When director Bhaskar Hazarika burst into the Assamese film industry in 2015 with his debut feature Kothanodi in 2015, and went on to win a National Award the following year, the audience held its breath. In him they saw the signs of a revivalist of the Assamese film culture. It was no surprise that his film Aamis made waves at the recently held 19th edition of Indian Film Festival of Los Angeles (IFFLA).
While many have wondered whether the film was autobiographical in nature, the director thinks otherwise. “It definitely isn’t. It is just an opportunity for me to create the kind of content that I have been thinking about and discussing with friends for a long time. It is a modern take on conventional ideas of romance,” he said. The film explores the relationship between an older woman, Nirmali (played by Lima Das) and a young PhD student, Sumon (played by Arghadeep Barua), borne out of their shared love for meat-based delicacies. It takes a manic twist when the lovers, in their quest for morality, end up defying more than one societal norm.
When asked about the IFFLA experience Hazarika said, “I had experienced IFFLA in person when my debut film was selected at the festival in 2015. It was an incredibly enriching and exciting experience. This time around, due to the pandemic, the experience was remote and fleeting. It’s not the fault of the excellent team behind IFFLA, but this accursed pandemic! I hope we can behold the glory of a full-fledged IFFLA next year.” The film unit consisted of just 75 people, who worked at odd hours and in exceptional situations to see the film through. The director reveals that the film came from an idea seeped in the need to tell an empathetic story about those who sin. Something that had earlier led to a section of the public asking for a ban on his earlier films. “I don’t expect everyone to understand my films. Some may get offended, it is a part of the process. My film should not be judged from the perspective of the Hindi heartland. I make vibrant films,” he insists.
Since the film deals with exotic non-vegetarian food habits there are deeper issues of concern raised by the director. He feels that most people tend to have a lot of misconceptions about meat-eating habits of the people living in the North-Eastern region of India. “I don’t allow myself to be affected by such negativity. In fact, I shrug it off as a result of the ignorance and insecurity of said ‘people’. No one should feel apologetic about their food choices, unless it crosses universally acceptable ethical boundaries,” he added.
He also believes that politicians tend to use food habits to create an environment of ‘otherness’ and indulge in divisive politics, especially in a country like India. “Events of the last ten years have pretty much confirmed food is the new weapon to divide people in the country. It’s evident to anyone who has been paying even the remotest attention to the news. It’s part of a wider socio-cultural purge going on in India at the moment. All this will lead us to a very dark place soon, unfortunately,” he rued.