Cast: Lima Das, Arghadeep Baruah, Neetali Das, Sagar Saurabh, Dilip Manash Das
Director: Bhaskar Hazarika
Bhaskar Hazarika, a National award-winning writer-director, doesn’t like to just challenge stereotypes, long-held beliefs and conventions, he relishes anatomising them to explore the deviant nestled within. That he does this in a seemingly humdrum, commonplace setting is what makes his bodacious cinematic adventures riveting and unforgettable.
Certain scenes from his 2015 Kothanadi (The River of Fables), which won the National Award for best feature film in Assamese, still stalk me — scenes that don’t just illustrate his genius as a filmmaker, but also seethe with his politics.
Aamis, Hazarika’s second feature film, is a much more audacious and difficult film to pull off.
It’s a love story with a kink — one that gives “take a piece of me” stunning new meaning. It is bold in its concept and story and very clever in its execution.
Hazarika places his story and its main characters in a middle class setting where the ordinariness of life, the daily, repetitive, numbing routine seeks thrills.
The film slowly seduces us with a cute and honourable love affair conducted around sumptuous meals and then, gently, serves a shocking plateful of taboos to chomp on.
Aamis’ story and screenplay walk a very fine line, between revolting deviant behaviour and laughable absurdity, between farce and perversion to give us a tale of love that pulsates with the zeitgeist of our times.
The story of Aamis is seemingly sweet and simple. In Guwahati, Dr Nirmali Saikia (Lima Das), a paediatrician, lives with her son, Piku, and husband Dr Dilip Saikia (Manash Das), who is mostly away, travelling around the state to save mankind, one epidemic at a time.
On a lazy, relaxed Sunday, a college student from the neighbourhood, Sumon (Arghadeep Baruah), knocks on her door to help his senior who is writhing in pain, while vomiting and shitting.
Sumon, a student of anthropology, is working on his PhD — meat-eating habits and traditions in the Northeast.
They get talking, Sumon mostly, about his college’s Meat Club whose members reject all processed meats and travel to great lengths in search of fresh meat of all kinds. “We buy, slaughter, cook and then enjoy it,” he says.
There is a primal quality to their search, hunt, consumption, and Nirmali, the upright wife, mother and doctor, who has a mental block about eating with her hands, listens wide-eyed, intrigued by this strange adventure.
She’ll try it, she says, as long as she can use a fork and a spoon.
The soft meat of wild rabbit arrives first. And as she digs in, Sumon talks about Gandhipuk — the bug that stinks and whose piss is said to have hallucinogenic effects.
While feeding her, observing her enthusiasm, beauty, the honesty of her reaction and her willingness to surrender to his offerings, to be his companion, muse, co-explorer, Sumon starts falling in love with Nirmali.
They text each other, travel around sampling exotic meats, and it’s during these moments of banter and intimacy that a conversation about Sumon eating his pet rooster sets the tone for future adventures.
Their connection, love is expressed and experienced through meat, and Nirmali soon begins to loathe vegetarian food.
Aamis has two minor tangential strands — one of Nirmali’s friends, Jumi (Neetali Das), who is having an illicit affair, and the other of Sumon’s veterinarian friend, Dr Elias (Sagar Saurabh), who keeps reminding him of what’s forbidden. Both try to create a moral fence for Sumon and Nirmali. But as Sumon says, there is no universal definition of what’s “normal”, what’s acceptable. And his list of stuff to try out is long — deer, elephant, monkey, dog, cat, lizards, worms, snakes, dragonflies… and the most tabooed of it all — bat meat.
It ignites passions, leaving a heaviness between them, of having sinned together. And then Sumon decides to breach the last frontier in a shocking scene that is so intelligently written and calmly shot — given what transpires, it should have made me retch, but I laughed out loud and long.
As a yellow casserole tiffin box travels back and forth, exchanging hands, an obsession begins to form… for a particular meat that is forbidden and orgasmic.
In Assamese, Aamis means meat. And here meat is meat, of course, but it’s also a non-veg metaphor. It’s a substitute for sex, love-making.
It stands for the forbidden — she’s forbidden for him, and he’s forbidden for her, sexually, and so they find a way to connect, touch, share a piece of each other.
The film’s focus is a lot on Nirmali, and Lima Das, with her controlled, measured performance, marked by the slightest inflictions, reactions, sets the mood and tone of scenes, the moment, the film.
Arghadeep Baruah’s Sumon, with his boyish affection and obsession, frames her in a pool of glowing love.
The film devotes a lot of time to cooking, eating, chatting, texting, and the screenplay, full of dialogue and detailed cooking and eating scenes, delivers it all with a beaming smile and a powerful comment on the politics of food. This is what gives Hazarika’s film heft and power.
Meat is political, Aamis says. And then asks, why.
It’s interesting to observe how Indian cinema is reacting to the violent churn of its spirit, humanity and enshrined values it’s being subjected to.
While its most celebrated and pampered actors, directors and production houses of Bollywood are bending over backwards to pander, to curry favour by dishing out regressive, bigoted tales, independent cinema is not cowing down.
From Anand Patwardhan’s Reason (Vivek), to Lijo Jose Pellissery’s Jallikattu, from Nandita Das’ Manto to Chandraprakash Dwivedi’s Mohalla Assi, from Vishal Bhardwaj’s Haider to Meghna Gulzar’s Raazi, even Anubhav Sinha’s Mulk are among the few films that are challenging the mainstream narrative and arguing for equality, equanimity, individual freedoms, choices, and basic human rights.
When the history of our current times is written, directors and writers like Bhaskar Hazarika can stand tall. Over what they will stand tall is the question their outlier films are asking....