‘Aamis’ review: Wildly original and genre defying
Desire, deep and dark, and the ugly and unhinged fallout of repressing it. That’s the core of Aamis, a wildly original and genre-defying film that quietly — and quite horrifically — transitions from a modern romance between a 40-something mother of one and a young student in his 20s to a macabre look at the repercussions of unfulfilled lust.
Quite unlike anything I have watched in some time, it’s meat that drives the narrative of this Assamese film directed by Bhaskar Hazarika, and which benefits from the casting of debutants Lima Das and Arghadeep Baruah as its leads. The setting is a lazy Guwahati neighbourhood where Nirmali (Lima), a paediatrician who largely operates out of a clinic on the ground floor of her home, lives with her schoolgoing son Piku. A Sunday morning sees Sumon (Arghadeep) knocking on her door with a request to treat his friend who has taken ill after tasting — and then pigging out — on meat for the first time.
Nirmali and Sumon — despite the yawning age gap — hit it off from the get-go. The fact that he’s researching unusual meat-eating habits in the North-east, is a founding member of the ‘Meat Club’ in his university and can talk endlessly about the need for a farm-to-table approach to meat eating, has her intrigued.
Nirmali’s dull life — her doctor husband mostly stays out of town — gets a much-needed distraction with Sumon introducing her to the experience of tasting new kinds of meat. The pale yellow lunchbox he brings along every now and then — packed with anything from bat to rabbit, cooked lovingly by him — not only initiates Nirmali into novel meat-eating habits, but also cements their companionship.
The unspoken sexual attraction between them grows, but they never even hold hands, their amour fou finding expression through the meat that they share. As days wear on, Nirmali — the film makes it clear early on that she believes in the sanctity of marriage — doesn’t cross the limits of infidelity, she only crosses limits when it comes to the meat she’s sampling. But things don’t remain vanilla for long and what seemed to be an innocent yet forbidden equation swiftly moves into very dark territory.
Aamis is many things in one — food movie, unconventional romance, addiction drama and psychological horror. And yet Hazarika ensures that the film is a one-of-a-kind watch that can’t be easily slotted. The director has cited Oshima Nagisa’s sexually explicit 1976 film In the Realm of the Senses as an influence, but those who have watched Raw — the story of a vegetarian student at a veterinary school who develops an insatiable craving for flesh — will realise how close Aamis is, both tonally and thematically, to the 2016 French film.
The somewhat grisly tone in Aamis is nicely balanced by aesthetic shots of meat being cooked, plated and served. Riju Das’s camera captures thoughts and emotions piquantly. Like those scenes in which Sumon watches Nirmali close her eyes and eat, his gaze following her lips wrapping themselves over every morsel. That’s the sensuousness and intimacy in Aamis.
Aamis is a rare film that makes you empathise with its players even as you cringe at their actions. It’s a slow-burn watch that gradually reaches boiling point, with Hazarika not letting go of the tension — mostly underlying, but ticking away like a time bomb — for even a minute. Things unfold unpredictably in a polarising third act, with Nirmali and Sumon’s collective moral collapse culminating in an explosive and yet deeply moving climactic shot that is not only cinematic but will also impact one emotionally.
Make time for Aamis. It could cut you off meat for a while and yet is gleefully macabre enough to warrant a watch. Or maybe two.