IIT-B alumnus Abhishek Verma talks about cooking as a method of showcasing a coming-out story, and winning a National Award.
It was quite a Taare Zameen Par moment for young animation film director Abhishek Verma, when his trainer Shilpa Ranade told him as a student at IIT Bombay that he had unique sketches, and that the characters spoke for themselves.
Buoyed by the confidence he gained from his time at the institute, the boy from Jharkhand started bringing his sketches to life. He has now won the Best Animation Film Award for his movie Maacher Jhol — The Fish Curry, at the much-revered National Film Award’s 65th edition.
The movie deals with the theme of sexual identity and acceptance through food. A father comes to visit his son, and shows him pictures of a few prospective brides. However, Vijay, cooks fish curry while listening to a cookery show, before disclosing to his father that he’s gay. The movie has a whiff of nostalgia floating through it, with vintage classic songs playing on the radio, and old-time hosts talking alongside.
“People choose various mediums to tell the truth of their homosexuality to their parents. I chose food,” reveals Abhishek. He explains that an immense amount of research went on behind the movie, as well as a lot of interviews. “I’ve come across people who’ve written 20-page letters and made videos to disclose their identities to their families. So I thought why not use food,” he shrugs.
The 29-year-old had been on the waiting list at the Film and Television Institute of India, Pune, when he made it through the IIT. And he’s grateful for the support he got from his professors. “My teachers have helped me a lot. Being an IITian, I wasn’t worried about my bread and butter, but was certainly curious to make good films,” he smiles.
His inspiration for making animation movies comes from his love for poetry and listening to the radio. “I sold off my physics and chemistry books to buy a radio. Writing was at the core of my creativity, though I wasn’t good at drawing,” he grins, almost humbly.
And Maacher Jhol didn’t happen overnight. “It took me a year to complete the film, and I had to draw more than 8,500 sketches to tell my story,” says Abhishek, adding that the inspiration of taking up original stories came after a meeting with the veteran film director, Shyam Benegal. “I wanted to know where to get stories from. And he told me ‘They’re all around you’ and since then, all my movies have been inspired by real life incidents.”
The young director’s first movie was Chasni and dealt with acid attacks and the psychological trauma that came with it. Maacher Jhol happens to be his second movie, and every one of them has the same modus operandi of using a 2D drawing technique. And Abhishek believes it has a huge market. “I have travelled to Europe for my last film, and interacted with many animators, which changed my journey. I want to make good films with the same technology,” he asserts.
Quiz him on the experience of winning a National Award, and he says, “It’s surprising because I’m very young and this award is big. It certainly comes with a huge responsibility, though the struggle of meeting people and getting funds for a film reduces.”
His third movie, Lukka Chupi is based on women’s struggles with open defecation. He smiles, “I thought this movie would win an award, because it’s a government project, and Maacher Jhol has a heavy theme. But I was surprised.”
What did his parents make of the award? “Well, my mom had been very tough on my Hindi (the movie is in Hindi), because she’s a poetry teacher. But my father says I’m lucky to win the award at an early age,” he laughs.