Aamis director Bhaskar Hazarika on spinning a brilliant tale of love, desire and sin in his critically lauded film
Aamis is a must-watch that will have you questioning everything you have ever believed about love. The film is an excellent study of social structures and aberrations, of norms and penalties, and of desire and its costs. But more than anything else, the film — and Bhaskar Hazarika — ask a simple and yet potent question: How can something that feels so good be wrong?
After giving us the Japanese horror and native folklore-inspired Kothanodi a few years ago, Bhaskar Hazarika returns with Aamis, a brilliant tale of love, desire and sin.
Aamis’ premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival this week has been met with rave reviews.
Aamis tells the story of a middle-aged Guwahati-based paediatrician named Nirmali, and a student — Sumon — who befriends her.
After giving us the deliciously innovative Japanese horror and native folklore inspired Kothanodi a few years ago, Bhaskar Hazarika returns with another brilliant tale of love, desire and sin in his new feature film Aamis. Hazarika’s extraordinary way of looking at something ordinary is evident not only in the story he tells, but also in the making of his film — starting with the cinematography, all the way down to the performances he manages to elicit from his actors. Aamis is — by far — one of the best films that India has produced in recent years.
“The idea came about as most ideas do,” Hazarika said, in an interview with Firstpost, “after a chance observation got me thinking about alternative ways of expressing romantic love, specifically through eating. As the idea developed into a story that might make for an interesting film, themes of taboo, repression, and the nature of sin and punishment were added to it.”
Aamis tells the story of a middle-aged Guwahati-based paediatrician named Nirmali. Her marriage is a joyless one, because her husband — who is also a physician — tends to stay away from her, engaging in relief work in far-flung places. Despite this, Nirmali seems to be in control of her life, and cares for her child and her patients with grace and dignity. She finds some relief in the company of her close friend — a woman who is incorrigibly and hopelessly in a relationship outside her marriage.
Nirmali considers this friend an example of what she herself does not want to turn into, and draws strength from her (relative) success in attempting to lead a relatively ‘normal’ life. However, her world turns upside down when she meets a young Anthropology student, Sumon, who is working on a somewhat odd research study — the meat-eating habits of the people of the North-East.
Sumon believes that when it comes to meat, there is nothing called ‘normal’, because one man’s food can be another man’s taboo. Nirmali finds this notion logical and exciting, and the two begin a somewhat platonic relationship, embarking on an adventurous culinary journey, trying out various kinds of meat outside the usual. At the same time, their grip on reality loosens, and as they venture beyond the pale of social norms, Sumon and Nirmali realise they have come to a point of no return.
Hazarika says the view espoused by Sumon in the film is obvious, “if you look at the diversity of food eaten across the world”. “A person’s diet is a matter of cultural and economic circumstances and should be understood in that context. The issue with meat eating today though isn’t so much ‘what’ but ‘how much’. It is true that human meat consumption is having a detrimental effect on the environment and we need to try and reduce our dependence on industrial meat. I’m trying my best to eat less and eat local!” he explains.
Aamis’ biggest strength is the way in which the story is told. Hazarika clearly knows the dangers of rushing into the heart of his tale, so he takes his time to build a sweet romance — one that has neither a point, nor any conclusion. So, for instance, Sumon addresses the woman he is falling in love with as ‘baideo’, or elder sister. And yet, his desires for the woman know no bounds. The fact that this does not come across as vulgar or immoral is not merely due to the fact that the script does not allow us to judge the young man, but also because it makes us feel for him. His “sin” is harmless, his intentions genuine, like his love. His feelings for Nirmali raise the question — can a desire be carnal in nature and still be pure? Isn’t physicality an inherent part of the human existence? And if it indeed is so, what makes us brand one form of love as wrong and the other as right?
A similar soul searching is induced by Nirmali’s story. Is the place she descends to really dark? Or is it merely considered dark because society says so? A vegetarian man judges a meat-eater, a meat-eating dog-lover judges a man who kills a dog to consume its flesh, and such a man may judge someone else for their food habits. Where does this end? Who is right? And who is wrong? Is this all a matter of perspective and choice, then? And of freedom? And if it is so, where does one draw the line on the sand and say – this is allowed, whereas that is not? Hazarika’s film manages to ask these questions, without even once talking about them. How he manages to intertwine two notions — the love for another person, and the love for food — is simply marvellous.
“I find the ‘dark side’, interesting because we do not explore that part of human nature enough. A lot of very un-pretty things are revealed about human beings once you shine a light into the dark, and I feel it is necessary to confront those things once in a while. But this is just in the context of my work. I’m not a dark guy at all in real life!” Hazarika says, with a laugh, when asked about the sombre themes of both Kothanodi and Aamis.
With Aamis especially, Hazarika has admitted to wanting to depict a darker, more detached tale. However, the longer he worked on the film, the more he empathised with the characters. “We always wanted to create a film where people are provoked to empathise with the plight of sinners, but it was meant to be harsher in treatment,” Hazarika says. “A lot of this had to do with the way our first-time actors approached their characters. The dignity they brought to their roles, their innocence and honesty made the whole film quieter and gentler. I feel this has ended up making their story more tragic and disturbing, and made it that much easier for people to understand their plight in the end.”
Indeed, Hazarika has ample reason to be proud of his actors: Arghadeep Baruah as the ever-smiling and somewhat starry-eyed Sumon, and Lima Das as the measured and dignified Dr Nirmali Saikia. Baruah’s innocence never lets Aamis’ story become darker than it is. Das, on the other hand, is an exercise in contradictions, because that is precisely what the story wants her to be. Even by the end of the film, there are traces of the dignified doctor that we have glimpsed at the start of the tale. Drama dictated Nirmali to be a completely different person, but she has retained traces of the woman that she has been all her life, even in her darkest hours. And that’s just remarkable.
The film is technically rich as well. The cinematography is striking, and it manages to capture the essence of the story through straightforward, linear shots during the first half and tense and unusual viewpoints in the second. The editing and the sound design deserve special mention — both draw us right into the film and make us bystanders witnessing everything that is happening with our own eyes. The script is brilliant, with a sweet, languid build-up all the way to the climax (which can feel a bit rushed).
Aamis’ premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival this week has been met with rave reviews. Hazarika calls it “quite an experience”, to be in New York and present a “film to an audience so far removed from its own culture”. “To find that the film resonates with them has been truly humbling and inspiring. Early reviews have been good and that makes us hopeful for a good response to the film back home,” he adds.
Hazarika, who draws creative inspiration from the works of writers like Stephen King, Poe, HP Lovecraft and Kafka, and filmmakers such as David Cronenberg, Herzog, John Carpenter, Takashi Miike among others, isn’t apprehensive of how accepting Indian audiences will be of his film. “Aamis attempts to provoke and may offend those who watch films for reasons other than the pleasure of watching films. But that is something inevitable and I try not to let that get in the way of my work,” he says.
Aamis is a must-watch that will have you questioning everything you have ever believed about love. The film is an excellent study of social structures and aberrations, of norms and penalties, and of desire and its costs. But more than anything else, the film — and Hazarika — ask a simple and yet potent question: How can something that feels so good be wrong?
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