Before going in to see Aamis, I tried to explain what this movie was about to Hubert while I was eating a large stack of pancakes. I said that it was a love movie about two people that bond over meat in an Indian society and I had no expectations going into it. I thought that it would be a a simple love story about a married woman who begins to have an affair with a PhD student over their shared loved of different, unusual cuisine, and prepared myself to see interesting foods from all over India.
Technically, I wasn’t wrong. They do share a developing love over food, but when I tried to explain it to one of my friends after seeing the movie, I described it to them as “If Hannibal Lecter made a romance.” I wasn’t expecting Aamis to become what it did, and it certainly became something alright, but I was still curious to see where it went. And I guess it went from being a decent romance movie into a decent horror movie. Can’t say I ever expected that to happen. Now whether it would have been a better horror movie from the get go is entirely up for debate.
Director: Bhaskar Hazarika
Release Date: April 26, 2019 (Tribeca Film Festival)
Niri (Lima Das) is a pediatrician that lives a fairly mundane life. Her husband is usually gone on business trips, leaving her alone without much to do besides go to work and take care of her child. One day she’s asked to treat a man named Sumon’s (Arghadeep Barua) friend who contracted indigestion from having meat from what Sumon calls his Meat Club. In it, Sumon prepares different kinds of unusual meat like rabbit, bat, or monkey, and everyone in the group samples it. Niri, in payment for her services, asks to try some of this meat, as their interactions increase more and more, and they start to develop feelings for each other, taking their relationship to new and unhealthy heights over their love of meat.
When put as broadly as that, it’s pretty easy to piece out why what should be a romantic movie turns into such a dark ride, but you honestly wouldn’t get that impression by watching it in the moment. Hazarika constructs his movie with a logical train of progression, never becoming truly dark until the characters start proposing to each other new suggestions for the Meat Club. The movie almost feels like two completely different beasts when you look at it by the end. At first it’s a movie about social taboos and extramarital affairs while being stifled by a life that isn’t fulfilling, only to morph into something that you would get out of a Dario Argento love story.
The two lead actors do an admirable job with the material they were given, with the brunt of the work being done by Das. It’s always an impressive feat to make a normal character slowly abnormal, and she does a fantastic job with it. Barua is also good as Sumon, though his character does come off as creepy even before the tone shift, acting like a creeper without boundaries and obsessing over Niri at every turn. I don’t blame the actor at all for the character’s disposition; I don’t think there was any possible way to have him endear himself to me. This unfortunately stifles the romance, since while you do care about one half of the couple and want Niri to feel alive and fulfilled, you don’t want it with someone who acts like a spoiled child when he doesn’t get his way and does things to her without her consent, only to be mortified when she does the same to him.
Speaking of not having consent, the shift to horror had a good amount of problems. I know that we’re meant to take this relationship seriously, but myself and several other audience members were laughing our asses off at how dark and serious the movie became. The Hannibal Lecter comparisons weren’t just for humor’s sake, with some of the characters beginning to talk like they were just taken from Bryan Fuller’s masterpiece TV-series and shoved into an Indian romance. Characters begin to have deep and introspective voice overs with your standard horror music playing over their narration and I couldn’t keep myself from laughing. Some other critics walked out due to the darkness, but it came across more as naivete to me, like the romance wouldn’t have been able to support the movie alone unless their was an edge to it. I guess I can appreciate the artistic choice at turning a conventional romance on its head, but it feels more forced than anything else.
That’s not even taking into account how much the movie seems to drag at points. This is a nearly two hour long movie, but it moves along at a snail’s pace half of the time. The first half shows us multiple times that Niri and Sumon like to go out and find exotic places to eat, but it never knows when to stop. Niri is constantly rejecting the idea that she’s falling in love with him, which is only delaying the inevitable. The second half has a solid pace and doesn’t waste the viewer’s time, but it comes too little to late. By the time Aamis showed its true colors I was more interested in the time than the movie.
There’s a good movie buried in Aamis. The actors are on point and the genre shift is done well, but there’s not much too it besides that shift. This is a movie about forbidden desires that is all to willing to go up in your face and show them off. While maybe a few more rounds of editing to make the film leaner, Aamis could have been a delicious and unusual addition to any horror fan’s library. Aamis feels like an Indian Audition, but while that film made me squirm with how it handles the shift in tone, Aamis lurches to a conclusion that was too out of place for its own good.