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“I let the subject lead the way”

Filmmaker Devashish Makhija has been getting rave reviews for his edgy film Ajji. He tells Box Office India why he has always explored different genres

What is the response you are receiving, post-release?

Since I have started working on my next film, I have been pretty much disconnected from other people for the last few days. But the response has been very uniform – people have reacted with disgust evoked by the film. Many people have told me that there were a few scenes that they couldn’t even watch. And a lot of men said they felt guilty. So I believe I have achieved my objective in telling this story because I wanted them to feel guilty. The film is a slap on our society which neglects issues like these. Thus, when they told me they could not watch some scenes, I took it as a compliment.

Given the graphic nature of the subject and its representation, were you apprehensive about how the audience would receive your film?  

No. When we decided to write the story, it was a quirky comedy where the grandmother was cheeky. But as we progressed in our research material, we came across a lot of case studies and stories about child trafficking and child abuse. This affected us so much that I couldn’t make it quirky any more. My entire plot changed as did the genre while writing the script. I knew what I wanted to show the audience and so I was never really worried.

What was it like to work with Yoodlee Films?

It was beautiful. Last year, Sa Re Ga Ma decided to make 100 films and I was one of the first directors whose stories they had selected. If I am not wrong, mine is the first film that rolled under the Yoodlee banner. At the time, they were experimenting with the kind of subjects they wanted. With Ajji, they gave me a free hand and everyone came together to make the film.

Were there any challenges while making the film?

The story was set, everything was ready but demonetisation happened three days after we started shooting. That was a roadblock but the rest was smooth sailing.

Was casting easy?

Casting took a while before we started shooting. I believe casting is the most important factor while making a film. Your product design, costumes, locations, everything helps casting to make a film. But if your casting fails, nothing else will work. And casting for this film was a challenge, starting with the granny who was the most challenging to cast. We had auditioned many elderly women for the role, from known names to other artistes. But no one agreed after listening to the plot.

Then someone told us about Sushama Deshpande, who is a famous name in theatre and has done some marvellous plays. She is also a theatre activist. So we approached her and once she heard the script, she was ready to do it. The rest of the cast, including Sharvani Suryavanshi, Sadiya Siddqui and Abhishek Banerjee, happened over a period of time.

It’s a dark film. Did the actors get a little depressed?

Yes, it is a dark film but I used to tell everyone that we needed to showcase this story. Dhavle (Abhishek Banerjee) was affected most because he is exactly the opposite in real life. So, yes, it was a little tough for everyone to switch off from the character.

Is Ajji drawn from a real-life story?

We did a lot of research and while making the film, we didn’t really need any specific story. The anxiety, the scars, the pain is what I wanted to bring out in my film, so the story was inspired by all the real stories we encountered. It is not about any specific person’s experience.

Whether Rahim Murge Pe Mat Ro, El’ayichi, Taandav or Ajji, your films are different in form and the kind of stories you tell are also very different.

I wouldn’t say I have a specific type of approach. I let the subject lead the way. First, it’s the story that matters; then how I want to tell the story or how I want to shoot it. I decide whether I want to shoot it with a mobile camera, a laptop camera, a DSLR or a film camera. I work on the story accordingly. It is exciting to work the medium into the script.

What’s next?

After I finished Taandav, Manoj Bajpayee and I wanted to work together on a story. I developed the story and have finally got a producer. We are now shooting that film. It’s called Bhosle. I can’t tell you anything about the plot right now.

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