Monday, 30th October 2017

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Eleven minutes that speak volumes


By Ushnota Paul
  • Published 1.09.18
Adil Hussain in Abhiroop Basu’s short film Meal 

Meal, an 11-minute short film starring Adil Hussain, Ratnabali Bhattacharjee and Arun Mukhopadhyay, is ready for the film festivals.

Written and directed by Abhiroop Basu (who began his film career by earning two consecutive selections at the prestigious Cannes Film Festival under the Cannes Court Metrage-Short Film Corner with the 11-minute short An Afternoon with Julia in 2016 and the 20-minute short The Paper Man in 2017), Meal has no dialogue.

The silent treatment

The USP of the film, according to Adil, is the fact that it has no dialogues. “That’s why I liked it. There are dialogues but they’re not verbal. We are interacting but we are talking in a different language — with our feelings, actions and emotions. Dialogues are crutches that directors and actors use when cinema fails. There should be minimal text in the way that I perceive cinema. Cinema is such a visual medium, you don’t need to talk much,” he says. Wasn’t that challenging as an actor? “I just loved it! It is challenging because you have to be so true and actually behave in a situation and not act. That communicates all kinds of things,” says Adil.

Woman power

Set against the backdrop of an ongoing communal tension instigated by rival political factions, Meal — produced by three women Sireesha Kadiyala, Madhu Singhee and Sushila Jain — focuses on one particular household and their last meal together.  “Meal is a powerful story set in a family that’s on the edge, facing a collapse of all reconciliation — the innate sense of lovelessness and the reaction of each family member when they think they’ve hit the wall. The incredulous expressions speak volumes. Meal is deafening silence, served chilled,” says Madhu.

The story

The atmosphere in the house shows clear unease and unrest. A bruised woman (Ratnabali) cooks in the kitchen and stares into the distance, until a pressure cooker whistle breaks her dead gaze. A man (Adil) in another room restlessly stuffs things into a suitcase, trying to leave the house in a state of fury. A child in a school uniform picks up the broken pieces of a wall clock. Today happens to be the first day of board exams and he’s already late. There’s also an ailing grandfather (Arun) restricted to a wheelchair, who is a witness to it all.

The disarrayed house is a representation of the chaos, where everyone is a victim and a perpetrator in equal measure. “I got the script and remembered so many incidents I’d heard about domestic violence, where people still stay in relationships even though love is completely lacking. There’s a total lack of love shown in this film. I wish the opposite for the world. But this will help in making people experience what it feels like without love, so that we can aspire for love and respect. It’s devastating,” says Adil. Talking about his role, Adil explains, “This guy has had enough and he can’t take it anymore. Maybe he was leaving the house only for sometime. He wasn’t abandoning the family, only abandoning the whole situation to breathe for sometime. I don’t think he has a place where he has to go — it’s pretty ambiguous. When he sees his father peeing on the floor, he realises his hopelessness and that anger will not solve anything. Even if he goes away, what he leaves behind will haunt him. So his whole steam of leaving in a hurry switches off. He stops and starts to eat the meal.”

The chaos of Meal

Calcutta boy Abhiroop, who studied filmmaking at Prague Film School, says that the story idea came to him from an “amalgamation of things” he has seen around him while growing up. “I was fortunately, or unfortunately, exposed to a lot of chaos since I was a child. That somehow formed layers in my conscience through the years and gave birth to Meal. The idea is to offer yourself in a plate... and this is me trying to do that,” says Abhiroop.

The movie only has background sounds and voices. “There’s a political clash between the Left and the extreme Right,”  adds Abhiroop.

A disturbing watch

There’s a chilling silence throughout that’ll clearly make the viewer uncomfortable. The family sits down for one last meal together and that’s where the plot twist lies. “The feedback so far has been people saying it’s disturbing to watch. My professor from Prague Film School said something very apt. He said, ‘It looked like I have entered someone’s house for a brief moment, but I don’t want to be here,’” says Abhiroop.