MEMORIES OF MAACHER JHOL
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