BY GAUTAM DEKA
Abhiroop Basu is an award-winning Director and Screenwriter based out of Kolkata, India.
His latest short ‘Meal’ has been garnering critical acclaim all over the world for directly
addressing the political and social urgencies in the country.
Abhiroop Basu's ‘Meal’ starts off with the provocative image of a bruised housewife
preparing a meal for her family. Through the simple sounds of heavy breathing and the
gloomy hiss of the pressure cooker in the background, we come to feel the repressed anger of
this woman. It is bubbling like the pressure cooker in front. Her intense expression indicates
how something is awfully off in this household. The dirt-ridden kitchen wall adds to the
authenticity and the feeling of dread. It adds texture, you can feel the rusty, soiled walls.
The first shot itself is such a perfect representation of so many Indian families: rife with
domestic abuse, repression, and financial instability. We then see the husband, a Muslim
man, fuming with anger and ready to leave the house, while there are ironic chants of 'Bharat
Mata ki Jai!' in the background. There are shouts of Victory to mother India when the mother
inside is battered. The husband's hand is bandaged indicating that he hit her. People in the
background shout things like 'Victory to Narendra Modi' and & 'beware;' the subtext is all too
clear – we live in a blind country giving never-ending support to a government that is
making the family unit (particularly minority communities) disintegrate.
We then see a paralyzed man drop a glass of water, we see Adil Hussain's (Life Of Pi,
English Vinglish) expression and we know something is about to blow up. There is palpable
frustration and anger in the air, as if someone is about to erupt in violence. The ominous
sound of the fan acts as a ticking time bomb. We see the son pick up shards of glass; we
sense a violent incident in the recent past. The shards reflect remnants of violence. Hussain
looks at his son and abruptly shuts the door, his son looks on with a face of guilt. Animosity
infects every relationship in this family. The son turns on the TV to hear news of political
unrest. Innocent people have died due to the unrest, foreshadowing what is about to follow;
the chaos and fear in the city of Kolkata are paralleled with the chaos in the family. We hear
from the TV how the working class is struggling to produce 70-year-old documents, and the
abuse of power by the state mirrors the abuse of power in the family.
It is always the powerless who suffer - the state preys on minorities and the patriarch preys
on the woman. When the oppressed have had enough they protest and retaliate, and
sometimes some innocent people have to bear the brunt of this process. In the background,
we hear that some houses were set on fire. Immediately after, we see the mother is pregnant
with a child. There is palpable violence in the family, the yet unborn child will have to bear
the unfair burden of the trauma. The violence will, in turn, not end, it will find a way to seep
into later generations through our collective unconscious.
The family sit down for their morning meal, distraught with tension. The shocking climax
represents how oppression changes the oppressed; it forces them to take desperate measures
and innocent people always have to face the brunt of systemic violence. Abhiroop Basu's
Meal breaks down the two chambers of India's heart - the family and the state - in 11 minutes.