When Bhaskar Hazarika’s second feature film Aamis (Ravening) was released in the theatres of Assam on 22 November last year, it haunted not only the audience, but the critics with its gory elements, outrageously strange, never before witnessed by them. Hazarika pushed the boundaries of stereotypical way of film-making with his fresh and unconventional attempt in narrating the compelling story of two lovers. His radical approach to this film was criticized as well as praised by a few, for taking a new perspective while delineating a love story that involved the breaking of the social taboos. The film seems to be apparently a tale of two lovers, but beneath it, there lies layers with unbridled sexual desire, that makes the film a dark one.
Premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival in New York City, the film Aamis received critical acclamation across the country, and is markedly unusual in appearance, style, and often in its juxtaposition of incongruous elements- dark, bizarre and strange. ‘The idea was to do a film that crosses genres. I feel film-making is a lot about manipulating the audience, about playing with audience’s expectations, so that they experience something new. So the idea was to soothe them first with a regular every day love story, and then to throw them down the abyss of terror! But I had no idea that such a thing had not been attempted before in Assamese or Indian cinema,’ says film-maker Bhaskar Hazarika whose acclaimed directorial debut film Kothanodi won the Indian National Award for Best Feature Film in Assamese, 2015.
Set in Guwahati in Assam, the film explores a forbidden love story between Dr. Nirmali Saikia (Lima Das)- a married pediatrician, and Sumon (Arghadeep Baruah)- a young PhD student researching the food habits of the Northeastern people.
The undefined love affair between them begins with an unusual encounter when one day Sumon asks her to treat his friend who is vomiting and crying in pain due to indigestion. Instantly fascinated by her beauty and charm, Sumon mentions Dr. Nirmali about their Meat Club formed by a group of his University friends. He begins wooing her with numerous meats, and brings for her catfish, rabbit, worms, bats, insects, snails, pork. Soon they realize that they share a love for the unusual meat, and they develop a strong emotional bonding. Sumon gradually develops an intense carnal desire, while Nirmali develops the urge to have new experiences.
“Ketiaba enekua laage, ei ontohin bhuktue muk manokhik babe durbol kori tulise” (Sometimes, I feel like this infinite hunger is making me go crazy), Nirmali tells Sumon. In fact,‘Hunger for meat’, is used as a trope in the film to define repressed the sexual desire, and it is a metaphor of an inexplicable, passionate bonding between two people. Hazarika uses a dream sequence to suggest Sumon’s sexual craving for Dr. Nirmali – in an extreme close up shot, Sumon with his stretching hands moves inside Nirmali’s womb.
Nimali suppresses her sexual urge which is supposedly substituted through the act of meat-eating. Once Sumon cooks for her a small portion of flesh from his thigh that his friend Dr. Elias (played by Mumbai based Sagar Saurabh) blurts out. On being asked by Elias, Suman says that he needs it for an experiment. This act is repeated several times, and Nirmali’s response shifts from an initial state of confusion and hesitation to an eagerness and ecstasy to devour the human flesh Sumon provided her. Later, Nirmali also prepares a dish for Sumon in the similar fashion cutting the calf muscle in her leg.
The most defining moment of the film that makes an imprint upon the audience and becomes emblematic, is when Nirmali ate Sumon’s flesh in ignorance. Once she knows the fact, she feels like vomiting for a moment, but instantly, her eyes reflect a sense of thrill.
But the narrative takes a different turn when she pleads Sumon to cut the legs and limbs of a corpse in the hospital morgue, which he denies. Her hunger for human flesh goes to the extent that Sumon kills a rickshaw puller for her, and eventually both Nirmali and Suman are taken to the police station.
The film ends with an extremely poignant scene. The two lovers are taken out of the police station with masks in front of the reporters, the film-maker Bhaskar Hazarika composes a frame from the back of the two characters, to show how Nirmali slowly holds Suman’s hand– their first physical touch, to suggest the undefined love between them.
Beef-eating does not have any taboo in the Northeastern states. On the contemporary discourse of beef eating, it has become a political issue, and it is evident, Bhaskar Hazarika deliberately avoids any sort of controversy, because Sumon tastes every meat except beef. “Pork was liberally used in the film. But beef was avoided because Nirmali's breaking of taboos was well established without using it and I owed it to my producers to ensure the film did not run into trouble with authorities. I do have my own opinion on the politics over beef, but this was not the film to talk about it. Suman and Nirmali's little love story was too important for me to create a distracting controversy over beef. This film is about love, not about meat!”, says Bhaskar Hazarika who did his Masters in Film & Drama from the University of Reading, UK.
The film is an intense love story that breaks the stereotypical notion of love. Most importantly, it is an unusual discourse-- the dark and libidinal – it will nevertheless haunt the audience, will prick the otherwise undisturbed, contented side of our psyche.