‘Meal’- Short film Review
A highly poignant tale that shakes you to the core
There’s nothing more frightening than a fear that seeps slowly into your body that you almost feel its presence running through your veins. A fear, that invites you slowly to immerse in it rather than sharing all the cues; you feel its palpable presence. ‘Meal’, written and directed by Abhiroop Basu does the same, with very minimal yet precise efforts. Rather than dwelling into their pathos, it seeks for a feeling to why the characters are shown to be muted. While doing that, it succeeds in taking a bigger point forward. The result is a neatly stylized film which never goes over-the-top with its presentation.
From the very first frame, it evokes a feeling of disgust and chaos without uttering a single word. We see a middle-aged lady with a scar, rather a burn-wound on her face. She’s cooking on the gas while staring aimlessly; almost oblivious to what she is doing. She seems to be pregnant, which adds another arc to the character. The color palette is fairly diluted with textures being even more noticeable. It sets us into this disturbing set-up with only a few colors standing out. The saturated yellow of what she was cooking takes us to the title of the film ‘Meal’.
'Meal', with its environment-building, is more concerned about the feeling than actions; at least on the surface. We get a few glimpses into the lives of a family and witness the nauseating feeling surrounding them. Father, engulfed in his own grief, is shown rushing impatiently between the two rooms, for a reason yet unknown. The grandfather, who is stock-still all the while, eventually slows father’s pace where we get a sight of his traumatic rigor in close-up. The dichotomy doesn’t end here.
The child who steps outside the door looks inside to get nothing but a thud. He seems nonchalant, just doing the chores he needed to. But the extreme close-ups reveal the burden he might be in. He has an exam the same day when the tension is rising like boiling steam, even on the outside. Section 144 is being announced on the radio because of which it became even more difficult for him to control his overbearing anxiety. None of his parents seem to care about his exams in any way. When they sit down to have a morning breakfast, none of them seem to be interested in it either. They try to consume it like machines, for being told to do so. The overwhelming silence slowly leads to a crescendo where the bleakness intensifies even more.
Adil Hussain, who plays the father, portrays the strain on his character almost effortlessly. Not just him, but Abhishek Jain’s rather constrained performance do it as if it’s his second nature. They fit perfectly in their role. The dialogue-less film, which is driven by its sounds, for the most part, make every second count to resonate the anxiety surrounding them. Here, the sounds take precedence and create a layer, also for the context. Whether it is the unusually loud ticking of a clock (which was shown to have fallen on the floor) or the crowd rallying outside, those sounds are used efficiently. The way it handles its pace with lesser cuts and resulting long takes is commendable. The framing was designed in order to serve the same purpose. Especially when they were having a meal, half of the frame is filled with rather disgusting reality just next to them. None of its parts seem to have put without a thought or an effort.
The tangible tension is felt without spelling out any particular reason. The sheer lack of interest in these characters is clearly visible. So the wordless nature seems fairly justified. It was constantly on the verge of being hyperactive and a complete breakdown. A sense of fear and unease, as being told on the news, was clearly visible even in the indoors. It just gives us a few pieces to get to the justification where every conclusion would be just an assumption, yet nothing less than horrifying.
All of it happens without revealing too much about any of the characters. While doing so, it brings forward an even stronger point, making it not just about the characters but about everyone including us. Is this the cold reality that we are heading towards? Do we really loathe each other to the degree that we won’t be able to recognize one another? Is our own anguish making us lose empathy? Do we even deserve to be called human beings then?