"Nabat": A Human Testament

in 14th Dhaka International Film Festival

by Mofidul Hoque

In a world where violence has destroyed the life of millions and is threatening even more, the journey of refugees forced out of their homes is never-ending. No state or society is immune to violent attacks, when fear and intolerance has creeped into the minds of the people. Cinema as art cannot remain indifferent to such a grotesque reality of contemporary life. That cinema with all its power is addressing the issue in its various dimensions, has been reflected in the films screened at the Australasian competition section of the 14th Dhaka International Film Festival held from 14th to 22nd  January, 2016 in the capital of Bangladesh. Of the 20 films in this section, at least six have projected the destruction brought by war and conflict, be it in Nepal, Bangladesh, Gaza-Israel, Afghanistan, Iraq or Nagorno-Karabakh in Azerbaijan. The tragedy of civil war in this last place was what the film Nabat attempted to depict and, with the power of cinema, could make this particular story a testament about the tragedy of mankind as a whole.

The film, ably directed by Elchin Musaoglu Guliyev of Azerbaijan, begins with the tiring uphill walk along the mountainous terrain by an old woman holding two cans of milk in her two hands. It is a long shot that follows her along the hilly path and conveys the beauty and melancholy of a village abandoned by its people due to ongoing conflict. Nabat, the old lady, brilliantly portrayed by Iranian actor Fatemah Mohamed-Aria, survives by selling the milk of the lone cow she possesses and there are few potential takers of the product left in the village. Her husband Iskendar is on his death-bed and their only son missing on the front. War is a distant thunder in the village where few remaining villagers are also leaving their home one by one. Nabat is losing her customers in the abandoned place where the ripe fruits cover the road with no children to pick and play, the houses have everything in place but no people inside to make them alive. In spite of great hardship Nabat refuses to leave and waits in her dream for when her dead son will come back to his home. She nurses her old husband with as much care as she can. But the war is engulfing the life of everyone in this remote village. She loses her cow one day and, while a lonely wolf hovers around the home looking for prey, the village becomes more and more desolate and abandoned. Nabat, with great resilience continues her struggle to survive, almost becoming a she-wolf by herself, showing the same tenacity and power to keep oneself alive. In the evening she will enter the abandoned homes one after another and light the lamps to place them at the window. When darkness engulfs the village the houses become alight with the lamps put by Nabat and this image in the film creates a resonance which shows the strength of human struggle against all odds.

The director has made good use of the landscape, the beauty of the sloppy mountains. Silence becomes an essential part of the story, the dialogues are few as there are few people left in the village, but the sound-track is full of sight-sounds mingled with the distant thunder of war. Elements play an important part in the film: the location, houses, village paths and the long walk along the road by the lonely woman conveyed in cinematic language makes Nabat a moving rendition of the impact of war in the life of common people.

Most of all it is human elements that make Nabat a powerful statement against war. Iskender, the husband, is confined to bed and Nabat arranges to give him a bath on the tub. The love and affection with which she washes him and make him refresh remind one of a scene from The Songs of the Road (Pather Panchali), the first of the Apu trilogy by the great maestro Satyajit Ray. In the film the mother combs Apu with great care before he leaves for his first day at school while sister Durga affectionately looks at his younger brother with great pride. That shot has found its place in the ‘Family of Mankind’ photo-essay created by Henri-Cartier Bresson although this was not a real life photograph but an enacted scene from a film.

Such is the power of cinema and Nabat has shown the strength of film as well as humanity against the violence which is tormenting and destroying the lives of common people in many parts of the world.

Edited by Steven Yates