Banner: Yoodlee FilmsProducers: Vikram Mehra,
Siddharth Anand Kumar
Director: Devashish Makhija
Cast: Sushama Deshpande , Sharvani
Suryavanshi, Smita Tambe,
Shreyas Pandit, Abhishek Banerjee,
Writers: Devashish Makhija,
Music: Mangesh Dhakde
2017 has seen many revenge dramas made on various themes. After watching these commercial versions of the genre in the first three-quarters of the year, we have a hard-hitting, gritty movie of the same genre, and one that gives you goose bumps. Raw and edgy, and written and directed by Devashish Makhija, Ajji takes you through the experience of a rape victim and the impact on her family.
The movie starts with Ajji (Sushama Deshpande) searching for her 10-year-old granddaughter Manda (Sharvani Suryavanshi) around a sewage pipeline in a slum area where they live. She is accompanied by a commercial sex worker Leela (Sadiya Siddiqui), who finds the girl lying in a heap of trash, battered and bruised. Manda is taken home and the police are informed.
A police officer (Vikas Kumar), who comes in to investigate, asks the family some tough questions, making them very uncomfortable. After listening to the story and concluding that the key suspect is the local politician’s son Dhavle (Abhishek Banerjee), the police inspector advises Manda’s parents against filing a complaint, for their own safety. Unable to stomach the pain her granddaughter is going through, Ajji takes matters into her own hands and, despite her damaged knee, decides to take revenge. How she manages to do that and the methods she uses to achieve her goal form the rest of this brutal drama.
Over the years, we have seen many movies where a loved one avenges the violation of their sister, wife, daughter and, now, granddaughter. Among a host of overdramatised, incredulous movies, Ajji is believable and very real.
Makhija has given us a protagonist who is physically flawed. She doesn’t use a larger-than-life scheme to take revenge on the villain but systematically plans her every move. As her plan unfolds, her grittiness is gut-wrenching and you find yourself rooting for her.
Another heart-breaking element is the social reality of the rape victim and her family. Their helplessness in trying to make ends meet is apparent, even through the pain of seeing their daughter go through an unspeakable situation.
Makhija has made a straightforward movie which hits just the right notes. You cringe at the pain of the young girl, are outraged at the rapist ‘molesting’ a mannequin, wince at the no-nonsense preparation by Ajji as she plans her every move, and feel a sadistic sense of vindication when the revenge scene unfolds. This journey shakes you up and that is a huge triumph for the filmmaker.
The film is not choc-a-bloc with dialogue as the message and emotion in every scene is also delivered non-verbally. Cinematography by Jishnu Bhattacharjee is excellent as it not only sets a dark tone for the movie but also draws you into that world. Editing by Ujjwal Chandra is crisp while retaining the essence of the film.
The director has clearly steered clear of the formulaic revenge drama even though this is a revenge drama. This is tough to achieve, when the protagonist doesn’t turn into, say a, vigilante, or the film isn’t packed with bloodthirsty action scenes. This unflinchingly honest movie will make you extremely uncomfortable at several points and force you to look away for a brief respite. And that’s the beauty of this dark drama.
Performance-wise, Sushama Deshpande as Ajji is flawless. Every stoic expression from her manages to convey her contained rage that cold-bloodedly explodes during the climax. The little girl Sharvani Suryavanshi is also very good. The parents in the film, Smita Tambe and Shreyas Pandit, are good. The antagonist played by Abhishek Banerjee evokes loathing and outrage, just as the filmmaker had intended. Vikas Kumar playing the police inspector puts in a decent performance. Sadiya Siddiqui and Sudhir Pandey are good in their supporting roles.
Verdict: A brutally essential watch.