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.

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