After he won the National award for his first film, Kothanodi, loosely based on popular folktales, Assamese filmmaker Bhaskar Hazarika has now created a thoroughly original, thought provoking film, Aamis that is currently the toast of international festivals and is giving rise to a lot of debates.
Anybody who’s seen the film will have a strong reaction to it; love or hate, that depends on how they perceive this pathbreaking film that has broken all boundaries and created a brave new world for Indian cinema. In Assamese, the word ‘Aamis’ means non-vegetarian and this film uses food, rather meat based foods, as a metaphor for this dark, twisted, love story. Reputed director Anurag Kashyap says nothing like this has ever come out of India, before. He’s right. The story is quite simply about forbidden love between an older married woman and a much younger man. It explores the curious relationship between food and sex, that has been given a brilliant dimension by the director, for whom, the darkness in human psyche has always held more fascination.
Ordinary love demands consummation or perhaps choosing the moral high ground and walking away from such relationships. Here it is not so. There is extreme desire and hunger for each other and yet, not even a physical touch is depicted between both the protagonists.
Aamis is not about lust, not about horror, not even about food, as people who are playing guessing games about this movie would say. It’s quite plainly and simply about love, as the tagline for the movie says: Consumed by love.
The love that gnaws at you, eats away at you and yet cannot be allowed to survive, to live and to breathe. It talks about the kind of love that bows down to societal norms and yet exists. The love which cannot disappear because it has made its presence felt in your life.
Unexpressed desire that rots, that takes a different turn because there is no other way to live that love. As the young protagonist Sumon (Arghadeep Baruah) who is in love with the much older married pediatrician Dr Nirmali (Lima Das) says in the film, “I feared that wanting more would make even this little bit I share with her, go away.”
And to be one with her, to give fulfilment to the physical desires that usually accompany love, he wants himself to be one with her in a bizarre fashion, which will not give way to their forbidden pleasures and yet achieve satisfaction that a love, this deep craves. His character as a young PHd student of anthropology who is studying different meat eating cultures of the northeast and his lady love, the doctor with a lonely personal life are drawn to each other by this common interest. Both essay their roles with a natural ease that comes to them perfectly.
Together they embark on a journey of experimenting and eating different meats, that range from the basic chicken to even the largely revolting bat meat. In between these supposedly harmless food fetishes, their repressed love and the meat eating takes a macabre turn.
He wants his flesh to be inside her, but without indulging in immorality and he finds a unique way of doing this. What follows after is something that initially disgusts both of them but it also connects them in a way, nothing else can. And the extreme hunger or ravening that follows is incurable, addictive, just like their doomed love.
While lust can exist alone. Love, on the other hand, also needs lust to survive. Unlike her friend Jumi (Neetali Das) who is having a rollicking extra marital affair, the leading lady here does not succumb. And yet, she does — in a way that tears at the conventional fabric of society and challenges our definitions of normalcy.
Despite the degradation, the depravity that this love brings, the director lends them a strange dignity that does not allow us to condemn them, rather marvel at their capacity to bear the pain and angst. Something like what Shakespeare’s characters were endowed with: their fatal flaw (hamartia) that reminds us of the mortality of two otherwise likable, good, people.
The last scene when she finally grasps his hand for the first time is proof of the fact that this love is different and their tragedy cannot undermine it. Director Bhaskar Hazarika gets into the skin of his actors ensuring with his brilliant filmmaking that this is cinema that will leave you thirsting for more.
Alongwith being a slice of reality, it also celebrates dark, twisted, depraved love, simply because it exists. And for a filmmaker like Hazarika, who is essentially a writer, first and foremost, making honest cinema, that he believes in is what matters.
Aamis is a film that stays with you long after it ends and a film that you can never forget.
An absolute must watch.
In conversation with BHASKAR HAZARIKA
When did you first realise that you wanted to make films? Has this been an abiding interest?
I am from Dergaon in Assam but I grew up in a boarding school in Raipur. We were exposed to a lot of Bollywood films from a very young age and I loved watching them. English films that we were shown were pretty boring, so I gravitated towards Hindi cinema but then I nurtured dreams of being a novelist more than a filmmaker.
It was when I grew up and realised that novelists are usually poor and making or writing films was a better way to earn a living that I made up my mind (smiles).
I studied filmmaking at the University of Reading and came back to India after that and worked in Bollywood for a very long time. I co-wrote the Abbas Mustan film Players. But somewhere along the line, I felt dissatisfied and empty. I wanted to satisfy my creative urges and that was impossible in Bollywood.
Both your films delve into the darkness of the human psyche. Why is that so appealing?
Films need to make you think or feel some emotion. I dont believe in films simply for the sake of entertainment or to send a message. The emotion of fear, not horror, can give rise to feelings we dont know existed in us. It is when we actually see our true selves. That is interesting for me.
Your very first film Kothanodi won the national award. How did you feel?
On a personal level, I dont believe in awards much but yes, it did open a lot of doors for my second project Aamis.
What’s next on the agenda now?
A film that I have written and which will be directed by a young female director (as the script requires such a person) in Guwahati. A big Bollywood project is in the pipeline. And some more are in talks and I’m writing some more too.
You travel a lot. Where are you based now?
Yes I do travel quite a bit these days but I am currently based in Noida. I plan to relocate to Assam, very soon, though and that is where I will be based. Though my work will continue taking me everywhere I guess.
Aamis had its world premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival in New York. The film is produced by Poonam Deol and Shyam Bora in association with Wishberry Films.
It released in Assam and select parts of India on November 22, 2019.
You can stream it from moviesaints.com…to watch anywhere in the world.