Bhaskar Hazarika and Lima Das on the twisted pleasures of Aamis
The minds behind the anticipated Assamese indie discuss their three-year journey
In Bhaskar Hazarika’s Aamis, carnal repression morphs into a rigorous lust for meat-eating. Set in Guwahati, the Assamese film follows the romance between a middle-aged doctor and a PhD student. Nirmali (Lima Das) is a pediatrician and a mother who runs a clinic by herself. One Sunday, she meets Sumon (Arghadeep Baruah), a young scholar researching about the meat-eating habits in the North East. He gets her hooked on new delicacies of meat — from rabbit to catfish to earthworms — and a strange bond grows. Soon, there’s no turning back for Nirmali, as her culinary escapades slip into a darker terrain.
“I had the idea of doing a Romeo and Juliet where the lovers don’t touch each other,” Bhaskar says. “That’s what started it off as. Slowly, we started grafting other issues into the film about morality, sin and punishment — and how what is novel for you might not be novel for others.”
Aamis is Bhaskar’s second independent feature after Kothanodi, which won a National Film Award in 2015. Completed two years back, Aamis premiered at the 2019 Tribeca Film Festival and was screened at the MAMI Mumbai Film Festival. It’s set for release now, thanks to Anurag Kashyap who’s come on board to present the film on November 22. “Anurag saw the film in January, before we went to Tribeca,” Bhaskar shares. “He really liked it and had offered to help. When the time of release came about, as always, nobody had the money to do it. So we had the idea of asking Anurag to present it. With his name attached to the project, we got the funding to release it.”
Aamis is opening in six cities outside of Assam: Delhi, Mumbai, Pune, Shillong, Calcutta, and Bangalore. Audiences elsewhere can catch it on moviestaints.com, an online rental portal for independent film. Despite the tricky subject, the film was cleared with a U/A certificate by the CBFC. “The pre-release reactions have been enthusiastic so far,” Bhaskar says. “There will be people who will not like it. You cannot please everyone. The good thing is that the young people don’t have a problem with Aamis. In Assam, there’s a palpable excitement for a film that can shake them up.”
Like his previous work, Bhaskar draws on a range of international influences. Besides the body-horror classics of David Cronenberg, he cites Kaneto Shindo’s Onibaba (1964) and Nagisa Oshima’s In The Realm of the Senses (1974) as inspirations. “Most of my horror influences come from literature, the works of Edgar Allan Poe and Stephen King. In India, we had Marathi litterateur Narayan Dharap whose works influenced Tumbbad (2018). Similarly, Assamese literature is rich with horror and fantastical tales. Many of them were featured in the entertainment magazine Bismoi, which I grew up reading.”
Lima Das, who makes her debut in Aamis, is a real-life doctor and Sattriya dancer. Based in Guwahati, she has known Bhaskar for years and had approached the filmmaker to make a documentary on the classical dance form. This was in 2015, when she first saw Kothanodi. “I was enamored by the visuals and wanted to work with him,” Lima says. “We kept in touch and after two years, he gave me the script of Aamis. Initially, I was a little taken aback. I discussed the idea with my husband and family. They were supportive and encouraged me to take up the part.”
To prepare for the film, Lima and Arghadeep attended workshops conducted by Seema Biswas. The genre-bending screenplay meant the actors had to sift through a range of emotions and tonalities. “I took it one shot at a time. It was important for me to stay in character, especially during the darker portions of the film. I told my friends to call me Nirmali. Because I’m also a doctor and a mother, I could identify with her mindspace,” says Lima.
For her performance, Lima won the Best Actor (Female) Award at the Singapore South Asian International Film Festival. The debutante says she is looking forward to the local reception of Aamis. “It’s definitely not everyone’s cup of tea or slice of meat. Having said that, people who come with an open mind will be entertained. I hope they get the essence of the film.”