In Abhiroop Basu‘s short film titled Meal, silence speaks the language of chaos, decay, and overall societal disintegration. We meet a loveless family of four that is struggling to get over an abusive domestic situation in their own ways. They don’t exchange a single word between themselves, but their anger, pain and everything falling apart around them is evoked through a series of very strong visuals of a chaotic household. In a way, this home in focus is also a derivative of the society at large that is the victim of the widespread communal hatred and looming violence – as we hear echoing from the radio bulletin in the background.
Ratnabali Bhattacharjee plays the wife who is somewhat stoned by the brutal bruises on her face (the prosthetics a little tacky though), as she cooks a meal for the family. She has been very recently beaten up in a domestic violence, we infer. She fumes like a pressure cooker as she cooks, but doesn’t utter a word. We also find that she is heavily pregnant. Given how grown-up her son is, this must have been an accidental pregnancy, possibly a result of yet another abusive assault. The husband Adil Hussain also wants to run away from the situation at hand and is found to be hurriedly packing things away. Gentle isn’t the term one can associate with him, and hence even the luggage zipper gives in to his temper. Does he have a parallel home to run away from all this? Is that the reason of the marital discord? We do not know. His helpless father Arun Mukhopadhyay is at the mercy of the other inmates of the house to even take care of his basic agency of food and sanitation, and no one cares. He is possibly dead inside already when we first meet him, and hence we feel somewhat relieved for him by the end of the film. And then there is Avishek Jain, the son, the youngest member of the family, who is tensed as he is about to appear for his first major board exams of life that morning, but has possibly been the witness of far more tensed situations at home. We see him picking up broken glass pieces from a time piece, but time has not slowed down for him. You immediately connect with his sincerity as the tension unfolds, and desperately want him to leave the ugliness behind and go ahead with his exams. He, after all deserves a better today and tomorrow, and you want him to get out unscathed of the rotten home that smells putrefaction in its every frame.
What happens when this family sits down to have their morning breakfast? Do the deathly screams of reality shatter through the silence, and seek redemption? Does the young life escape through the irreconcilable eventuality? Abhiroop Basu leaves the viewer with these questions for us to seek answers in our own way. The answers would also possibly depend on how desperately we want hope or peace to win over the marco-discords of the disintegrating society. The perishing & suffocating household that Basu creates is in a way a miniature of the nauseating environment we all live in. The nurturers around us are often using means of sustenance to bring about devastation, while the caregivers use power to terrorize the common youngsters of tomorrow, pushing them to bleakness.
It is not easy to communicate so much in an eleven minute film. But then Basu is able to do that successfully as he has assembled a terrific cast who excel in their craft of expressions without any crutches of dialogues, with Adil Hussain and Avishek Jain shining the brightest. Basu also uses brilliantly evocative visuals to express his thoughts, with the screen often framing contrasts side by side as if for us to think through both sides of the story. Cinematography and Sound Design are the definite highlights of the film along with the Performances and the filmmaker ensures that they are all in sync with the overall grim mood of his film to leave a deeply disturbing impact.
Could Abhiroop Basu have ensured the film to remain stoic, silent and internally screaming even through its climax? Personally, I think the film would have been even more dramatic, hard-hitting and disturbing that way. Because Meal speaks the loudest when it is silent, and possibly demanded that language to be consistent throughout.
As we speak, Meal has been officially selected and is being screened in several festivals of international repute. The film is likely to be available widely for viewing in a few months.
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