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Meal: Adil Hussain's new short film will create a lump in your throat- Cinema express

Meal: Adil Hussain's new short film will create a lump in your throat 

The new short film streaming on MUBI India casts a hard stare into the politics of silence and food

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Published: 20th February 2020
Adil Hussain

Abhiroop Basu’s Meal runs for 10 dialogue-less minutes. Save for a brief outburst, nobody speaks. This, however, does not undermine the film’s relationship with sound. Tightly crafted and wound, the short film — streaming on MUBI India — is a sonic assault. 

It opens with a woman (Ratnabali Bhattacharjee) standing in a kitchen. Her broiling freeze is matched by the slow hiss of a pressure cooker. The scene changes and other occupants are revealed: a father (Adil Hussain) frantically packing a suitcase; an old man slumped on a wheelchair; and a son getting dressed for school. With each character, it’s sound that exposes their frail states of mind. A crowd chants angry slogans outside. The trickle of urine is juxtaposed with festive trills. And a TV anchor announces the auspicious day — the start of the Madhyomik (secondary) exams.  

“Growing up, I used to play cricket with a boy who came from a troubled household. You could never gauge just by talking to him what was going on in his life. He would hide it all in,” shares Abhiroop. His Kolkata-set film casts a hard stare into the politics of silence, and the larger communal forces that feed off it. With tensions peaking, the family sits down for their daily breakfast. Wordlessly, they bite into the food, barely exchanging a glance. Though not much is indicated, you’re hardly caught off guard when the film finally boils over. The hints, as they say, were everywhere. 

“If you observe closely, this is a very anti-rightwing film,” says the 25-year-old filmmaker. “In today’s times, whatever we read in newspapers or our social media feeds is chaotic. It exists both inside and out. With this film, I wanted to capture this chaos through the story of one household.” 

Meal is the second Indian short film to be platformed by MUBI. Last month, it was Kanu Behl’s supercharged Binnu Ka Sapna. Adil, who continues to accommodate shorter projects into his schedule, says he’s delighted by MUBI’s arrival in India. “I discovered MUBI 4-5 years ago and have been a subscriber ever since,” the actor says. “Their curation ranges from the obscure to the avant-garde. They celebrate cinema as an art form rather than a commodity. It’s extremely heart-warming to see that the platform has decided to come into India and give space to artistic voices.” 

The film was shot over two days in a rundown Kolkata apartment. Abhiroop opted for sync-sound, later creating the ambient chatter in studio. Completed last year, Meal has travelled to over 50 festivals and picked up 8 awards. It competed at the Oscar-qualifying Odense International Film Festival in Denmark, and was one of the winning enteries at the MAMI Mumbai Film Festival. After its one-month run on MUBI, the film will be available for streaming on Hotstar. 

“There’s only one way to say this — no one gives a damn about short films in India. Despite an illustrious cast and multiple festival mentions, I had to struggle to find a home for Meal. I’m hoping the culture of watching and valuing shorts catches on here,” says Abhiroop, whose next offering is a 40-minute featurette titled Laali, starring Pankaj Tripathi.

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