My Father the Martyr

By Harris Alvi | Drama
A disowned ex-Muslim returns to his family home. But everything has changed.

Amir is traveling back to his family home. But the young man is returning to get his birth certificate under some difficult circumstances: his parents disowned him many years ago after he forsook the Muslim religion that he grew up with. And his father Shahid recently committed a heinous act that has changed his family and community forever.

The return home is awkward and tense. Amir gets a tentative but sincere welcome from his brother Najeed, but his mother Fatima — lost in grief and facing approbation and retaliation from their town — is cold and hostile. Even their local religious community refuses to bury Amir’s father for what’s he’s done. Amid this barely contained tension, the family sits together for a meal, leading to a confrontation years in the making.

Written and directed by Harris Alvi and produced by Lucy Miles, this lucid, beautifully crafted short family drama explores the conflict between a distant, almost unknowable father and his wayward son amid a backdrop of grief, emotional stasis and religious fanaticism. Though the father is no longer physically present in their lives, he nevertheless exerts a domineering presence in the family, which brothers and mother must reckon with.

The first half of the film is almost minimalist in its spare dialogue, letting the power of its poetic, pensive images establish a chilly, almost dismal emotional world. The muted, washed-out colors and light are almost at odds with the flowing, graceful camera movements, sweeping both viewers and Amir back into his past.

The narrative gains momentum when Amir reestablishes contact with his family, and the background information of the intriguing familial portrait begins to be filled in. The collective performances of the ensemble cast — actors Nikhil Parmar as Amir, Ehsan Al-Kader as Najeed and Kanchan Raval as Fatima — are all sensitive and understated, capturing the tension of past resentments and the uncertainty of the present, as well as the pull of familial love and loyalty. Even actor Mihir Pandya as the father can summon years of shared history in the limited time he’s onscreen, and his brief presence exerts a potent influence both on the story and the characters. As the family that he left behind hashes out what he has done and just who he is as a father and a patriarch, it opens up a raw but necessary space for truth-telling.

This confrontation is cathartic and powerful, ripping open a torrent that may just be the final blow to the family’s shared narrative about the father. The final movement of the film therefore reflects a different energy that mirrors Amir’s torrents of emotion. The musical score swells with heartbreak; the editing and images flow with an almost rhapsodic power; and the sequence ends with a final, poignant detail, one that indicates a move into the future together, after the past has been faced and exorcised.

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