It was a friend’s “confession” about his sexual orientation and the agony he faced to remain in the closet, which led filmmaker Abhishek Verma to make a short film. Titled Maacher Jhol, it tells the story of Lalit Ghosh, a Delhi-based professional artist, who is in a relationship with another man. The trepidation he faces when he decides to come out to his family forms the crux of the plot.
Verma, who is a post-graduate from the Industrial Design Centre (IDC) at IIT Bombay, has made the animated short film in hand-drawn 2D. The aim, he says, is to portray the plight of an LGBT individual in an aesthetic manner.
Verma observes that in the context of Indian culture, keeping your orientation a secret from family and close friends is difficult. In fact, doing so can cause much angst. “Garnering the support of loved ones is essential to sustain yourself. The film attempts to help people empathise with the LGBT community and set the wheels of acceptance in motion,” says Verma.
As Indians, we love our food, and this aspect has been woven into the film. Lalit decides to ‘come out’ to his father over lunch, by preparing the latter’s favourite dish, maacher jhol (fish curry). This also explains the choice of the title for the movie. “Drawing the entire process of making fish curry was also simpler than any other dish — for example, biryani — probably played a part,” Verma laughs.
The choice of hand-drawn 2D, instead of 3D, can be credited to Verma’s fascination with the medium, which arose during his training at IDC. His guide at IDC, animator Shilpa Ranade, was a fan of the medium, and also shaped his preference for this type of storytelling. “Hand-drawn 2D gives an organic feeling to the narrative,” he explains.
A dedicated team of 13 people, scattered across locations in Mumbai, Pune and New Delhi, has been working on the drafts for the film since July 2015. Currently in the post-production stage, Verma is seeking crowdfunding on Ketto. So far, they have managed to gather `2.30 lakh, with a target of raising `7 lakh. Targetted primarily at film festivals, Verma is hoping the funds help take the film to festivals across the world.
Maccher Jhol isn’t Verma’s first brush with filmmaking. In 2014, he made Chasni, a film based on the Preeti Raathi attack in Bandra, when a masked man threw acid at her face out of unrequited love. Verma highlighted the disfigurement and the aftermath for acid attack survivors. The film got critical acclaim, and was screened at more than 30 film festivals around the globe and collected 11 awards, including at Animafest Zagreb 2014 (Croatia) and FICCI Frames 2014 (India), among others.
Verma terms his interaction with filmmaker Shyam Benegal as a defining moment. Benegal was a speaker at his alma mater, and spoke about filmmaking as “wanting to tell stories to the people around”. It’s something Verma believes in as well. As a filmmaker, he views his films as an expression of how he understands a situation. “The fact that they manage to drive home a powerful social message is unintentional,” he says.
To contribute towards Maacher Jhol, visit ketto.org/maacherjhol