Most first-time filmmakers tend to play safe, wishing for happy, smiley viewers. It would seem Bhaskar Hazarika is aiming for the opposite, going by some of the shocked how-can-he-do-this reactions to his cracking debut feature, Kothanodi, working from a bunch of Assamese folk tales to present a landscape that was distinctly dark, discomfiting and thought-provoking.
Kothanodi was a striking embrace of the dark side, and its ensemble cast, including Adil Husain and Seema Biswas, fit the bill perfectly. It gave us, among other intriguing characters, malevolent mothers, weak fathers, and humans comprehensively lacking in the milk of kindness. To dump easy likeability in favour of complexity is a risky choice. It may alienate viewers by forcing them to confront ugly truths. It needs courage and conviction. And it paid off. Kothanodi won the National Award for the Best Assamese Film in 2016, posting notice of an interesting new voice in Indian cinema.
With his second feature, Aamis, Hazarika, in his early forties, takes the exploration of uncharted territory to the next level. Aamis starts off with a what-could-be-conventional growing attraction between an older woman and younger man, and then swerves sideways swiftly, carving an unimaginable connection between a kind of flesh and passion, eating and sated-ness.
The film leaves you gasping for breath, and thinking furiously. Can a certain kind of hunger ever be fulfilled? And where do you draw the line in fulfilling that hunger? It is a contemporary morality tale, and using the most unusual cautionary notes, it goes where very few Indian films have dared to venture. The film has its world premiere tonight at the Tribeca film festival.
Kothanodi subverted cuddly fairytale tropes. Aamis is a love story with a shocking difference. And in the space of four years, and two films, Hazarika has shown he is a true original, and one of the most rewarding filmmakers working in India today. Excerpts from an interview:
What made you start thinking about Aamis? It is your original story?
It is an original story that came out of observations and discussions around food and desire, sin and punishment, taboo and perversion. It was an idle thought at first, but people’s reactions to the idea were so encouraging that a plot started developing around it.
Aamis has characters who discover secrets about themselves as they eat their way towards each other. Does meat-eating and passion conflate for you?
Not just meat, eating itself is an act of passion. A surgeon once told me that the amount of endorphins released by the body when savouring good food is about the same as the amount released when having good sex. Isn’t that so bizarre and fascinating?
Does the dark side attract you more?
Darkness attracts me because it hides within it so many interesting stories that try to explore the human condition. It also adds a fresh perspective to stuff we are used to seeing in the light. My first film (Kothanodi) was based on innocuous bedtime stories for kids, but by putting a ‘darkness filter’ on them, we tried to find alternative ways of looking at familiar stories.
Would you think of setting a film outside of Assam? How much importance does language hold for you?
Yes, of course. I am Assamese but I consider the whole sub-continent my playing field.
Which is the language that you instinctively reach out for, first, when expressing love, longing and loss?
I express myself mostly in English, but think in a pastiche of languages — Assamese, Hindi and English. It all depends on the subject and the context.
Was it easier to make this second film? Because you knew the ropes when you did the first, you knew which mistakes not to make, and getting funding was easier?
Kothanodi was an ad-hoc, innovate-as-you-go-along project, and perhaps that was the only way it could have been made. Aamis was a more structured project. I had great producers who backed the project from inception, wonderful interactions with industry professionals at the script stage in film markets, and a cast and crew that rallied around the vision with passion and grit. But yes, though I did not make the same mistakes, I made a bunch of new ones. And that’s just the way it is.
When do you plan on releasing Aamis in India? Or do you plan to do the festival circuit some more before getting into theatres?
I would love for Aamis to be seen by audiences in India and in particular, Assam. But in all matters concerning the film’s marketing, distribution and release, I accede to the decisions made by the producers. So they can better explain how we plan to bring it to audiences everywhere.
I am working on a couple of things. I hope to start on my next film by early 2020.