We have to create universal content , says Bhaskar Hazarika
With an enthusiastic crowd patiently waiting outside the Cinépolis Fun Republic theatre, Andheri, it was heartening to see how Aamis (Ravening) — filmmaker Bhaskar Hazarika’s much-talked-about Assamese film pulled in people from a diverse spectrum, and not just the Assamese diaspora. What the crowd perhaps wasn’t expecting was a macabre end to what seemed like a sweet love story.
Two films down and Hazarika has somewhat made a reputation as somebody, who is drawn to experimenting with dark themes and complex characters. His debut film, Kothanodi (2015), won a National Award for Best Film in the Assamese language. Based on characters and events described in Burhi Aai’r Xadhu (Grandma’s Tales), a beloved anthology of folk stories compiled by the Assamese literary giant Lakshminath Bezbaroa, Kothanodi proofed to be its sinister retelling. And, if it managed to spook people out, Aamis is a notch above that, a film that will make you question topics such as morality, and forbidden relationships. “I like watching films from the masters of horror and sci-fi,” says the director, and indeed, this love for the dreadful reflects in his work.
Earlier this year in April, Aamis had premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival (TFF) in New York, USA, where it was nominated in five categories, including Best Film. The film also received two awards at the Singapore South Asian International Film Festival, Best Director for Hazarika and Best Actress for Lima Das. After watching the film, director Anurag Kashyap took note of it and wrote on his Instagram account, “have not seen anything like this coming out of India” before. Kashyap, who has been known to present independent films from across India in theatres, declared that he will be presenting Aamis. But, this was the first time he presented a film from North-East India.
Aamis is a story set in urban Guwahati, Assam and written by Hazarika himself. It revolves around the lives of a doctor, and a PhD student, bonding over food — a variety of exotic meat. The story then takes a bewildering turn, which may even leave many in disbelief.
Starring debutants — Lima Das and Arghadeep Barua, Aamis, Hazarika says is based on the Romeo and Juliet template. He, who’d earlier cast popular actors such as Adil Hussain and Seema Biswas for Kothanodi, says that it is important to not have familiar faces while working on that template. “It is easier for the audience to relate to new faces when it’s a love story,” he says.
When asked if he looks at himself as somebody who might be at the risk of being typecast as a teller of grim tales, he says, it’s only coincidental that both his films touch upon the deviant. “I am currently working on a comedy film, and I have also written a thriller,” he adds.
Writing for an A-list Bollywood movie, is what most aspiring filmmakers look out for, but Hazarika chooses to focus on independent content. In 2012, he got writing credit for the Abbas-Mustan thriller, Players, a remake of the American film, The Italian Job (2003). Hazarika says being a part of that film was an eye-opener of sorts for him. “It helped me realise what I didn’t want to do,” he adds.
For a long period of time, regional cinema meant only southern films. But with films such as Sairat (Marathi, 2015) making a mark, it doesn’t seem impossible for the mainstream to open up to films from North-East India, as well. Assamese cinema, especially, seems to have undergone a qualitative change with filmmakers taking on unconventional topics. For instance, in 2017, Village Rockstars, directed by Rima Das, was selected as India’s official entry to the 91st Academy Awards. But do these filmmakers make films keeping a universal audience in mind? “We have to create universal content, which will work outside,” Hazarika says. This belief is why he started Metanormal Pictures, a small studio based in New Delhi, with a vision to create original cinema from India, especially, with a focus on regional content.
Is the audience, then, ready to take on such films? we ask. Hazarika, who looks at filmmaking as his “job” and not particularly a “passion”, says it’s not a filmmaker’s responsibility to educate people to come and watch films from a certain region. “That’s too much pressure on the maker.”