MEMORIES OF MAACHER JHOL

India Today - - INSIDE - —Ra­jesh Devraj

Chunks of rohu fall into in an over­sized pan. As they siz­zle in mus­tard oil, the pieces join to­gether and the fish comes alive. It leaps up and dives right back into the golden liq­uid, where a pair of mer­men are seen hold­ing hands, their tails sway­ing gen­tly. Bub­bles rise up around them as they gaze lov­ingly at each other and draw closer for a sim­mer­ing kiss.

This sur­real mo­ment comes half­way through Ab­hishek Verma’s Maacher Jhol (2017), an an­i­mated short film com­pet­ing this year at the In­ter­na­tional An­i­mated Film Fes­ti­val in An­necy, France (June 12-17). In this medieval alpine town, it isn’t block­busters that draw the crowds. Small, quirky made us­ing char­coal sketches or wob­bly clay mod­els are the main at­trac­tion, draw­ing hordes of young an­i­ma­tion junkies.

It’s a rare hon­our for an In­dian film to be fea­tured in An­necy’s pres­ti­films gious Courts Me­trages com­pe­ti­tion. If you ex­clude ads and stu­dent films, a mere hand­ful of In­dian films have made it in over 50 years: a Films Di­vi­sion short from 1966, an­other by Kireet Khu­rana from 1997, Gi­tan­jali Rao’s Printed Rain­bow (2006), and now, Verma’s film. There’s a rea­son for this—per­sonal, in­ti­mate films such as Maacher Jhol are un­com­mon in the world of In­dian an­i­ma­tion, where short films tend to be funded by NGOs or gov­ern­ment bod­ies that usu­ally man­date some kind of so­cial mes­sage. “There’s no space for au­teur films,” an­i­ma­tor Gi­tan­jali Rao ex­plains. “You have to cre­ate it for your­self.”

That’s ex­actly what Verma did, us­ing a crowd­fund­ing cam­paign to raise money, and then quitting his job to draw his film by hand, frame by frame. The re­sult is a lay­ered com­ing out tale that shows a young man, Lalit, pre­par­ing for a visit from a beloved par­ent who does not know his se­cret. Over the course of a rainy af­ter­noon, he makes a dish of maacher jhol; the fish serves as a metaphor for his hid­den sex­u­al­ity, the pri­vate self he plans to re­veal. There is no great con­flict here; only an ac­cu­mu­la­tion of small, closely ob­served de­tails. Like the meal Lalit

cooks, Verma’s film is a labour of love.

Like the meal that Lalit cooks, Ab­hishek Verma’s film, Maacher Jhol, is a labour of love

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