‘Coming out’ to your parents is inherently dramatic and emotionally charged. Abhishek Verma’s short film, Maacher Jhol , is centred around this event and spends most of its runtime building up to it, like many queer films coming out of India. But what makes Verma’s film noteworthy is the aesthetic choice of hand-drawn animation, which allows the maker to distil ‘coming out’ to its basic emotions as well as amp up the visual drama whenever needed. The filmmaker makes the right choices, as he uses the imaginative free-hand of animation in the build-up to the event, where we witness Lalit’s anxiety and affection for his partner, Ashutosh. The visuals of the actual confession to his dad, over the dinner table, is allowed to be restrained, thus impactful.
Since the characters are so two-dimensional, literally and figuratively, it’s the details that stand out in this film. The protagonist’s apartment is occupied by queer art and undergarment of two men in the living room. He seemingly lives in with his partner, who is more than a roommate. The protagonist’s father slowly scans the room, and we, as an audience, are left to deduce their relationship along with the father. The usage of classic Bollywood songs adds to the home’s lived-in quality and lends Lalit the quality of being an old soul and level-headed.
The film’s weakest link is its writing. While the short is visually striking and cleverly restrained, the dialogues, although sparse, feel redundant, verbose and almost unnecessary in the ‘coming out’ portion of the film. Maacher Jhol, the traditional fish curry from West Bengal and Odisha, functions as a symbol of love, understanding, nostalgia, childhood and being rooted in a culture. When Lalit and his father share the meal, as Lalit reveals his sexuality, the dish in itself speaks volumes, and can stand on its own, without words.
Despite the limited time span of 12-minutes, the film covers a wide emotional graph, and is neatly structured. It’s also refreshing to see a narrative grounded in a cultural milieu, where the specificity of food and music play a central role and aren’t just embellishments. The music evokes nostalgia as well as ‘normalcy’, where the protagonist is depicted to be ‘like any of us’, as seen through the lens of the father and the audience. Yet, queerness is made apparent and not depicted in a mawkish tone -- a common trap that Indian queer films recurringly fall into.
Maacher Jholis currently streaming on Dharamshala International Film Festival's online viewing room. For details check: diff.co.in/viewing-room/