Moshari (2022), Director Nuhash Humayun. Bangladesh.
Death is omnipresent in Moshari, but rather than being a wispy spectre transcending the planes of existence, it’s right there in your face. We open on a bovine carcass writhing with flies. Teenager Apu (Sunerah Binte Kamal) waits impatiently while her younger sister Ayra (Nairah Onora Saif) insists on praying over the hopeless creature.
Director Nuhash Humayan clearly wants to challenge stereotypes of his native Bangladesh as a country typified by poverty and religious fanaticism. As dusk creeps in and Apu and Ayra seek shelter for the night, we see that religious sentiments have been superseded by brutal pragmatism. A catastrophic plague caused, we are led to believe, by an insect-borne virus that has savaged the West. Bangladesh, meanwhile, appears to be hanging on by the skin of its teeth. “Your religion cannot save you from them,” booms an unseen voice from speakers which would have carried the call to prayer in more stable times. “They want nothing but your blood.”
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This near-apocalyptic world is built with remarkable efficiency. Apu and Ayra return home by crossing the pond by the Jatiya Sangsad Bhaban, a marvel of modernist architecture that houses the Parliament of Bangladesh. In the film, it’s nothing more than a concrete ruin, with the pond itself presumably a magnet for winged vectors of disease. Cinematographer Ejaz Mehedi conveys such a strong sense of the oppressive humidity cloaking the landscape that you’ll feel the sweat fighting to escape your pores as you watch.
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But more than the mystery of the true nature of the creatures that only want blood, Moshari thrums with the tension between the two sisters. Orphaned and utterly alone in the world, Apu struggles to fulfil not just the role of a parent but protector in a daily life-or-death fight for survival. No matter how unsentimental she might be, there isn’t anything she can say to Arya to make her understand the true nature of the danger they face. And yet, their tragedy is that the maternal tenderness that Ayra longs for and Apu withholds is just as crucial to their survival as their titular moshari, the traditional mosquito net hung over their shared bed. It offers the only protection against that which seeks to tear them apart in more ways than one.
Moshari is a powerful and suspenseful tail of the tense relationship between two sisters that will see the sweat fighting to escape your pores as you watch.