Maacher Jhol movie review: With its narrative around food, Abhishek Verma film creates new avenues of communication
Winner of the National Award for 2017 in the Best Animation Film category and an Official Selection at the Indian Film Festival of Los Angeles, 2018, Maacher Jhol is a lovingly brewed short film
Winner of the National Award for 2017 in the Best Animation Film category and an Official Selection at the Indian Film Festival of Los Angeles, 2018, Maacher Jhol is a lovingly brewed short film that celebrates tenderness and the intimacy of silences. Director Abhishek Verma creates a deeply atmospheric tale where the audience can be forgiven for drowning in the richly produced music, heavy on nostalgia and symbolism. As the title suggests, the narrative revolves around food and the intimacy it can generate, creating hitherto unexplored avenues of communication.
Lalit is a young man who wishes to come out to his family. Ashutosh, his partner, is away on a work assignment. So he invites his father over for a meal of the ever reliable Maacher Jhol, the spicy fish stew that’s a common sight in Bengali households. It is the simple story of a man attempting to finally hold a difficult conversation, hoping that the aroma of food might help him tide over the hesitation and drama it can entail. He buys the fish, cooks the dish with the aid of a radio cookery programme, sits down for the meal with his father and reluctantly broaches the subject. That, in short, is the story of Verma’s film. However, Maacher Jhol truly excels due to its warm, atmospheric, sepia rendered telling that deep dives into memory through a host of symbols. In doing so, it becomes a film you can watch with your ears as you feel your way through the narrative.
Lalit, by all means, is an everyman. He is a warm creature whose love is best expressed through mysterious ways reserved for benevolent spirits and lovers. And he is a man truly and deeply in love. His house is full to bursting with memories, the old Bollywood music he prefers having seeped into its nooks and crannies. Verma fills every frame with the soul of his protagonist, therefore turning this film into an extension and mirror of Lalit himself. The film moves at Lalit’s pace, surrounds itself with rain and tender music like him while letting itself be washed over by the aroma issuing from the simmering pot of food. You may occasionally find yourself being carried away by the symbolism, almost as helplessly as the protagonist, which can also be construed as both the greatest strength and weakness of Verma’s film.
The conversation with the father is a fitting centrepiece for the film. Verma, cognizant of this, leaves no stone unturned to make it as evocative as possible. The moments leading up to his admission are strewn with small talk, his father’s gentle nudges towards Lalit’s marriage prospects and silences you can hear welling up loudly in the space that separates them. When the moment arrives, it is aptly rendered with a maturely conceived visual metaphor that lingers on well after the film is over. Once we are through this moment, words crawl out the back door or become obsolete while cinema’s capacity to move and communicate through visual information takes over. The music, as is always the case when it used appropriately, renders the invisible visible and pulls the subtext into view. It is in its creative use of background music and sound that Verma’s film makes the most solid impression, in essence disposing of visual metaphors that can often appear a bit too frequently in the film.
Despite its minute hiccups and tendency to wallow in symbols and metaphors, Maacher Jhol remains an admirably produced film that deserves all the accolades it has been getting lately. In Lalit it gives us a lovable protagonist we can all empathise with and root for. Cleverly deploying love and food together, Verma crafts a film that is deeply evocative and full of beauty. It is a film that never raises its voice, walks in step with its protagonist, tells a simple story tenderly and transports its audience back into their own intimate moments held together by the vines of love. Perhaps most importantly, it makes you want to sing along to those old Bollywood songs you cherish so much while thinking of the one you love.
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