Aamis: Not quite like The Lunchbox

I have been meaning to watch Aamis for a while, ever since my Twitter friend @BrutuTweets posted a recommendation a couple of months back. I finally got around to watching it today after my friend NKV posted about it in one of our WhatsApp groups.

Warning: This post may contain spoilers. Also, certain aspects of the movie might make you squeamish.

Aamis is a 2019 Assamese film written and directed by Bhaskar Hazarika. The basic premise of the movie is pretty straightforward. A young PhD student Sumon and a married paediatrician Nirmali meet and strike a friendship that is built over a shared interest in eating fresh and exotic meat dishes. They start off with rabbit meat, but then move on to increasingly taboo sources of protein.

I loved the opening shot in which this particular portable radio player is shown. We had the same one at home. It was extremely cool – with a hand crank that you could wind to recharge it. Seeing it brought back a lot of memories from my childhood – of how we’d sit on the stairs outside the front door and listen to the radio during power cuts; of my mother singing along with the radio in the mornings while making breakfast.

When they first meet, Sumon complains to Nirmali, ‘These days people put anything in their mouths. Not knowing where the meat came from, how it was stored or how old it is.’ This brought to mind a dialogue from the Malayalam novel ‘Verukal’ in which the protagonist Raghu takes his four year old son to his native village.

Similar to how Raghu’s children seemed to be losing touch with their roots, we also tend to forget how food reaches our plates.

My parents often tell me how eating meat was usually restricted only to special occasions such as Christmas and Easter while they were growing up. Chicken was sometimes served when guests came over – a chicken would be freshly killed and cooked. Nowadays, we’ve reached a point where we eat meat at almost every meal. The act of killing is far removed from actually eating meat, especially if you pick up shrink-wrapped broiler chicken from a supermarket. However there is truth in Nirmali’s remark, ‘Who has the time for all this? We have hectic schedules’.

The chemistry between the two is brought out nicely right from their first meeting. I also loved the small town vibes that are depicted in the visuals – they kept reminding of things back home in Trivandrum.

As the movie progresses, it forces you to try and answer certain difficult questions such as How do you decide what kinds of meat are ‘normal’? What you consider normal might seem disgusting to someone from a different culture or background. The scene in which they eat bat meat really drove that home. It reminded me of all the xenophobic and hateful messages that popped up in the aftermath of the Corona pandemic.

I took this photo of live scorpions on display in a market during my trip to China in 2018. I couldn’t muster the courage to try eating them…

During one of their outings in search of exotic meat, Sumon tells Nirmali that to really savour the taste of meat, you must eat with your hands. Nirmali disagrees though because it makes her feel uncomfortable.I’m with Sumon on this though. In my opinion, eating with your hands hits home different and food tastes infinitely better. Since moving out of Kerala, I’ve noticed from my personal experience in Mumbai and Delhi that eating (rice) with your hands is frowned upon. A professor at IIFT went so far as to say, ‘Eating with your hands is dirty. These South Indians do it though.’ This really ticked me off and I retorted, ‘Haan, sir. Aap toh roti spoon se khaate ho na?’

The movie manages to breach the topic of cannibalism in a delicate manner. Never at any point does it feel even remotely gimmicky or over the top. If it’s okay to donate a liver or kidney to someone that you love and care about, is donating your flesh all that different? At the same, these parts of the movie made me feel extremely squeamish but isn’t that the whole point? A movie should be able to make you feel something!

These scenes reminded me of The Lunchbox in some ways…

One scene that really stayed with me was the scene in which Nirmali repeatedly uses mouthwash in an attempt to get rid of the taste in her mouth. It reminded me of the famous line from Macbeth, ‘All the perfumes of Arabia will not sweeten this little hand.’

I’m not sure if certain aspects of the movie draw inspiration from the story featured in the folk song ‘Paar Chanaa De‘. As described on Mangobaaz.com, ‘Mahiwal, at this point in his life, was poor. He did not have enough money to properly feed his Sohni. On one such night when Sohni was going to come, Mahiwal realized that he had no food to feed her. Without thinking, he carved a piece of his thigh. Without telling his beloved of his pain, he swam a part of the way to her wearing dark clothes so the blood would not show. Sohni ate the meager banquet laid before her with great relish that he prepared this meal out of love for her.’

I love watching movies in a language that I can’t comprehend. It forces me to look out for non-verbal cues more.
When the movie ends, you are not surprised. It was always obvious that this wasn’t one of those movies with a happy ending…

To conclude, I would recommend that you watch this movie for the chemistry that blossoms between Sumon and Nirmali and for that shell-shocked feeling that it leaves you with.

You can watch Aamis at Moviesaints.com by paying Rs. 99.

It’s not a joke, da! It’s my life!

Since 2015, I’ve described myself as ‘an aspiring stand-up comedian’ to my close friends and on my Tinder bio. During my first trimester at IIFT, I even spent a couple of sleepless nights making a video in which I try to convincingly lie about how stand-up was my lifelong passion – all in an attempt to land a summer internship at GCPL. (I never landed the internship though…)

To be honest, I have tried my hand at performing stand-up whenever an opportunity came up while I was doing my undergrad at CET. Back then however, opportunities in Trivandrum were few and far between.

(The above video is from an event in 2017, when I was cooling my heels in Trivandrum, before moving to Bombay for work.)

I have tried my hand at a couple of open mics in Bombay (without much success). And given how the lock-down doesn’t look like it’s going to be lifted anytime soon here, I thought I might as well put up some random jokes/observations up on this blog. I have nothing to lose, am I right?

So here goes nothing…

During my placement interview back in college, I made it very clear to the interview panel that I wasn’t interested in a conventional nine to five job. They seemed keen on hiring me and said they’d be willing to give me some amount of flexibility with respect to working hours. Things are good now. I work from nine thirty to five thirty instead.

I find Hindi extremely tricky. I find the whole ‘gender’ concept extremely confusing. The other languages that I can speak (English and Malayalam) have done away with such pointless frivolity. To highlight just how difficult Hindi can be at times, a moving scooter would be described as ‘Scooter chal raha hai’ whereas for a motorcycle, the equivalent would be ‘Motorcycle khadi hai’. In an attempt to recall this better, I force myself to picture scooters with dicks and motorcycles with boobs. It’s probably not the best system but it totally works.

I love reading. I read everything that I can lay my hands on – such as ingredients in my shampoo, the nutritional benefits of eating 15 grams of Lays and the instructional booklet that comes inside a box of condoms. Sometimes people write the most fuck-all things like the folks who think it’s important to print ‘This is not a toy’ on plastic packaging. But sometimes, people can write the darndest statements. I once used a urinal which had this written right above it – ‘The future of India is now in your hands’. So fucking profound, so many interpretations.

Engineers are shmucks – they almost never do any real engineering. All that education gone to waste. You know who I respect? Doctors. What they learn is real. And moreover, they can carry over whatever they learn on the job to their daily lives as well. Take for instance, my paediatrician friend. When scared children visit his clinic for vaccinations, he has this way of reassuring them. “Don’t worry, I’m going to poke you with a tiny needle. You will barely feel anything and I’ll be done in a minute.” Coincidentally, this is what he tells his wife as well.

I love Bombay. It’s such a cosmopolitan city. ‘It is a veritable melting pot of cuisines from all over India. There is something in here for everyone.‘ Once you’ve been to Bombay, it’s so hard to live anywhere else. I was recently travelling long distance by train – going back to Trivandrum. The train had one of those new-fangled, eco-friendly bio-toilets, in which the poop isn’t just dumped onto the tracks. Instead, it has been efficiently designed so that a pool of sewage collects around your feet. And it’s funny how that bio-toilet reminded me of Bombay. ‘It was literally a melting pot of cuisines from all over India. I’m not sure if it had something in it for everyone but it definitely looked like there was something in it from everyone!’

That’s all, folks!

(The title of this post is inspired by my friend Abhishek, who would get offended whenever we laughed at the comical incidents that he would narrate. And he’d remark in exasperation, ‘Don’t laugh, dude. For you, it might be a joke. For me, it’s my life’.)

CureFit: Gamification during the lock-down

Mathilukal: Not Exactly A Movie Review

Growing up in Kerala, I always knew that Adoor Gopalakrishnan was a big deal but somehow, I never took out the time to watch any of his films. Mostly because I thought they’d be dry and beyond my comprehension. Interestingly, I once met Adoor Gopalakrishnan at Chaitanya Eye Hospital, Trivandrum when I was around 8 years old. He smiled at me and remarked to my mother, “Mon sherikkum vaayikum, alle?” (Your son reads a lot, doesn’t he?)

Recently one of my friends on Twitter (not exactly sure who it was, think it must have been Brutu) shared a scene from Adoor Gopalakrishnan’s movie ‘Mathilukal’. In the scene, Basheer (played by Mammooty) is informed that he has been released from prison and that he can return to the ‘free world’. Mammooty scoffs and replies with disdain, “What free world? You’re just shifting me to a bigger jail out there. Who wants freedom?” My curiosity was really piqued by just this one scene. I felt like watching more especially since those lines really seemed to hit home, given how we are all locked up at home right now because of the Corona pandemic.

In my opinion, one interesting aspect of the movie is how the character Narayani is never shown on screen. (Narayani is a female prisoner with whom Mammooty’s character strikes up a friendship (or a relationship of sorts). They have regular conversations with each other even though they are physically separated by the walls of the prison compound.) I think leaving Narayani to the viewer’s imagination is a masterstroke because the viewer creates an image of her according to his/her ideals of beauty. This reminds me of how some stage productions of Macbeth choose to have Macduff’s children killed off-stage to heighten the gruesomeness and depravity of their murders. In cinema and theatre, I’ve noticed that leaving things to the viewer’s imagination has a very strong effect if executed properly. Another scene that comes to mind is a scene from Bhaag Milkha Bhaag, where a young Milkha Singh hears his elder sister being assaulted at the refugee camp. The act isn’t actually shown on screen, but we hear what happens. This is one of the most disturbing scenes I’ve ever seen in a mainstream Bollywood movie.

While watching Mathilukal, I couldn’t help but wonder how absolutely endearing Mammooty’s character is. This caught me by surprise, because you would expect a prisoner who constantly receives preferential treatment would come to be hated by his fellow prisoners. But somehow, he manages to win them all over with his affable manner. To conclude, the movie is a delightful watch and I would highly recommend it, especially since the lock-down is in place.

‘Train rukne ke baad utroge kya?’

I’m sure it takes time to find one’s bearings in any new city, but Mumbai is a tough nut to crack. I’m assuming that in most other cities, knowing the name of a particular area ought to be enough to find your way there. But not in Mumbai, where each and every locality is suffixed with either an East or a West. And these four letters could cost you a couple of hours in traffic. Unfortunately I learned this the hard way, as I tend to do whenever presented with an opportunity.

Everyone you meet in Mumbai will ask you (the outsider) a set of questions to calculate your GQ (Gullibility Quotient) – which in turn, determines how much of a chutiya you are. Some popular questions include “How much rent do you pay? What is the area of your flat? How far is the local station from your flat? How much do you pay your maid?” I have been told by certain people that I have a fairly high GQ. I beg to differ though.

Travelling in the local trains is an extremely empowering experience. During rush hour, when I get a thorough full body massage, I console myself thinking about how much money I saved by taking the train instead of Uber. It helps immensely if you have the ability to hold your breath for three minutes – to deal with the stinky armpit that your face is inevitably going to get shoved into. Just don’t forget to take in extra deep breaths of fresh air when the train halts at stations.

I like danglin’ out of slow trains
‘Cause it doesn’t remind me of anything

To establish your presence as an alpha male, never forget to ask the following question to anyone standing between you and the door as the train pulls into the station, “Train rukne ke baad utroge kya?” It is best delivered in a menacing tone which subtly hints that you have been known to shove people off the train at the slightest provocation. I haven’t had the opportunity to deliver this dialogue yet, in real life. (I have practised it to perfection, in my head though.) I don’t think I can either. Not with a straight face – because, as radical as it may seem, in my hometown, it is considered absolutely normal behaviour to wait for the train to come to a halt before attempting to disembark!

I have noticed that hairy old uncles standing at the train door have this annoying way of muttering, “Yeh first class hai” when I board the first class compartment in my ratty t-shirt and tracks. At first, I used to get a kick out of saying, “Pata hai” but maybe I should do one better. “Sorry uncle, I was in a hurry. Aapko dekh ke laga ki yeh second class compartment hai.” Or maybe I should stand at the door and give out PSAs myself (“Uncle, yeh first class hai”), especially to the well-dressed ones.

Six months into life in Mumbai, and I feel like a proper Mumbaikar. I can now find my way in the city on my own. I’ve reached a stage where I’m thinking of uninstalling m-indicator. Isn’t that the litmus test for judging if one is new to the city?

Related Reading: Check out Suketu Mehta’s ‘Maximum City’. A nice read on trying to fit into Mumbai. You can also take a look at Shantaram.

Book Review: Americanah | Extremely relatable on many levels

I just finished reading Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s ‘Americanah’ this morning. It’s one of the many books that I bought off a sale at Flipkart. Before buying it, I had never even heard of it, but decided to go ahead with the purchase because it was being sold dirt-cheap.

On some level, I found the book similar to Murakami’s works in the sense that the central theme explored human relationships and how they change, especially as you grow up. However, several other themes come into play in this book – most notably, race.

I found the book and its principal characters (Ifemelu and Obinze) extremely relatable. On some level, I could understand Obinze’s obsession with America and his dogged determination to experience the American life. Very often, I feel frustrated with life here in Mumbai and wonder what it would be like to experience life as an expatriate in some other country. In my case, my attentions are focused on China for the time-being. (I am learning Mandarin at the moment!)

Ifemelu encounters race when she moves from Nigeria to America. For the first time in her life, she realizes that she is black. When I moved from Trivandrum to Delhi for my MBA a couple of years back, I felt something similar. From being surrounded by Malayalis, I went to being a ‘Mallu’ in a so-called cosmopolitan city. Everyone that I met measured me in terms of my Mallu Quotient. “You don’t have a Mallu accent. Did you grow up in the Gulf?” “Can I borrow some of your coconut oil?” “I like Mallus. I had many Mallu friends back in engineering college. They all smoke up a lot” I found most of this amusing. What bugged me was how nobody seemed to know anything about the geography of South India! (“You’re from Kerala, na? Which part? Are you from Chennai? I’ve been there” )

I could also relate to how Ifemelu feels like an outsider, both back home in Nigeria (where she is considered an Americanah) and in the US (where she is an American African, rather than an African American). I sometimes feel like I don’t truly belong either in Mumbai or Trivandrum. I’m stuck in limbo, somewhere in between – neither here nor there.

All in all, Americanah was an extremely enjoyable read. Highly recommended! I’ve decided to give Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s other books a shot as well.

The Pursuit of Happiness?

What is it with our generation? We always seem to be obsessed with making the most out of every single minute of the day! Life is all about multi-tasking, whether it’s listening to audio books while driving, tweeting rants during an EPL match, replying to WhatsApp messages while taking a dump or uploading stories onto Instagram while eating. It’s almost as if we’re afraid of being left alone with ourselves and our thoughts.

We seem to have burdened ourselves with this overwhelming task of making an unforgettable experience out of every fucking thing we do. Somehow we’ve managed to complicate almost every single aspect of our lives. Ordering in? Let me compare offers across Zomato, Swiggy, Foodpanda and UberEats. Going out for dinner? Let me check out reviews on Zomato and Dineout first. Movie night? Let me check out what the Top 10 Movies of 2018 are on IMDB!

There was a time when I could watch Nayak a million times because it was pretty much the only movie that used to be telecast on Sony Max on weekends. I miss listening to the radio, eagerly waiting for one of my favourites to play. Ice cream used to be plain old vanilla, chocolate or strawberry. Nobody used to ask me to go die (or get a life) because I didn’t watch Game of Thrones or Sacred Games

Maybe I was just younger back then. Or maybe I was just happier.

L’Oréal Sustainability Challenge 2018

Recently, I took part in the L’Oréal Sustainability Challenge 2018 along with my friends, Rajeeta Prasad and Niharika Kapoor. The brief for the competition was to come up with an idea that would improve sustainability on campus. Our idea took inspiration from Richard Thaler (2017 Nobel Prize Winner in Economics) and his ‘nudge’ theory. In his own words, ‘a nudge is any small feature in the environment that attracts our attention and influences the behaviour that we display.’ Here’s a video that explains our idea and how we went about implementing it…

You can also read more about our idea in this report.

Kerala Floods 2018: You Ought To Know

Kerala is experiencing its worst floods in over a hundred years. The death toll, as on August 18, has been reported to be 324. The rains show no signs of abating, with strong rains expected all through the weekend. India Meteorological Department (IMD) data shows that Kerala has received 257% more rainfall than usual between August 9 and August 15. To put things in contrast, during the floods of 2015, Chennai received 102% more rainfall than usual.

The lack of media attention regarding the Kerala floods has been quite sickening, as pointed out by Trivandrum MP Shashi Tharoor in this tweet.

An analysis of Google Search Trends reveals the extent to which the lack of media coverage has led to a lack of public interest in the tragedy that is taking place in Kerala. The data shows that the Kerala floods have received only 4.2% of the search volumes that the 2015 floods in Chennai generated.

The Central government has also been subjecting Kerala to step-motherly treatment.

To get an idea of how destructive the floods have been, please check out this Facebook post.

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