Bhaskar Hazarika has come out again with a ‘politically correct’ film. Yes, Assamese film Aamis is politically correct and dares not to venture into the territory of those food habits that have kept the pluralistic Indian society on toes for the last five and half years. At the same time, Aamis is a very dangerous film in the name of experiment, especially for the youths of present times.
The second feature film of Bhaskar Hazarika is a love story developing around different, to a certain extent abstract, tastes of eating meats available in Northeast. It is a love story that gradually slips into a tale of addiction and crime. A mid-aged married doctor Nirmali (Lima Das) and a PhD student Suman (Arghadeep Barua) see their attraction for each other blooming over tasting meats.
Suman is doing research on the meat-eating culture of Northeast. Nirmali has a school-going kid and her husband is a doctor associated with an NGO that works in rural areas of Assam. As her husband, Dilip is away from home for long-duration, so Nirmali is lonely. But she is against infidelity too as she does not approve her close friend Jumi’s extramarital affairs. However, she defended her relation with Suman as it was only for tasting meats and nothing else. Suman, too, defends the slowly developing relationship in front of his senior Elias, who is a veterinary doctor, saying that they never touched each other even by mistake. The finely crafted story moves ahead with deepening “meat attachment” between the two protagonists. However, the film then takes the most shocking, unexpected and bizarre turn!
Now, the question here is whether the main theme should be revealed in a film analysis or not. So far, in all the criticisms or reviews, nowhere it has been mentioned. If some expressed their feelings on social media, they have been trolled. However, a film, its intentions and the impact in society cannot be discussed without talking about the central theme. This will be lying to readers as well as hypocritical. Such reviews will only be superficial and sugar-coated. Aamis needs to be discussed threadbare, especially the last part, to understand the narrative properly.
Without sleeping with her, Suman wants to go inside Nirmali because of his intense love for her. But how – is the biggest question. Shocking every audience, writer-director Bhaskar Hazarika comes out with the unimaginable solution. Suman plans to treat Nirmali with his own meat. Yes, you read it right. Suman’s own flesh. He goes to Elias’ clinic and requests him to cut a small piece from his thigh. On Elias’ inquiry, Suman lies that it is for an experiment. Suman prepares the best possible delicacy with the meat, filled with utmost tender and love. When Nirmali has it, she feels an exquisite taste. The montage shots of her fulfillment prove enormously her contentment. She meets him a couple of days later and asks what the meat was. When Suman tells it, Nirmali leaves the place in utter shock and disbelief. But she stops as Suman runs after her. She approves of him and his new meat.
Treating Nirmali with Suman’s flesh continues for some more time with Elias cutting meat pieces from different parts of his body. Now the question here is why Elias never doubted and stopped until Suman requested him to cut his toe finger. Elias knew from day one that Suman tastes different meats and also did not approve his relation with Nirmali. This leaves a blank spot in Elias character in the film and perhaps the weak point in the screenplay.
After a few occasions, it is Nirmali’s turn and she prepares a dish with her meat from calf muscle in the leg. However, when Suman is informed about the meat, he vomits it out. This is again puzzling as to why he did not accept her meat. If we go by the narrative of the film, then it was Suman who started this game of meat and treated Nirmali with his flesh to go deep inside her. His act took love for her to a different level with many connotations. Then what happened when she wanted to go inside him? Was he not prepared to accept her or what?
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Till this moment, the film can be explained as a very intense and abstract, though questionable, love story between two uneven personalities suppressed by social norms. However, after this Aamis goes a step further with Nirmali getting addicted to human flesh. It does not mean whether the meat is of Suman or anyone else. When Suman offers to treat her more with his meat, Nirmali vehemently rejects the idea and says that with those one or two bites of meat, her hunger (rather an addiction) will never end.
The love turns into craziness now, or more precisely cannibalism. From here, the director seems to be in a hurry to end the film, which was moving at a very smooth pace. The climax moves too fast, resulting in some unexplained moments. When an unclaimed body of an accident victim arrives at the hospital, Nirmali calls Suman. She tries to persuade him by saying that the meat is fresh as it has just arrived and there is no claimant. She is just dying to have the meat as her hunger is growing every moment. Suman disagrees with the idea of cutting meat from a dead body and the plan is abandoned after a hospital staff enters the morgue.
Seeing the condition of his lover, Suman feels sorry and decides to treat her with human meat for the last time so that Nirmali can eat it abundantly and then leaves this addiction. He promises her of the feast on the same night. His sudden decision to arrange human meat was unconvincing as just a scene before, he was trying to control her uncontrollable cannibalism.
Suman is returning to his hostel in a cycle rickshaw after dropping Nirmali home at night. When they reached an isolated place, Suman kills the rickshaw puller and starts cutting pieces of the body when a police patrol party sees it. Suman is arrested and was subjected to third-degree that very night. Under pressure, Suman reveals everything. And Nirmali is waiting for Suman whole night.
Next morning, police arrest Nirmali. The entire incident is flashed big in media. When Nirmali was paraded in front of Suman, she could not believe that her love forced him to kill someone. In the last scene of the movie, Nirmali and Suman are being taken out of the police station in presence of a battery of media. From back view, it is seen, that Nirmali gradually holds Suman’s hand tightly – the first physical contact of the two lovers.
The last scene can be interpreted in many ways and will vary according to the class of audience. Nirmali decides not to leave Suman alone in this ensuing prolong battle, while some may interpret that there is no remorse in her and she supports his extreme step. Some may even argue that love is actually blind and it can take a human to unbelievably extreme levels. Some viewers are also looking at Aamis as metaphor of unending desire of the high class, while the lower class still has some sense left.
Whatever be the interpretation, Aamis is a highly disturbing film and it refuses to leave your brain even after days. It is disturbing because it tries to give a new definition of love and attempts to set new extremes for showcasing one’s affection for other. In a way, the film tried to legitimise the wildest extremities by breaking every norm in love. As if, everything is fair in love and war. But in reality, will a true lover allow the partner to harm himself or herself just to showcase love in the most unusual manner? Does love not mean caring for the opposite? Since when does love have this new definition of destroying the partner’s body or existence by slowly eating the flesh? No explanation, but a baffling presentation!
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Aamis has come with a UA certificate at a time when we are seeing youths as well as kids experimenting with dangerously life-threatening games like Blue Whale Challenge, Pass Out Challenge, Salt and Ice Challenge, Fire Challenge, Cutting Challenge and hundred other such apps. We stay in a country where youths change their hairstyle after their film stars adorn new looks in cinemas. In such circumstances, is there no danger that our young “lovers” will not venture out to treat the partner with his or her own flesh? We are living in an age where unfortunately youths are not taking any stand on any issue and are just going with the wave. That is why the fear is – this unprecedented film may harm more than contributing to society at large.
There is another danger that Aamis possesses. There is maximum possibility of further typecasting Northeast among the mainland India, which in anyway has the general mentality that the people here are junglee (wild) and the region has weird food habits with full of black magic tricks. This same feeling was conveyed in Bhaskar Hazarika’s first film Kothanodi, which despite being adapted from a collection of children’s folk tales, totally lacked the innocence in the narrative. Both films came out to be dark and horror fiction. As a filmmaker, who lives outside the state and hopefully feels the typecasting of Northeast more, we expected empathy for this issue, not films that will perhaps deepen the myths about the region.
In Aamis, Suman discusses various types of meats that people eat, especially in Northeast, number of times with various characters. Strangely, two types of meat are missing from the entire narrative. Yes, pork and beef! But why? Can the list of meats eaten in Northeast be completed without including pork and beef? How come a PhD student doing research on meat-eating habits mentions weirdest of all meats, but never takes the names of pork and beef? Is it unintentional or a deliberate move to avoid controversy?
Despite making such a bold, unconventional and psychologically disturbing film, if Aamis tries to be politically correct, then it is very unfortunate. It is even more unacceptable because Northeast has been in the news number of times since 2014 overeating of beef. Consumption of beef is not banned in any state of the region and many hill states’ prime meats are pork and beef. Though pork has no problem politically, it appears after seeing the movie that Bhaskar Hazarika kept a safe arguing point if someone asks about the absence of beef in the film. This ‘political correctness’ was seen in Kothanodi too.
In one of the scenes in that National Award-winning film, a saffron flag was flying high in front of a hut in an island. The film was based on four tales of literary doyen Lakshminath Bazbaroa’s popular Burhi Aair Saadhu (a collection of short stories), which was first published in 1911. The plots of the stories in the book were many centuries old from the published year with most dealing with magic and supernatural powers. Where did a saffron flag exist in Assam during that period? Except for the Western and North Western parts of India, was there any saffron flag anywhere in India during that age?
In the context of Aamis, another film is very relevant which too is a love story developing over food and cooking. The Ranjan Ghosh-directed Bengali movie Ahaa Re deals with the story of a Bangladeshi Muslim chef falling in love with an elder Hindu widow of Kolkata. The extremely courageous movie touched many nerves that very few would dare in the current political scenario of West Bengal and India. Aamis had all the potential to do so and become a landmark film, but somehow it missed the bus.
The casting of Aamis was excellent. Its biggest contribution is the two debutant actors in the leads. Lima Das in Nirmali stole the show with her superb performance. Her ravishing beauty with the infectious smile will stay with the audience for a long time. Arghadeep Barua as Suman was convincing and very controlled. He is a valuable addition to the Assamese film industry. The making of the film is very smooth without any glitch. The subtle background score along with old melodies added to the charm of the visual treatment of Aamis. Bhaskar Hazarika is successful in that.
(Sohail Choudhury is a senior journalist. Views expressed are his own. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)