The Miniaturist of Junagadh is a 30-minute short film directed by Kaushal Oza that depicts the final moments of retired miniaturist Husyn Naqqash, played by Naseeruddin Shah, and his family. The plot of the film charts the family's final day in their ancestral home in the princely state of Junagadh.
Naseeruddin Shah's increasing age has an antiquity and artfulness about it, almost as if becoming old is the legacy of living, rather than the fading of life. The characters they play reflect the blurring border between acting and being, between actor and human. The core component of the film is that preserving time is a core component of the human experience.
In Kaushal Oza's 29-minute short, The Miniaturist of Junagadh, Naseeruddin Shah plays an artist caught at the crossroads of history and humanity. Padmavati Rao plays the role of Husyn's wife, Sakina and Rasika Dugal plays the character of Nurhayat, their daughter.
Last year, The Miniaturist of Junagadh was nominated for Best Short Film at the New York Indian Film Festival. It was shown at the Cincinnati Indian Film Festival as well as the International Film Festival of South Asia in Toronto and the Indian Film Festival in Stuttgart. It premiered on Royal Stag Barrel Select Large Short Films – a platform for trailblazing Hindi films – on 27 May, and is now available for streaming.
The plot of the movie takes place in 1947, when the protagonist Husyn Naqqash, is forced to give up his family house to a hard-hearted Hindu man, Kishorilal, played by Raj Arjun. As the film takes place during the ravages of the partition, the protagonist is forced to uproot his entire life and look for safety in Karachi.
The protagonist has an even deeper layer that is a direct result of his disability: blindness. Husyn revels in and considers it a fair price for all the years he devoted his eyes to the artistry of painting. A lover of all forms of art, the retired Nawab's palace miniaturist used to capture history through his brushstrokes but now stands on the verge of becoming a relic of a bygone era himself. Kishorilal is inheriting everything in the house, including Husyn's most prized possessions like his gramophone and a rare assortment of artworks.
A beautiful little dance ensues, between the old and the new, between the personal and the political, between loss and nostalgia, and, most importantly, between identity and culture. The Miniaturist of Junagadh is adapted from Stefan Zweig's short novel Die Unsichtbare Sammlung.
Some features, such as the wide use of mirrors work very well as visual metaphors, while simultaneously allowing viewers to get an idea of the home's infinite expanse and depth.
One of the most notable scenes in the short involves mirrors. While waiting, Kishorilal admires himself in a mirror, and he notices an older man in the reflection, which turns out to be Husyn walking around the room in front of him. The two main players in the story are introduced to each other through reflections. The scene itself ties Husyn's relationship with his ancestral home and the reflective motif recurs many more times before the end of the tale.
The film sheds light on human behaviour. It also emphasises the importance of empathy in bridging social division. The cast gives an enthralling performance, conveying the complicated emotions associated with forceful eviction. In the current backdrop of rising communal violence, The Miniaturist of Junagadh is a timely watch and a cautionary tale to not repeat the mistakes of the past.