A largely disturbing and terrifically haunting sequence screams in its silence when the antagonist Dhavle (Abhishek Banerjee) and his nauseating friend Umya (Manuj Sharma) molest a female mannequin. The encounter at night in a drunken stage tersely tells us about the mentality of chauvinist perverts and their attitude towards women. Disgusting and illuminating at the same time the sequence which seems uncomfortable in the beginning slowly and steadily intoxicates into your heart, mind and soul as you start feeling for the lifeless mannequin getting tortured. As Dhavle completes the act, we see the unblinking lifeless eyes of the mannequin starring at you and telling you the plight of rape victims in our land which makes the tormentor ‘untouchable’ and the tormented ‘inaccessible’ in our society.
Devashish Makhija (the brilliant short OONGA previous) takes a straightforward revenge story and infuses it with a bloody niche treatment that has shades of Korean revenge dramas laced with stubborn intensity. A clear ‘cut’ above the recent melodramatic MOM, MAATR etc. AJJI is a gory revenge drama with moments of extreme violence, ode to vigilantism but in between all the blood and gore is a devastating melancholy that certifies it into an indie art category that demands attention.
On an eerie night an old Ajji (Sushama Deshpande) weak in knees walks through a pipe surrounded by garbage, sewage accompanied by Leela (Sadiya Siddiqui) a sex worker. Both Aji and Leela are searching for Ajji’s missing 10-year-old granddaughter, Manda (Sharvani Suryavanshi). Ajji is a part time tailor and Manda has gone to deliver Leela her outfit.
A shocking image of the 10 year old Manda is found lying unconscious in the middle of the sewage, clearly emphasizing the assault of the greedy dirty mindset over the innocence.
Back home, the local constable (Vikas Kumar), comes for investigation. The situation takes a different turn when Manda identifies her assaulter Dhavle (Abhishek Banerjee) – son of a powerful local politician and real estate developer. The cop smells another fat paycheck from Dhavle. The cop has protected Dhavle in pervious similar cases of rape and assault but this time it involves a minor so it’s more heinous and more profitable for the cop. The cop starts threatening the poor people who are seeking justice – Manda’s mother Vibha (Smita Tambe) who sells street food illegally, Manda’s father – a factory worker who works on illegal and extended shifts. The cop takes all care in shielding the culprit by bringing the doctor home and discouraging Manda’s family to go ahead with the case. Watching all this helplessly lying in the corner of her dwelling, Manda gets her justice from an unlikely source – her Ajji ( Granny).
Ajji chooses a gruesome option to eliminate Dhavle and gets trained for the same. She takes help from her friend Sharafat (Sudhir Pandey) a butcher and masters the art of chopping meat (warning - the meat chopping scenes are stomach churning for the weak hearted and staunch vegetarians).
Finally Ajji after being a mute spectator executes the most bold and shocking vengeance seen in recent times which is very marginally similar to Avtar Bhogal’s 1988 ZAKHMI AURAT starring Dimple Kapadia but the impact and build up over here is spine chillingly shocking.
Watching movies like AJJI is an experience that is devoid of fun expected from an entertainer or the magic expected from a philosophical arty, it’s an art that questions the morality of the nemesis. Such cinema is based on the theory that evil begets evil and revenge ultimately destroys both the victim and the aggressor.
The question whether the execution during the climax is the triumph of the hero or it mirrors the disturbing fact of the mindset that is getting screwed and sick enough to go to any limit.
Devashish Makhija’s AJJI is bold, uncompromising, disgusting and elevating indie that pushes itself from the set boundaries and honestly a refined art is supposed to challenge the stereotypes and AJJI does that.
Makhija’s narration is stark, dark and in the ‘mood’ always, a cross between de noir and dark comedy with celebration of blood and gore with Kafkaish essence.
Sushama Deshpande is the lifeline of Ajji and the actor is impeccably spot on in her nuances and body language. Other actors Smita Tambe is subtle, Abhishek Banerjee is terrific, Manuj Sharma is fine, Sadiya Siddiqui is fantastic, Sharvani Suryavanshi is outstanding as Manda, Vikas Kumar and Sudhir Pandey chip in with valubale support.
Cinematographer Jishnu Bhattacharjee’s smart camerawork creates a sense of disturbance by peeping into the shanty and dirty interiors of this fictional place. Mangesh Dhakde’s discreet score creates the atmosphere.
AJJI is a sharp attack on the mainstream rape and revenge saga that chops the melodramatic routines and presents a gory and bloody viewpoint of its own. It may be devastating, disturbing but in no way a passerby in the annals of strong indie cinema.