Films as diverse as Aamis and Moonlight use food as a tool to express intimacy, than just an exercise in sustenance

At its heart, Aamis is a film about the different ways we express intimacy: the ways we discover little nuggets about ourselves and others through the food we choose to put in our mouths and on our plates.

Poulomi Das January 16, 2022 08:04:46 IST
Films as diverse as Aamis and Moonlight use food as a tool to express intimacy, than just an exercise in sustenance

Still from Aamis

"Good food is like music you can taste, color you can smell." Ratatouille gets us. In this series 'Food for Film,' we pick food films/shows that make our mouths water and our souls richer.

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“When I eat out with you, I only feel like eating meat,” Nirmali (Lima Das), an older,  married pediatrician tells Suman (Arghadeep Baruah), a young PhD student in Aamis (2019), Bhaskar Hazarika’s lyrical Assamese romance horror film. “The rest of it doesn’t even register,” she adds.

It's a scene steeped with romantic longing but at this point in the film, Nirmali and Suman are an unlikely pair — recent acquaintances who occupy such diametrically opposite worlds that they shouldn’t have intersected in the first place. But life is hardly a straight line so they find their way to each other because they both love eating meat. Seeing no harm in eating out together, Nirmali and Suman set off on a culinary courtship across Guwahati — challenging in the process the fraught politics of moral policing and meat-eating in a conservative society.

When I watched Aamis for the first time in 2019, I remember being enthralled by Hazarika’s sharp examination of a society stacked with unmet, repressed desires. At the time, the film felt intensely political to me, an expression of the perverse repercussions that arise when the carnal and carnivorous palates of an entire population are censored with impunity. 

In the last two years since life has shrunk down to the confines of our living rooms, I have revisited Aamis (the title translates to “meat,” and Ravening, its English title, refers to a hungry animal) several times. But each time, I find myself caught unaware by the unbelievable gentleness of this specific exchange even though it’s a small moment in a film with some very big reveals. The film is still as urgent as it seemed three years ago but I find myself more attuned to the lingering romanticism of how it captures companionship through shared plates

Films as diverse as Aamis and Moonlight use food as a tool to express intimacy than just an exercise in sustenance

Right before Nirmali tells Suman how sharing a meal with him makes her feel, we see the pair eat their way through several meals. He makes her taste rabbit meat — a dish that she admits she has never tried — and the camera trains its lens on her plate: There’s some bamboo shoot and potatoes but her fork is lodged firmly on the tender piece of meat. They eat fresh fish by the river in a makeshift stall. We watch her face light up in wonderment as she tries to process how beautifully quail pairs with banana blossoms while they’re eating a meal deep inside a plantation. Suman replies by planning another meal — catfish with colocasia — while the pair is already in the middle of a meal, as if he’s capable of enjoying a meal so much more only because she’s there to witness it. 

Meal after meal, Suman and Nirmali reveal their vulnerabilities to each other without hesitation — their shared plates helping them develop a code of trust. It’s exactly why at various points in the film, it feels as if Nirmali and Suman know everything about each other even though they know nothing about each other.

In Aamis, hunger resembles the path to intimacy, that is to say that meaningful connections are forged on a full stomach. 

I suppose it’s because at its heart, Aamis is a film about the different ways we express intimacy: the ways we discover little nuggets about ourselves and others through the food we choose to put in our mouths and on our plates. It’s a film about opening ourselves up to people who expand our palates, a film that treats food not purely as an exercise in sustenance but which sees eating together as romance; an intentional act steeped in connection, care, and communication. 

In the last two years of being stuck at home, I’ve come to realise that some of my memorable meals of these years had less to do with what was eaten, and more to do with what I was learning about the person eating next to me. 

Films as diverse as Aamis and Moonlight use food as a tool to express intimacy than just an exercise in sustenance

In November 2020, I mirrored Nirmali’s wonderment as I tasted a home-cooked Feijoada, a rich red Portuguese stew made with beef, pork, and kidney beans, for the first time. I ate that meal with someone I had just started seeing, a person who relayed affection through the innumerable bowls of food he cooked and ate. As he heaped spoonfuls of the stew on my plate, visibly excited at being able to familiarise someone with a plate of food they had never encountered before, I learned about generosity — how easy sharing came to some people. 

The month after, he made Moqueca, a Brazilian fish stew, so light that its flavours sneaked up on my senses without warning. I noticed how he heaped my plate with the things I liked eating — potatoes and prawns — while serving me a portion of the stew. I learnt everything I needed to know about attentiveness; about the necessity of reminding the people you love that there’s never a moment you’re not thinking of them. 

When I tried both these dishes in restaurants reputed for preparing them a few months later, I marvelled at how delicate they tasted but more urgently, I felt transported back to our couch when I tasted both stews for the first time: the afternoon when I felt loved before I felt full. No amount of culinary finesse can replicate how it really feels to be looked after. 

Films as diverse as Aamis and Moonlight use food as a tool to express intimacy than just an exercise in sustenance

In June 2021, when I moved cities, away from the small support system that had enveloped much of my adult life, my best friend baked me an apple pie on my last night. She initially refused to eat any of it — perpetually unhappy with her own brilliance — but joined in to speed up the process of demolishing it. I don’t want to proclaim that it was the best apple pie I have ever tasted because that’s beside the point. But I can say that it remains perfect in my memory — as a reminder that when you’re around someone you love, you’ll never be on an empty stomach. 

I think of both of them every time I stumble upon Kevin and Chiron from Moonlight (2016), lovers who take care of each other by eating well. In one scene, the pair sit across a dining table as Kevin (André Holland) lovingly serves black beans and a mound of white rice, gently squeezing some lime on a plate for Chiron (Trevante Rhodes). 

Films as diverse as Aamis and Moonlight use food as a tool to express intimacy than just an exercise in sustenance

“Eat your dinner, man,” he tells him, a command drenched in searing affection. I’m sure Chiron appreciated the plate of food in front of him but I have a feeling that like Nirmali, he might have felt grateful for the company a lot more. That’s the thing about eating together — it’s an invitation to practice a secret love language. The rest of it doesn’t even register.

Read more from the series here.

Films as diverse as Aamis and Moonlight use food as a tool to express intimacy than just an exercise in sustenance

Illustration by Poorti Purohit

Poulomi Das is a film and culture writer, critic, and programmer. Follow more of her writing on Twitter.

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