Adil Hussain on short film ‘Meal’: “I identified with the script instantly”


Abhiroop Basu’s ‘Meal’ is a short film without dialogues. However, when you watch the 11 minute film, the story has so many layers and undertones of many social issues. Having been features in over 50 film festivals internationally, the film is now streaming on MUBI and will debut on Hotstar this month.

Adil Hussain, known for his variety of supporting roles in Indian cinema, features in the short. caught up with the actor to talk about the film.

‘Meal’ has undertones of many things – despair, uncertainty, tension, etc – without any particular visual assistance. This is interesting for the viewers’ journeys but how would you describe those things in your journey as an actor of this short film?
The backdrop of this film, as you mention, is despair and all those social realities and milieu which the film is set on… I don’t think anybody who lives in India apart from the very upper class or elites have not seen or grown up with those things. There’s been despair in our families, extreme scarcities of things of families that I’ve grown up in or those I know of in a small town in Assam. There is a despair I still see when I go back home amongst my brothers. It’s not about scarcity of materialistic things, it’s about the lack of an emotional, spiritual education which culminates into this kind of despair and hopelessness. Yes, materialistic scarcities can lead people to feel sorry for themselves or create hopelessness and all that, but let’s not get into that. My reality as a person when I grew up, I’ve seen things happening which are part of this film. The anger, the violence… these are still very integral parts of most of the country in India. The glitter and gloss of a few people is just 1 or 2 per cent – those live in the cities and metros are there because wealth is extremely unequally distributed in every part of the world but mostly in third world countries like India. So there was nothing much that I had to work on to understand the situation of the film. In fact, I identified with the script instantly, that’s the reason I decided to do this.

What specifically appealed to you about the story of ‘Meal’?
Well, there’s nothing new in terms of the story. Stories of despair and hopelessness can be set in so many ways but the way the director Abhiroop Basu depicted it was very close to my heart. In 11 minutes, without any spoken words, without many visuals but just a few shots, he depicted a world. That to me is the definition of good art where you do very little and express the most. The word shilpa – sheila means rock and ulpa means a little. It’s a metaphor from sculpture art and where you reveal the inner sculpture by taking away what’s not necessary with very little stoke of the hammer and chisel. Doing very little and showing the most is the definition of art in India or across the world. The best of the arts always help the audiences to create a world in their own mind. It’s like, for me, that’s close to my heart. Abhiroop’s script had that quality and I thought that a bright young talented director he is, has got immense possibility to make a fantastic feature film which I am waiting for and hoping to be part of it as well. That’s the reason I decided to go for it.

When you personally heard the plot of ‘Meal’ and that it was to be dialogue-less, what most excited you about it?
There are two reasons for this. Generally, most actors lean on these crutches of words and without feeling anything within. Abhiroop has taken away that element from the film. In a way, it’s almost cruel as a director to take out the words and allow the actor to explore the possibilities of emotions in the body and with actions. Then spoken words become redundant. I think that’s one of the prime reasons also that I decided to do this film. You have to really get into the situation in order to allow yourself as instruments for the audiences to see the story through this, instead of using spoken words.

Is there a specific attraction you have to the short film format?
I think short films are quite a medium. It’s like a bonsai. When you look as a bonsai, you see everything in the tree but you want to see more. Short films are a format where the writer and director tries to condense and compress and concentrate in each and every second every possible world of the characters, of the milieu, of the social reality, of political reality, actors. It’s like an atomic bomb contained in a small box. It’s like a black hole in a way, it’s so small but so powerful. It’s fantastic in short stories; haikus in Japan or minimalistic paintings. This format itself, for me, is a high art. It deserves and demands the universe of every character to be condensed to a black hole in a small place. I feel that’ the reason I like this format an anybody who doesn’t have the awareness of society or human behaviour or social, political, spiritual or economical realities or aspirations for the future, the way the world could be, for them they’d end up making a very mundane and ordinary short film. A person like Abhiroop, who is very empathetic and compassionate, concerned and an aware citizen of this country in the old realities of India. We have made the audience in India such a way that they are entertained by mindless films and violences and overtones of sexuality and all. In feature films you get more time, if you can utilise that time in a way, it’s good. However, it’s very difficult to make a good short film which is potent as Abhiroop has done. I’m very proud to be part of ‘Meal’ and looking forward to his next feature. I hope the audience in India, through Mubi, will watch the film. Mubi is the only platform I know of which doesn’t compromise with artistic cinema. I’m proud it’s come to India and I hope audiences watch some great cinema through Mubi. thanks Adil Hussain for taking the time to talk to us.

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