Firstpost at Tribeca: Bhaskar Hazarika’s Aamis is a delightfully deranged Assamese food film

Siddhant Adlakha

May 03, 2019 14:33:40 IST

(The Tribeca Film Festival 2019 runs from 24 April to 5 May. Firstpost will be posting movie reviews from the independent film festival held in New York City.)

There’s a devilish simplicity to Aamis, Bhaskar Hazarika’s follow-up to Kothanodi and the on-screen debut of one of its leads. Though, to lay all its cards on the table would mean spoiling at least some of its surprise. The film is many things — food movie, unconventional romance, addiction drama, horror-comedy, and even straight-up horror — and it proves to be too many things from time to time. However, while it occasionally struggles to keep its plates spinning, the film’s genre-sludge puts it firmly in Midnight Movie territory; its trappings are gleefully deranged, despite an overt self-seriousness deep into its runtime.

Hazarika covers a lot of ground in an hour and forty-eight minutes, beginning with an intro to middle-aged, prim-and-proper pediatrician Niri (first time actress Lima Das) and scraggly, pony-tailed PhD student Sumon (Arghadeep Barua), who calls Niri to check on his vegetarian friend amidst meat-induced indigestion. Niri and Sumon’s first few conversations are low-key and unassuming. Niri isn’t an adventurous eater, while Sumon heads a “meat club” at his university, where students source, butcher and cook their own exotic foods so they can keep a better eye on the product. The duo charm one another with sweet nothings-in-particular, and they even enter each other’s thoughts during scenes with other characters; their romance plays out more through suppressed smiles than it does through words.

Niri’s husband, a fellow doctor, goes on medical missions for months at a time, leaving her and their son alone. Her reluctant attraction to Sumon — egged on by her best friend, amidst an affair of her own — takes the form of new and exciting culinary adventures, though much like Niri, the film itself is reluctant when it comes to its visual indulgences, and with good reason.

Firstpost at Tribeca: Bhaskar Hazarika’s Aamis is a delightfully deranged Assamese food film

Lima Das in Aamis. Youtube screengrab

The food that Niri and Sumon eat, from rabbits to bats and everything in between, stands in for their physical desires. They almost hold hands on occasion, but for the most part, they never touch. Yet Hazarika holds back on letting us slip into either character’s perspective.

During the film’s first half, we’re mere casual observers to their experiences, watching their faces from afar (perhaps even begging for something more narratively magnetic), without being granted so much as a single shot of the dishes they so painstakingly prepare. At first, it feels like an opportunity missed. Though when the film finally transitions to both “food porn” and a more intoxicating romance, it does so at an uncomfortable narrative crossroads.

Minor spoilers:

When it feels most like the film is slipping into familiar territory — Niri’s husband returns, forcing her to choose between him and Sumon — Aamis turns on its head. The initial conversations about the ethics of meat-eating feel like mere texture at first (the easy-going Sumon studies eating habits, specifically meat-eating in eastern states), though as soon as his spark with Niri begins to fade, he begs his veterinarian friend to cut out a piece of his thigh. It seems almost like a joke at first, but the mere casual suggestion shatters the normalcy of the film’s conventional romance.

Having laid the groundwork for a romantic food movie without really feeling like one, the film finally indulges in hyper-stylisations at just the wrong moment — or just the right one, depending on your mileage. Decadent closeups of deviled eggs and stuffed tomatoes consume the frame, like something out of a cooking show. These striking inserts are the ingredient the rest of the film had been missing. They look ravishing, but the chilling knowledge of Sumon’s meat-of-choice is delightfully unsettling, twisted further by a musical score made up of classical compositions played in the wrong key.

It’s all familiar, but it’s distinctly off.

Niri ought to be repelled by these advances (she is, though only at first) but now, when she eats what Sumon cooks for her, she’s spiritually transported, as the film presents brief, abstract depictions of sexual gratification. Lima Das plays Niri with a quiet compassion; there’s nothing wrong with her per se, though being so personable and “normal” makes her descent into consensual cannibalism feel all the more surreal. Rather than switching up its style to match its maniacal content, the film maintains the lighthearted, melodic quality of its initial romantic scenes. Similarly, Arghadeep Barua proceeds through Sumon’s self-mutilation with a cheery smile, lost in thoughts of giddy romance. And as the realization of what Aamis really is finally arrives, it changes once again.

While a bit more macabre from there on out — it becomes a human-meat-addiction tale akin to Julia Ducournau’s Raw, only without the tonal deftness — Aamis remains both surprising and bizarrely enjoyable for longer than it has any right to be. Though, it ventures a bit too far toward dour aimlessness, when it ought to be ramping up for a ludicrious climax. The film is rife with metaphors about repression and the all-consuming nature of romance, but it works best as a literal document of two people with a strange shared passion, one which complicates their already complicated predicament. More than anything, it’s fun.

Rating: ***

Language: Assamese

Updated Date: May 03, 2019 14:33:40 IST

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