Aamis: Obscure objects of desire

Ritika Bhatia | Updated on May 03, 2019 Published on May 03, 2019

Common factor: Aamis explores the doomed love story between a young man and an older woman who bond over a shared love for the exotic meats of the North-East

Bhaskar Hazarika’s just-premièred film is a tender love story with a macabre subtext

“Nothing like this has ever come out of India,” says film-maker Anurag Kashyap in a tweet about Bhaskar Hazarika’s Aamis (The Ravening), which premièred last week at the Tribeca Film Festival in New York and will be screened at the 19th New York Indian Film Festival next week. Set in contemporary Guwahati, the film explores the doomed love story of a young man and an older, married woman, who bond over a shared love for the exotic meats of the North-East.

Hazarika’s 2015 début feature Kothanodi, which was crowdfunded, won the National Award for the Best Assamese Film.

Also read: Kothanodi turns the magic realism of the Assamese folk tale into something ominous

BLink catches up with the writer-director to discuss Aamis and peel away its many layers. Excerpts from the interview:

Food for thought: Hazarika says the idea for Aamis struck him when he saw a couple eating chicken together at a food court in Delhi


What made you tell a story of romance through food?

Romance through cooking is quite an established trope in art, and sex and food have long served as metaphors for each other. In Aamis, which literally means “meat eating”, we went for a total subversion of this trope. But, here again, I must stress that the film is equally about empathy and understanding for all the sinners and the damned among us.

Was making a film about forbidden desires — both carnal and dietary — an act of political resistance in India’s current political climate?

It is certainly not conscious, but they say all art is born out of a response to the prevailing zeitgeist, and so Aamis is no different. Perhaps the film is more effective for this reason. A film about meat-eaters would certainly not be asked such a question had it been made in the progressive-minded India that we seem to have left behind.

At the heart of the film is a tender love story...

Most of my research for this film was confined to pictures and anecdotes around love and meat eating. To construct our lead characters, I used the Romeo and Juliet template of star-crossed lovers. The crucial difference was I did not want their tragedy to be heroic, but morbid and degrading.

Kothanodi was a straightforward folk horror anthology. Aamis treads fresh ground...

It’s like the difference between an axe and a stiletto. Kothanodi emerged out of popular Assamese folklore, while Aamis is a singularly offbeat kind of story that required more subtlety. But the idea was the same — to provoke people to feel for others, no matter how far they may have fallen. We wanted to mine the bibhatsa rasa (the macabre) for the film. But it became a gentler film in the end, and that, I feel, conversely made the film more effective. Most of my references for Aamis came from day-to-day observations. This idea came in a flash in a food court in Delhi when I saw a couple eating chicken together. Then the mind took over with that familiar greeting — “Hey what if...”

Was it difficult to get funding for a topic as sensitive as this?

My producers Shyam Bora and Poonam Deol came on board when the idea was just a story in my head. They’ve been with me since the beginning and have a huge role to play in giving me the confidence to attempt a film like this.

Tell us about the making of the film.

We shot the film in and around Guwahati in one straight schedule. We decided to cast characters, and not actors who could become our characters. Lima Das, the female lead, teaches at the Regional Dental College in Guwahati. She is also an accomplished exponent of [the Assamese] Sattriya dance. The young male lead, Arghadeep Baruah, fronts the popular Assamese rock band Bottle Rockets. We knew when we first met him that he had tremendous screen presence. Since most of the main cast was débuting with the film, we had a cast workshop conducted by (actors) Seema Biswas and Daulat Vaid.

Since the film is exploring, in your own words, the bibhatsa rasa, how excited or nervous are you about the audience reaction?

I just want as many people as possible to see Aamis. There will always be a bunch of people who will be offended. A lot of people are sensitive about cinema because of the notion that a film should be a carrier of positive messages for society, and expressionism in films is neither understood nor encouraged. This kind of thinking especially took root in India after Independence, when a new nation looked at its arts to validate its struggle and build social cohesion after the trauma of the Partition. But it has little relevance in 21st-century India or Assam and, in fact, limits our cinema by infantilising it.

If not mainstream Indian, what kind of world would you say your body of work aligns with?

The world we wanted to create for our story in Aamis was Asian, and not Indian per se. As a culture, we have so much in common with the people of Southeast Asia and the Far East, and I wanted to acknowledge that through the film’s look, feel and narrative.

The film reminds me of a quote from Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray: “The only way to get rid of a temptation is to yield to it. Resist it, and your soul grows sick with longing for the things it has forbidden to itself, with desire for what its monstrous laws have made monstrous and unlawful.”

This quote pretty much sums it up! However, the case can be made that temptations and desires, if repressed, find other ways to express themselves, and some of them are self-destructive and result in fates worse than the original temptation. This is what we tried to explore in the film. We also presented a bleaker view on life through the secondary character Jumie (played by Neetali Das), wherein even those who give in to temptation end up in a situation that is destructive. As Jim Morrison famously said about the human condition — “No one here gets out alive”.

Ritika Bhatia is a Mumbai-based freelance journalist and film professional

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Published on May 03, 2019
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