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A Gay Man & His Fish Curry: Abhishek Verma on ‘Maacher Jhol’

‘Maacher Jhol: The Fish Curry’ was screened at international film festivals.

4 min read
A Gay Man & His Fish Curry: Abhishek Verma on ‘Maacher Jhol’
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Sending pen drives with recorded confessions, writing letters – 16 pages at least, and showing classics like Brokeback Mountain – these are just a few ways Indian homosexual men come out of the closet, said Abhishek Verma, film and animation postgraduate at the Industrial Design Centre, IIT Bombay.

Verma learned this from his extensive research for his animated short film ‘Maacher Jhol’ which is co-produced by Jamuura.

A still from the short film.
(Screenshot: Youtube/The Matchbox Co)

‘Maacher Jhol’ follows the trials of a 30-something Bengali art curator, Lalit Ghosh, in his quest to come out to his father. Verma seeks to normalise the life-changing moment in Lalit’s life with something as common as Maacher Jhol, or Bengali fish curry (a staple dish in a Bengali household).

The 12-minute short film has won the best short film award at the eighth Kashish Mumbai International Queer Film Festival before making India proud at the Annecy International Animated Film Festival in France.

In an interview with The Quint, Verma shares how the the film was initially rejected in the Indian festival circuit for having an ‘uncanny’ storyline.

‘Let’s Normalise LGBTQ’

“I have had gay friend(s). It was as normal as the Bengali fish curry I have developed a taste for despite hailing from a vegetarian family in Hazaribagh, Jharkhand, . But, I know that the LGBTQ community is treated far from ‘normal’ in the mainstream,” says Verma.

“One of my very close friends came out to me when I was in college. It was a big event in his life. It got me thinking how important and nerve wrecking it is for those in the closet to come out to their close friends and family.”

Many record their messages in video and send it to their parents in pen-drives. Some write 16-page letters to their family. Many show movies like Brokeback Mountain and eventually break it to their family that they relate to one of the characters. I wanted to treat this simply and honestly.
Abhishek Verma, filmmaker

Why ‘Maacher Jhol’?

“Maacher Jhol is a quintessential Bengali dish, not just for those living in Kolkata but Bengalis in Jharkhand as well. Growing up in Jharkhand, although I was vegetarian, I took a liking for Bengali food thanks to my Bengali friends. The name kind of came naturally to me. There isn’t any symbolism in the play except for the every day aspect of the dish,” the filmmaker says.


What Is Hand-Drawn 2D Animation?

Verma says his team used hand-drawn 2D animation instead of 3D, using frame-by-frame 2D computing. “Since my IDC days, I have been fascinated with this mode of animation as it adds a certain rawness or should I say organic feel to the animation.”

It has been drawn in a graphic slate using a specialised software that gives it an effect of being drawn on paper. I have personally drawn each frame of the short film.

There is a quality difference between library animation and hand drawn frames, says Verma, adding that with the latter, they tried something called ‘wobbling’ where every still frame is repeated three types, to make the image lively.


International vs Indian Animation Industry

European animations that win big at the international festivals, setting a standard for the rest of the world, are well backed by their respective governments, says the filmmaker.

“Right after graduating from college, the better animators are guaranteed funding from the government. Therefore, they keep putting out more content. Screenings are also pretty frequent, so the content gets its audience too,” he adds.

“There is nothing like that in India, where the bulk of the audience is interested in saas-bahu serials and drama on news channels. But, the digital platforms have come as a silver lining as it exposes independent content to a large cross-section of the audience, including international ones. But, the animator has to ensure that the content is share worthy,” says Verma.


The Way Ahead?

It is difficult to sustain a career by making niche films in this category, he feels. “The truth is that India doesn’t have a market for it. If this short film wasn’t recognised in the international festival circles, we wouldn't even be discussing it now.”

I do have a few more projects in the pipeline, one of which is an entire feature film in completely 2D handmade animation. So, the future doesn’t look bleak. If it doesn’t work here, we will push it in the international markets.

‘Maacher Jhol: The Fish Curry’ was crowdfunded by and managed to raise Rs 7 lakh.

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