Maacher Jhol – The fish curry is a hand-drawn 2D animated movie, directed by Abhishek Verma about a man in his late twenties coming out to his father over his favourite dinner dish, the fish curry. The short film was released in 2017 and since then has found plenty laurels and happy appreciation.
The movie was able to resonate deeply within the queer community of India as it showcases an important step that every queer person has to take at some point in their lives – coming out to family. The fear of rejection, disbelief and hatred finds its manifestations in a queer person’s heart in many ways. Especially in brown households, where children are brought learning up binary ways of life, with less to negligible freedom of choosing a partner. In Indian culture, a conversation about love happens only when marriage is on the cards. There is no mention of a girlfriend or boyfriend while growing up in an Indian family, there’s just studies and sanskar. So for a queer person to find a way to belong gets reduced to shreds with the way our system works. In a country where even straight couples have a million barriers to cross to find acceptance, queer relationships sometimes get lost in the heavily patriarchal society. Hence, the message of the film becomes relatable to many Indian queer folks who may or may not have come out to their families.
Lalit prepping himself to meet his father by getting a haircut and shave points to the formality of their relationship. It comes across as a man getting ready to negotiate a deal with an important client. To an extent that’s how formal relationships are between men and their fathers in our country; there is a sense of fear mixed with reverence one feels for their dad. Lalit cooking his father’s favourite dish himself speaks of how many precautions one has to take before displaying their cards fully on the table. The presentation has to be perfect, everything has to be planned according to the parent’s choices because the revelation of the secret might not go as smoothly as the other things might. It is like lulling them into a false sense of security before dropping the truth bomb and assessing their reaction.
Till now the movie shows Lalit preparing to confront his father. But during the dinner, when his father starts talking about marriage and shows him photographs of various women, we find out that his father also had his own plans for the dinner. While we do not see his father prepping to drop the big bomb of marriage, we see him hoping for his son’s approval. This scene sets up the ground for Lalit to speak his truth, but it also shows what Lalit’s parents’ expect of him – marry a girl and settle down. And that is the age-old concern of every Indian parent, wanting to get their child married before ‘it’s too late’. Most parents fail to realise what their child truly wants and sometimes they deliberately do not try to find out what their child has in mind.
Lalit confesses to his father that he is in love with his roommate and friend, Ashutosh. The awkwardness in the air gets multiplied tenfolds and we see his father choke on his favourite dish. After that, we see empty plates and his father’s ride back home. He then lovingly feeds his wife the dish Lalit made and the audience is left wondering whether the father truly accepted his son or left his house angry. The focus of the camera on his throat twice during the dinner scene implies the initial struggle to accept, to drink down his fears and insecurities, and since they were too many of them, the inability to breath chokes him on his own desires. Yet when we see him eat the same dish again, we realise the long ride back home saw some reflection into the deep pools of the father’s fears and resulted in a difficult yet subtle acceptance of his son’s identity.
The camera work and art style are simple, understated and ambiguous to make the viewer put their own imagination into the concept of the film, and since the targeted audience of the maker was essentially the queer community, it is not difficult for them to wilfully hope that Lalit’s father welcomed his love with Ashutosh. The movies plays with the idea of resigned affirmation by purposely leaving a minor cliffhanger for viewers to figure out their own happy/ sad ending to Lalit’s dinner date with his father.