“Ajji” (Grandmother) is not an easy watch. Right from the first scene – where the protagonist hobbles through the dark bylanes of a slum in search of her missing granddaughter – to the climax, this film takes a vice-like grip on you.
Whether that is a good thing or not depends on your stomach for gratuitous violence and graphic scenes. Devashish Makhija’s 106-minute rape-revenge drama spares no punches, sketching out both the victim and perpetrator of rape in detail.
Manda, Ajji’s 12-year-old granddaughter, is raped by the son of a local politician. While she lies writhing in pain at home, Dhavale (Abhishek Banerjee) roams about freely, confident that the police will not touch him as they are on his payroll.
Sure enough, the police officer who visits the victim’s home tells the parents, who are poor slum-dwellers, not to make a big deal about their daughter’s rape. He brings along a suspicious looking doctor who “sews up” the girl as Ajji looks on with an increasing sense of helplessness and anger.
The old woman then decides to take matters into her own hands, smuggling traditional medicinal powders from a friend to heal the child despite the parents’ objection, and secretly follows the villain as he drinks himself senseless and hangs around an old construction site.
Makhija takes his time detailing these late night stalking sessions. One particular scene involving Dhavale and his friend defiling a mannequin serves to show just how despicable Makhija’s villain is.
The contrast between Dhavale’s privilege and Manda and Ajji’s helplessness is always apparent in the film. They have no access to any agency that will help them. Yet, Ajji is determined and with the help of a prostitute, Leela (Sadiya Siddiqui), she follows Dhavale around lonely alleys in her quest for vengeance.
There is a lot to like here, especially Sushama Deshpande as the titular heroine, known only by her status as Manda’s Ajji. Sharvani Suryavanshi as Manda and Smita Tambe as her mother are on point, and Makhija gets the atmospherics right – from the narrow alleys to the crowded, crumbling homes that his characters inhabit. It is his insistence on repeatedly hammering home his point that is the undoing of “Ajji”.
Yes, this is a film that should make you uncomfortable, and it does, but only up to a point. After a while, it becomes repetitive. But for all its flaws, this is a welcome break from the other sanitised rape-revenge dramas we’ve seen this year in the form of “Maatr” and “Mom”, and one that doesn’t flinch at the brutal nature of its subject.