If food be music for love

Updated: Nov 20, 2019, 08:08 IST | Mayank Shekhar | Mumbai

How Bhaskar Hazarika's Assamese film Aamis, releasing in theatres this Friday, twists your brains more than romance as the genre itself!

Lima Das and Arghadeep Barua in Bhaskar Hazarika's Aamis
Lima Das and Arghadeep Barua in Bhaskar Hazarika's Aamis

MayankWhen did I first read the name, Bhaskar Hazarika? Out of curiosity, under torchlight, in a dark hall, to check the score-sheet, wondering, "Who is this film's director, man?" As part of the National Film Award jury, we'd been sitting through six back-to-back films, over ten gruelling days — surveying movies from East India, chiefly Bengal, most of which were either preposterously B-grade, commenting on the state of news media; or pretentiously artsy, inevitably invoking the memory of Robi Thakur, if not Shotojit Rai!

Our eyes, drooping on occasion, I suspect, lit up at some point to notice the striking image of an elephant-apple fruit, o'tenga (that looks a little like a green coconut), with eyes of its own, rolling down fields, stalking a rural woman. That woman, by the way, had given birth to this fruit! There were other interlinked visuals/stories, seamlessly sauntering into the surreal — bordering on Bunuel, Dali, if you may!

It's a genre we encounter little of — Kamal Swaroop's classic non sequitur, Om-Dar-B-Dar (1988; available on Hotstar), being an oft-quoted exception. A filmgoer's incessant appetite for classic, mostly linear, narrative story-telling, by and large, remains non-negotiable/insatiable still.

Hazarika's said film, Kothanodi (2016), starring Adil Hussain and Seema Biswas, unanimously won the National Award for Best Assamese Film that year. And besides, some images recurring in my head, having never seen such on screen before, what struck me most about Hazarika's directorial debut — partially-human o'tenga, girl getting married off to a python, etc — was that it was adapted from popular, Assamese grandmother folktales!

Lima

You felt slightly sorry for little kids dozing off on these bed-time stories. Would've inspired some nightmares, for sure! That said, Hazarika's own passion for the fantastically off-kilter gently eludes you through more than three-fourths of his second (Assamese) film, Aamis — feted abroad (premiered at Tribeca), presented by Anurag Kashyap, releasing in Indian theatres this Friday.

What's Aamis about? Love. Or the mood for love, wholly inspired by food. This may be no different from so many relationships that develop from a common bond with booze, tea, coffee, movies… Or whatever it is that two people enjoy enough to let flow through endless hours of conversations/companionship, while they simply can't have enough of each other.

But, no, food and love/sex are perfectly symmetrical (replaceable) metaphors for each other, throughout Aamis. The guy, Mr Barua, is a single, PhD student, specialising in meat-eating traditions of the North East. The girl, or rather, woman, Mrs Saikia — although in a seemingly listless/lustless marriage — is like any other urban, upper-class professional raising a child, comfortably attached to her husband, and/or his life's lofty goals.

Anything that might transpire between young Barua and old Saikia would be considered illicit. So might their fascination for exotic/experimental meats that bind them — bats, squab, wild rabbit, lizard, you name it. Perspectives depend on acquired taste/exposure alone.

Don't wish to do the thinking for you. Suffice it to know, the broad sub-text is complete. So, yeah, it's about food and love, but this isn't Ritesh Batra's The Lunchbox (2012). Neither does it have much to do with A Little Love Story from Krzysztof Kieślowski's Dekalog (1988), despite a boy's infatuation for an older woman.

What emanates from Aamis first is urban Assam itself. So rooted is the film to local sights and sounds — totally in sync with eastern cultures, in its manners and expressions of love, even in the range of meats and palettes, that unravel further as you travel into the direction of South-East on the world map. This specificity is quite in line with the current renaissance in regional Indian cinema.

Which isn't to say films from various parts of India didn't reflect an inherent diversity. Just that we can access them more easily now than ever before. The only film most North Indian film-buffs are likely to have watched of Assam's most prolific/prominent filmmaker, Jahnu Barua, for instance, might well be the one he did in Hindi — Maine Gandhi Ko Nahin Mara (2005).

Aamis will find shelf-space in a popular web platform, for sure. As did Hazarika's Kothanadi (on Netflix). And it was partly crowd-funded, by the Internet. The other Assamese indie-stalwart, Rima Das, managed to write, shoot, edit, direct her first film, all by herself — Village Rockstar (2017) — and carry it to the Oscars as India's Foreign Film entry!

Aamis stars superb non-professional actors in lead roles. The chemistry between this slightly strange couple (Lima Das, Arghadeep Barua) blows you over enough to begin strongly believing in their gravy kinda love — so smartly subtle; and simmering still. Slowly but surely, you experience the film descending towards the deliciously macabre. Pardon the puns. What else must I say about Aamis? Can't resist. Don't give it a miss!

Mayank Shekhar attempts to make sense of mass culture. He tweets @mayankw14
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