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Tribeca Review: Aamis

Photo Credit: Wishberry Films

I’m not going to beat around the bush, Aamis, the second feature written and directed by Bhaskar Hazarika, which premiered at Tribeca tonight, is one of the craziest films you will ever see.

Granted, it doesn’t seem that way at first. It starts by showing us a day in the life of Lima Das’s Nirmali Saikia, a pediatrician with a husband and young son, and Arghadeep Baruah as Sumon Baruah, an anthropology student who is studying the meat-eating habits in India’s northeastern region. Nirmali and Sumon don’t know each other at first, but they quickly come together thanks to one of the strangest possible meet-cutes: after his vegetarian friend overstuffs himself on goat meat, Sumon goes looking for a doctor and just happens to stop at Nirmali’s door.

Watching it in the moment, the audience has no idea how important the ideas set up in that scene will be to what eventually happens. Instead, what stands out is just how much chemistry the characters (both played by first-time actors) share. The dialogue Hazarika gives Nirmali and Sumon is smart and sharp and they’re clearly attracted to each other, so, it’s easy to ignore that what they connect over is talking about eating meat. Still, there and throughout, it’s easy to ignore the oddness of that connection because watching them is so compelling.

Indeed, that first half has all the markers of a rom-com. There’s the aforementioned dialogue, in which every discussion of animal flesh feels like a barely-veiled expression of the characters’ desire for each other. The playful score by Quan Bay, the bright cinematography by Riju Das and the snappy editing by Shweta Rai Chamling keep the film’s tone light and flirty. The leads even have best friends who fit the rom-com mold: she has Neetali Das as Jumi, a loose-lipped gal with even looser morals and he’s got Sagar Saurabh as Elias, a veterinarian who is also clearly closeted and deeply in love with Sumon. As Nirmali and Sumon share one exotic meal after another and flirt over texts, because we think we’ve seen this kind of story before, we assume it’s just a matter of time before she cheats on her boring, passionless husband, Dilip (Manash K Das).

But that’s not what happens.

It would be criminal to talk about what kind of turn the film takes in its second half, but the big twist basically switches the movie from a rom-com to a horror movie and a lot of viewers are not going to want to go on that journey. And, admittedly, there are reasons not to. Because the twist and what comes after is really the, forgive me, meat of the film, Hazarika can sometimes work in too many broad strokes. Nirmali and Sumon’s rom-com-esque dialogue can occasionally be too obtuse, and their relationship progresses so fast it strains believability. Worse, some of the character work–particularly Dilip’s–can feel a little too trapped by cliché. Sure, it’s funny that when Dilip finally returns from his work trip that he only brings vegetables to dinner, but the fact that Nirmali immediately runs to the fridge mid-meal to devour some meat and that all this happens right after Sumon finally asks her to define the relationship only becomes less absurd after we have the context of the film’s second half.

Aamis, which, it should be noted, will be called “Ravening” in English, is not going to be for everyone. It plays a nasty trick on the audience and the second half of the film follows through on that plotline to its most shocking and disturbing end. But Hazarika’s film is truly unique and while the product will not sit well with everyone, you have to admire the courage to put it out there.

Marisa Carpico
Marisa Carpico
By day, Marisa Carpico stresses over America’s election system. By night, she becomes a pop culture obsessive. Whether it’s movies, TV or music, she watches and listens to it all so you don’t have to.

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