Director: Bhaskar Hazarika
Cast: Lima Das, Arghadeep Baruah
Aamis is the most haunting love story you will see this year. The Assamese-language film has been directed by Bhaskar Hazarika who earlier made Kothanodi. The title means meat-eater. The English title of the film is Ravening, which means extremely hungry and violently hunting for food. You might find glimpses here of Peter Greenaway's The Cook, the Thief, his Wife & her Lover. The sensuous food shots might take you back to Ritesh Batra's The Lunchbox. But Aamis, which premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival this week, is an original – it's lyrical and layered and quietly horrifying.
The film is set in Guwahati. On a sleepy Sunday morning, a pediatrician Nirmali is asked to treat a young man writhing in pain. It's indigestion – he's a vegetarian who tasted meat for the first time and couldn't stop eating. Later, as Nirmali walks back to her house with the man's friend Sumon, she tells him – meat isn't the problem, gluttony is. Nirmali is married and has a son. Sumon is younger – he is a PhD student writing a thesis on meat-eating habits in the North-east. Sumon takes his meat very seriously – it must be fresh and cooked the right way.
Slowly a friendship develops and Sumon initiates Nirmali into the joys of the flesh. Meat becomes a metaphor for life, passion, connection. Food becomes a source of rapture and transcendence. Their relationship remains undefined and because of societal codes, repressed and yet it has an intimacy that eventually becomes unnerving. Their desire finds expression in meals of wild rabbits and catfish with colocasia. As Sumon says at one point: The definition of normal isn't universal.
Nirmali is played by Lima Das and Sumon by Arghadeep Baruah – both have never acted before. Their performances have an unforced honesty, which grounds the film even when the narrative becomes darker. Arghadeep's smile and enthusiasm helps to normalize his character's more unhinged decisions. Both have a naiveté and sweetness that makes you empathize with them. Bhaskar builds the mood of a modern city grinding against primal passions. The film has a few soft spots – some of the more hallucinogenic sequences are clumsy and Nirmali's change seems a tad sudden – but mostly Bhaskar stays in control of his striking story and steers it to a memorable finish.
Aamis will hopefully come to a theatre or streaming platform near you. I strongly recommend that you make time for it. It's inventive, provocative and truly genre-defying.