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Ajji Is A Horrifying Mirror Image Of  Poverty

Subhash K . Jha

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Ajji 

Movie: Ajji

Starring Sushma Despande, Sharvani Suryavanshi, Sadiya Siddiqui

Directed  by  Devashish Makhija

Rating: ****(4 Stars)

It’s  not so much  the horror of  a 10-year old girl’s rape that  hits you , and hits you hard, in this revenge saga , so dark and so desolate, it seems more  like a warning against what  cinematic entertainment has come to mean for  the masses than an actual film.

It is the sheer powerlessness  of those who exist at the grassroot level that  weaves a tight cordon  around the audiences’ sensitivities,  choking the  very breath out of you  as a doughty grandmother , played with staggering integrity by  Sushma Despande, sets out  to avenge her darling granddaughter’s rape through a plan that only the  desperate can devise and only those who have nothing to lose, can dare  to implement.

Ajji is a horror tale of the most extreme  kind. There  is  no freedom  from the feeling of being suffocated  by director Devashish Makhija’s vision of a  world so bleak , so deprived  of hope and  sunshine,  it seems  like a slummed-down apocalypse. Slum  kids in our film are always  shown to have  fun.

Not this  time.The  camera(Jishnu Bhattcharjee) scarcely moves  out of the squalor that the narrative has  chosen  as  its destiny.

The film begins with Ajji(Sushma Deshpande, so much into character that  you search in  vain for  remnants of  the artifice  that the camera necessarily imposes on  actors) searching in the squalor of the slums for the missing girl. Once she is found there  is  no  room in the narrative for any digression . The tension builds up to a breaking point.

Makhija creates a world so devoid of  hope, you are left sick  in the pit of  your stomach.

Rape in cinema is  almost always sanitized, made palatable for  the audience by being spoken about in sanctimonious  whispers. Not in Ajji.All the sordid details  of  the physical and emotional trauma  faced by the ravaged girl(including the violated vagina clumsily stitched by a nervous doctor) is  laid out for us.

A cop(Vikas Kumar) questions and  corners  the rape victim’s family as  though they are the  guilty party. The boorish repugnant rapist Dhavle(Abhishek Bannerjee, terrifying in portraying depravity so  lucidly it feels  like a religion) roams around free looking for other prey. Even a  mannequin will  do.

 There  is a lengthy loathsome sequence  where Dhavle fornicates with a mannequin as  his sleazy man-Friday eggs him on, providing us  a vivid glimpse into his depraved  mind.  At  several  points in  the narrative  I was so repulsed and  horrified I  felt like walking away from the film. But  then you really can’t abandon a work so stark real and honest that it serves up  brutality in its most elementary  form.

Cinema cannot  get any more basic or honest than this.

Makhija shoots the characters  in stark shades  of  pastel and rust.These are  people so habituated to squalor and despair,they know no other life. This film enters their wretched  life,and inverts all the rules  of cinematic projection to create a  world which is frightening in its bleakness and sobering in its lawlessness.

There are rare bouts of hope .The little  girl now recovering from the rape attack, slithers with a  smile to her father and  holds his hand. He  is shaken, nervous…He sings  a folk song for her.

My heart sang along.

If you subscribe  to a cinema  of supreme starkness, Ajji is  your thing. However  if you go to the cinema for an excursion into escapism, this  is  not  your cup of tea.

 There  is  no escape from despair in  Ajji.

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