The first-time actress believes while Bhaskar Hazarika’s noir romantic drama has a unique dark story, but it is very thought provocative
By Mayur Lookhar
How many actors can say that they are being paid to eat in their first film. Assam’s Lima Das gorged onto various meaty delicacies in director Bhaskar Hazarika’s Aamis . Aamis, though is not your archetypal Indian rom com. Food is critical to the narrative, but Aamis is actually a rare noir romantic drama in Indian cinema.
Having travelled around the festival circuit, the Assamese film is set to be released on 22 November.
BeyondBollywood spoke to first time actress Das over the phone. She’s the daughter of noted Assamese singer Mridula Das. She was a doctor [dentist] herself, but Lima’s primary passion is dance. Growing up, she learnt Odissi before finding her heart in Sattriya, Assam’s traditional dance form.
Das shares her Aamis journey, on her chemistry with young co-star Arghadeep Baruah, why it is essential for people to have any art form in their life.
Every actor likes a meaty role and Lima Das surely knows how to get her pound of flesh. Is that a fair statement after watching Aamis?
Let me put it very simply. There’s nothing like that. This is one role which, I now feel that I had been waiting for. I was looking for a role that is different. I was always looking to do this one film, even though I am not a regular actor. I was keen on doing an art film.
When this came my way, I felt I was waiting for something like this. When I got the role, I just felt I should give my best to it.
Just watching you in Aamis, it’s hard to believe that this is your first film. Inevitably, it begs the question, where were you all these years?
I’m a a Sattriya dancer. I have been a dancer all my life. I started [dancing] at the age of eight. I did Odissi for 25 years and then after that I practiced my own dance form Sattriya – the dance form of Assam.
Right from my teenage years, I knew that I will do that one film at some point of time. But I got busy with my studies. I’m a dental surgeon. I wanted to do be a doctor. I had to establish myself first. I didn’t want to struggle as an artist. Art for me is worship. It is something that gives me immense peace. I didn’t want the financial element to be a hindrance. For me, my studies were my priority then.
So what convinced you to do a film now?
This is a beautiful stage of my life because my son has grown up. He is going to be 10. He can manage somewhat. I have a stable job, a husband who is loving and supporting. When this [Aamis offer] came to me, I thought if I don’t do it now, then I won’t be able to do it later.
The second most important thing is that the director, Bhaskar Hazarika. I have seen his work. I had seen his [first] film Kothanodi . I was really impressed. This is the kind of director that I want to work with. This is the kind of screenplay, cinematography that I want to be part of. He is a family friend. In 2015-2016, I approached him and said that I want to do something on Sattriya. That’s the only thing I had worked on. Art to me meant Sattriya. I didn’t expect to be approached for any other role.
So, you were basically looking for a film where you could show your Sattriya skills?
I wanted to do a documentary. It was a very casual meet. He, too, [casually] said that we will work some day. He told me that he has something in mind but I don’t think you will do it.
After two years, he says he has a script for me. He asked me if I would like to read it?
What was your first reaction when you heard the script?
I was completely taken aback. All along you were thinking something else, and then this. The thing that I was clear is that this is a love story that will have to be dealt with in a sensitive manner. The script, screenplay was very clear. There was no violence, nothing graphical as such. Since I had seen his earlier work, I knew Hazarika would do a good job. If you hear the story just like that, then you would find it very gory but the treatment that was given to the film was very beautiful.
I guess the first prerequisite for this role would be a fettish for meat.
I don’t think so. I never was never a heavy meat eater. For me the meat, I could imagine it as something else that I love to eat. The director told me to imagine something that has gone into my mouth and its bursting with flavours. It could have been anything. That emotion which you feel when you have not tried something before, and it tastes so lovely. Of course, meat is a wonderful thing to have but you have to concentrate more on the emotion.
Given the bizarre script, character, what do you do to get into the psyche of this character?
Meat is just used as a trope. It could have been alcohol, cocaine or any kind of addiction. The first part of the film, Dr Nirmali [Das] is just a regular person. Sometimes, you end up in a unimaginable situation. It happens in life. For me that sinking feeling. I only remembered the time in my life when I had that feeling [of tasting great food] that helped me get in the character.
Being a doctor yourself, was there any apprehension as to how the medical fraternity would react?
I am artiste first. No matter what you make, — you make a commercial film, I may not like it, but it is up to an individual. Like I said, I didn’t find anything graphic, objectionable in the film. The thought was provocative. I saw a beauty in the film. I don’t know if I could relate to it. If most people can relate to it, then good but if they don’t, it’s fine. It is purely an individual thing.
Does being a classical dancer also help in acting too?
Of course, I owe everything to dance. Acting is emoting but there are tools of acting. There are tools of emoting on stage. I have learnt this through dance. I might not have used all of them because in front of the camera, it is magnified 200 times than what you do on stage. One thing that I learnt was that in front of the camera, there has to be lot of restrain.
What’s the key to having a successful chemistry in a platonic relationship where there is absolutely no physical contact whatsoever?
It is basically just ‘feel’ it. Sometimes, you fall in love with a person even before touching him/her. Love is that kind of feeling. It’s what makes us so universal. It’s just there in the eyes. There is famous song by Jagjit Singh, ‘Kaun kehta hain mohabbat ki zubaan hoti hain, ye haqeeqat to nigahon se bayan hoti hain’. You ought to evoke that feeling of how you felt when you first fell in love.
Both Arghadeep Baruah and you are first time actors. So, what was the experience like working with him?
Arghadeep was like a little boy on screen. He has matured so much over these two years. He was very shy, almost an introvert. We really had to bring it out of him. I told my director is there anything, any chemistry that will come out on the screen? He is an exceptionally nice guy. He’s very respectful. So, it was very difficult to have a chemistry with him. I had to explain to him this is a love story and he ought to show some emotions. Initially, he was very stiff. He used to call me Nirmali ba [elder sister]. The director then told him not to call me ba. Because he is such a nice person, that goodness in him stays through the film. That made the film soft and nice. His character was supposed to be a little harsh but we toned down the film. That was good though.
Is the mechanical nature of our lives increasingly putting pressure on human relationships?
Which is why we all need to have some kind of art in our lives. Any kind of art will give you so much of peace and happiness. I’ve always turned to dance for that kind of peace of mind. Now I am so happy that I also have a film. My prescription for everyone is that be it painting, movies or just anything, just have some form of art. You can either do it or even appreciate it.
You are doctor, a dancer, now an actor and a mother too. How have you managed to keep the balance between professional and personal life?
When you want something to be balanced, you cannot do everything together at 100 % at the same time. When I did my studies, dance used to be occasional. When I became a mother, I was only a mother for three months. Till my son was about 4-5 years, my whole life was surrounded being a mother. I had to make sure everything is fine for him. Then gradually, when my son was growing up, I could take to dance. My dance was the most important thing then. Now that I am into films, I had to take leave for three months. When I filmed, that became the most important thing for me then. I’ve stopped practising dentistry. I now teach dentistry. If I have to practice, then my dance will not happen. You have to make certain compromises. You can balance, but you can never do everything 100 % right at the same time. At different point of time, you have to choose what you want to do the most.
The film premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival .What was the ground reaction there?
The audience reacted positively to the film initially. When the dark turn comes, they were like, “Oh my god, what is going to happen now?”. Some of them were in a state of shock. I’ll telling you an interesting tale.
There was this lady seated next to me. She had come with her husband [Americans]. The lady asked me are you there in the film? I said yeah. She then told me that she loves Bollywood, the song and dance, she loves Sonam Kapoor. I told her that I’m sure you love it but I need to give you a head start. This is not your regular Bollywood rom com film. She feared whether something terrible like cancer happens to the character? I just told her it might get a little darker than that. She loved the initial part or the film, but once the dark turn comes, she requested to be excused as she couldn’t take it anymore. They politely walked off.
More than what is being shown, people anticipate it will get darker. That is the point when they leave the theatre. But it doesn’t get darker than that. It is all in the mind.
Speaking of reaction, how did your husband react?
My husband is a cool guy, He was always so supportive. He is a sculptor. He is also a dentist. We bond through art. He was the first person with whom I shared the script. He asked me do I want to do it? I said yes and he replied, ‘It’s a beautiful script and I should do it.’.
In the beginning you told me that you were waiting for this one film. Now that you have it, what’s next for you?
I am a very picky person. The regular commercial thing is not for me. I love women centric roles. I have this urge to really take up a challenge. I’m more drawn to the difficult thing. I have to do my homework. That process of preparing myself for a difficult role, I find that very satisfying and gratifying. If I come across a script like this, then I will definitely do it. Otherwise, I will perhaps never do another movie again. I always have my dance to fall back upon.