Aamis is Bhaskar Hazarika’s second feature film after his noteworthy debut with Kothanodi: A River of Fables which was an interesting reinterpretation of folktales contained in Assamese legendary writer Lakshminath Bezbaruah’s anthology Burhi Aair Xaadhu.
What was striking about the film, at least, for Assamese viewers (who are familiar with the folktales), was the fact that the tales were given an edgy touch by translating them to a completely adult world where the characters were not either simply good or bad but complex grey figures capable of inflicting real pain to unsuspecting souls.
Probably what was not smooth was the transition: the folk tales became less of folk tales and more the stuff of psychological horror which resulted in a lack of sense of wonder in the narrative. Aamis is devoid of such hiccups where the viewers are taken along on a unique ride of love, passion and obsession.
Often those friendships turn out to be strongest and enduring where people share or develop common interests and passions. And one of the pleasures of life is to find and meet such people. The only issue is we don’t know if at all we will meet such people or when we do, it is difficult to say that it will be without any challenges.
Aamis’ plot centres on a developing relationship between a female paediatrician and a young Anthropology PhD student, both of whom happen to share a passion for eating meat and fowl of different varieties. Their chance meeting also seems to have a touch of serendipity to it which obviously contributes to their growing fondness for each other. But this is what it appears to be, or what they would like it to be: two people finding themselves with similar tastes just having a good time and enjoying life.
The reality is Dr Nirmali (Lima Das) is a married woman with a normal family setup, while the young scholar chap Sumon (Arghadeep Baruah) is a kind of free spirit learning to experiment with life and choices. Very soon their closeness draws attention from their respective friends and the lovers barely manage to keep it from not appearing ‘illicit’.
Soon, Nirmali comes to term with the fact that her affair is going nowhere as such and she decides to call it quits. However, a tiff with her epidemiologist husband Dilip (who is often away from home on official duty) allows for a renewal of her affair. The rest of the narrative deals with the consequences of this decision for Nirmali and Sumon as they both transcend social and moral boundaries in more ways than one. The question that is thrown at the audience is: if love is what makes us human, can its power sometimes also make us act in inhuman ways?
Although the plot may sound slightly off track for a thriller, things fall into place smoothly as the director looks at his film as a way of mediation and rumination on the idea of love, beyond social mores and customs. One can also look at the film as a macabre thriller on the lines of classic psychological horror like Henri-Georges Clouzot’s Les Diaboliques (1955).
Aamis’ strength lies in the fact that the film, apart from providing a plausible thriller narrative, speaks about ideas related to obsession, trust, addiction and personal morality. The film does not take any stand or gives a message related to these issues but plays them out through the bonding between the two principal characters.
The focus all throughout is on love, its often surreptitious nature and the havoc it can cause sometimes for those in love. At a technical level too, the film makes a successful delivery of the abstract ideas into solid visuals. The elemental energy exuded by love and the euphoria of eating meat of varied kinds is equated with arresting surreal visuals.
Fantasizing and craving for meat in a way becomes a central motif and an element of potent displacement. For instance, the dream vision experienced by Sumon about his growing passion and similarly the erotic ecstasy felt by Nirmali is brought out in stunning red colured visual sequences. This is where the film becomes doubly rich in terms of its symbolic connotations and resonances.
The visions stay with us, even if the denouement to the plot may seem somewhat patchy in terms of its impact. All that that transpires is entirely fictional, but it is entirely believable. The notion of the binary system or construct of ‘nature’ and ‘culture’ is deliberately played with and blurred. Sumon (with his humble nature and background), in a sense, represents, ‘nature’ with his penchant for the odd and the adventurous. While, Nirmali, with her genteel manners and self-consciousness of an upper middle class professional is ‘culture’ personified.
Kothanodi’s background music, at many places felt uneven and often loud on the ears. In Aamis, however, both diegetic sounds and the background music work in perfect tandem and immensely contribute to the distinct mood of the film. The everyday feel of the city streets and by-lanes of Guwahati are shot dazzlingly and provide a piquant setting to this most unusual and bizarre tale.
The natural light arrangement for both indoor and outdoor scenes also adds to the overall everyday feel of the film. The performances by debutants Lima Das and Arghadeep Barua is almost seamless. Lima Das, particularly, embraces her role with great involvement, and is effective with both facial and verbal expressions. Sagar Saurabh is impressive too in the role of Sumon’s friend Elias. Neetali Das as Nirmali’s carefree friend is very natural, and is a counterpoint to the artful labored conventionality of Nirmali.
Past crime and slasher thrillers like The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974) and Seven (1995) became great films because they were able to transcend their plotlines and deliver commentary on urgent socio-political trends and issues. Aamis’s potential as a great film is limited in this aspect as the film’s observations on life, marriage, or for that matter, on food, remain incomplete and sketchy at best.
One noteworthy aspect of the current new wave cinema from Assam is in the variety of genres it has thrown up. This is great news for cinema of the region and the country, as the efforts of these new directors have brought laurels in the festival circuit (Bhaskar Hazarika won the award of the best director for Aamis at this year’s Singapore South Asian International Film Festival), and importantly, have received appreciation and debate from ordinary viewers from far and near home.
If Rima Das’ filmography and vision is largely in the vein of bildungsroman, Bhaskar Hazarika is reveling in the creation of a unique cinematic universe of psychological horror. Rima Das is a committed gutsy craftsman of a filmmaker whose stories and vision is solidly rooted in the soil, while Bhaskar Hazarika has a penchant for finding the odd and the supernatural in the here and now. Where Bhaskar Hazarika can really soar as a filmmaker of depth in the future, will possibly, depend on his ability to forge a more holistic vision where his point of view surpasses a certain exoticizing tendency towards the sights and smells of the region and its representation.
In a probably rushed Facebook post, noted Assamese poet, Nilim Kumar, has rightly pointed about the omission of pork, the most conspicuous meat item in the region, from the discourse on meat in Aamis. Whether Hazarika deliberately left pork out of his film’s menu in deference to Assamese caste Hindu sensibilities or he simply missed a too obvious reality in the food habits of the region, either ways, it is interesting and revealing of the politics of food enunciated in the film.