regales her with tall tales of his youth in Agra under the British occupation. The only sign of the growing unrest between Hindus and Muslims in the city are the flickering images on the family TV set.
Little by little, political events start closing in on the family. A young son gets involved with a group of fanatics calling for blood. A woman Naseem is friendly with at the market is beaten to death by her husband. The girl and her friends risk getting caught in a riot when they sneak off to a movie.
Director Saeed Akhtar Mirza is a fine storyteller who chooses to express big social events through their reflection on ordinary people. As the fateful month of December approaches, he builds a sense of ominous foreboding. Though Mirza is a Muslim and looks at the terrible events of 1992 through the eyes of a Muslim family, helmer is nonpartisan in his viewpoint. Rather than being a political film, “Naseem” is more a melancholy lament for a world of innocence and religious tolerance that may never be recaptured by younger generations.
In passing, pic also affords a revealing glimpse into a corner of Indian family life and the roles girls are molded into as they approach womanhood.
As Naseem’s grandfather, Azmi (the father of well-known actress Shabana Azmi) embodies the old, disappearing values with irresistible dignity and quiet humor, while young Kango lives up to the meaning of her character’s name (“morning breeze”). Rest of cast is natural and convincing. Virendra Saini’s camera is fluidly mobile throughout, but lensing is marred by painfully dark interiors in print caught.