There is a scene in Zaigham Imam’s Nakkash wherein a Muslim craftsman, who does engravings in Hindu temples in Benares, is forced to take his young son with him to work. Visiting a temple for the very first time the boy asks his father, “Whose house is this?” The father answers, “This place belongs to Bhagwan”. The boy further asks, “Who is Bhagwan?” The father replies, “Allah Miyan’s brother.” Still curious, the boy asks, “Will Bhagwan answer our prayers?” The craftsman answers, “Bhagwan and Allah don’t differentiate between people.” He adds, “Only people differentiate between people.” The above conversation perfectly summarizes the conflict at the heart of Nakkash.
The story’s primary protagonist Allah Rakha Siddiqui hails from a family of Muslim craftsmen that for generations has been entrusted with the task engraving the temples of Benares. But he suddenly finds himself unwelcomed in these temples owing to the growing disharmony between the Hindus and the Muslims. Also his Muslim neighbors don’t approve his profession. Because of this even his son doesn’t get admission in the local madrasa. But the Hindu priest Vedanti Ji is a reasonable man and so he allows Allah Rakha to continue working in the temple on the condition that he keeps his Muslim identity secret. So every night he leaves his house dressed as a Muslim but takes a Hindu identity right before entering the temple. But for how long can this charade go on?
Starring Inaamulhaq, Kumud Mishra, Sharib Hashmi and Rajesh Sharma in pivotal roles, Nakkash is the third film by writer-director Zaigham Imam which marks the completion of a trilogy of stories revolving around Benares. Imam made his debut with the 2015 film titled Dozakh: In Search Of Heaven before making the critically acclaimed Alif a couple of years later. Journalist-turned-filmmaker Imam, who was born in a Muslim family near Benares, seems to have a strong fascination for the temples and mosques of the holy city. It is quite evident in the powerful soundscape of Nakkash. What the film lacks in terms of imagery it more than makes up for it in the sound department. Now, we have seen Benares in countless films but it’s difficult to think of another film work of fiction which makes Benares sound so authentic to our ears. This level of aural detailing greatly adds to the film’s realism.
Apart from the immaculate sound design, the film’s greatest strength is acting. Inaamulhaq, Kumud Mishra, and Sharib Hashmi are all brilliant in their respective roles. While Inaamulhaq succeeds in bringing a desired level of vulnerability to his portrayal of Allah Rakha, Hashmi offers a nice blend of humor and intensity in his layered performance. Kumud Mishra, who often plays mischievous parts, looks as serene and calm as he has ever looked in the role of a priest. While the film’s subject is quite unique and original, the screenplay fails to back it up. Unable to capitalize on a solid opening, Nakkash gets stuck in clichés and loses focus. The end result is a film that leaves a lot to be desired.