Cast: Sushama Deshpande, Smita Tambe, Abhishek Banerjee, Sadiya Siddiqui, Sudhir Pandey, Sharvani Suryavanshi
Director: Devashish Makhija
Bollywood has thrown as many as four rape-revenge thrillers at us this year: Kaabil, Maatr, Mom and Bhoomi. None, however, is as decidedly unsettling as director Devashish Makhija’s Ajji.
From its very opening scene – in which an elderly woman hobbles through an open sewage behind her slum looking for her missing granddaughter – a pall of doom hangs over the film. Moments later our worst fears are confirmed.
Even more disturbing is the ‘investigation’ that follows – one that borders on perverse humiliation – during which a police officer intimidates and belittles the victim’s family, squarely dissuading them from pursuing any legal action against the perpetrator, a powerful politician’s depraved son. It’s heartbreaking but hardly surprising that the 10-year-old’s desperate parents agree to bury the matter. Her grandmother, however, will not let it go.
But Ajji is a film about more than just vigilante justice. It’s a reminder that being poor is virtually a crime in India, and that the same fundamental rights available to most, often don’t apply to the marginalized and disenfranchised. The film is as much about the sense of entitlement exercised by the rich and the influential. A point made effectively in the film’s most uncomfortable scene involving Dhavle, the film’s repulsive villain (Abhishek Banerjee) and a storefront mannequin. It’s a ghastly scene, and one that instantly suggests the harrowing ordeal the young girl has possibly endured.
I will leave out the details of the old grandmother’s diligently executed revenge plan. Except to say that it is cold, chilling, and even grotesque. Played with quiet determination by Sushama Deshpande, Ajji is no hero, but a woman who has clearly seen this scenario play out before. “Not again,” she seems to be saying to herself as she sets out to balance the scales.
I will also leave you to make up your own mind about the morality of such revenge thrillers and the messaging that they propagate.
Ajji is a tough watch. Deliberately so. It took me a long time to get the film out of my head, and while it’s potent and rattling, it’s not for the faint-hearted. I’m going with three out of five.
Rating: 3 / 5