Director Devashish Makhija’s film AJJI , a dark twist on the fairy-tale Little Red Riding Hood, has been receiving a thunderous applause from both audience and reviewers! The film will release in theatres on 24th November.
Synopsis Little Manda is found raped and dumped in a trash heap in her slum. Her parents are more concerned with survival than dignity and want to forget and move on. The cops are powerless to help as the rapist is a local politician's son. But Manda's grandmother Ajji cannot accept the injustice of it all. Can a frail, arthritic and powerless old woman grapple with the big bad wolf? Is there still hope for justice in a cruel world? Can anything act as a deterrent to rape? Ajji is a parable of our times. There are no easy answers.
Director’s Bio Devashish Makhija is an Indian filmmaker, screenwriter, graphic artist, and poet - best known for writing and directing the feature film Oonga which had its world premiere at the New York Indian Film Festival in 2013. He has assisted Anurag Kashyap in Black Friday and written numerous screenplays, notably Avik Mukherjee's Bhoomi (2009), and has authored a series of 49 short stories as the anthology Forgetting published by Harper Collins and directed the multiple-award winning short films Taandav, Agli Baar, El'ayichi, Absent and Rahim Murge Pe Mat Ro.
Smita Tambe’s Bio Smita Tambe is an Indian actress who was born in Satara, a well known district in the state of Maharashtra in India. It has been 10 years since she started acting and believes that it has had a phenomenal effect on her journey of life. Working on minute details and exploring more on the same details is really what draws her into this field. She wishes to do roles which challenge & push her to the next level. Her first movie "Jogwa" earned six National awards. She then did several Marathi language movies like Pangira, 72 Miles, Dhoosar, etc. She was last seen in the Hindi movie "Rukh" alongside Manoj Bajpayee.
Sushama Deshpande’s Bio Sushama Deshpande is an Indian actress who has performed in the show Savitri for more than 27 years. She never went to a school to study theatre yet she pursued it as she was deeply interested in it. She has devoted her life to theatre as she believes that it's the best platform to showcase a story. She is also the protagonist of the upcoming film Ajji which is a dark take on Red Riding Hood.
Sadiya Siddiqui’s Bio Sadiya Siddiqui has worked in many TV shows for more than two decades since 1993. In the serial Humrahi, she played a child bride. From here on she went on to work in Byomkesh Bakshi as Rajni, Banegi Apni Baat as Priyanka, Star Bestsellers, Maan as Ginni, Guns & Roses as Angie, Sapna Babul Ka…Bidaai as Parul’s dance teacher, Saathi Re as Shalaka, Saat Phere: Saloni Ka Safar as Gayatri, Balika Vadhu as Sandhya, Sasural Genda Phool as Radha, Hum as Phulwa, Na Bole Tum Na Maine Kuch Kaha as Prerana Prateek Agarwal, Rangrasiya as Mala, Yeh Hai Aashiqui as Tulsi Satrangi Sasural as Priyanka, Chashme Baddoor, etc. Her acting skills were recognized in Bollywood as well. She has starred in numerous movies such as Kabhi Haan Kabhi Naa, Uff! Yeh Mohabbat, Hitler, Kali Salwaar, Raghu Romeo, Bombay Summer, Shabd, Just Married, Jo Dooba So Paar: It’s Love in Bihar!, Baga Beach, Kill the Rapist? and CityLights. She even won an Indian Television Academy Awards for Best Actress in a Supporting Role for her role in Balika Vadhu in 2008. She is sure to break more walls and here to stay on our screens and hearts forever.
Vikas Kumar’s Bio (born in Gaya, Bihar) is an Indian actor and dialogue coach. Known mainly for his performance of an honest yet adamant cop in YRF TV's Khotey Sikkey, and for his work as dialogue coach in Hindi films like Ishqiya, Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara and Udaan. After a 3- month workshop with theater guru Barry John, Vikash participated in theatrical productions directed by John and later by Aamir Raza Husain and Virat Husain. Since then Vikash has worked as an actor and as dialogue coach.
Ajji is defined by how ADAMANT she can be. Once she’s made up her mind, it’s not easy to convince her to change it. This is also one of those defining traits of growing older… an imaginative person perhaps grows more possessive of their value systems and beliefs as they age. Perhaps because they start feeling more and more alienated by a world that’s growing younger and younger as they are ageing. Ajji is a case in point. Ajji was always done in by the MEN in her life. Ajji’s father was probably a violent man. He slapped his little girl often, unmindful of the scars he was leaving on her soul. Ajji’s husband was probably a callous man. This was a marriage of convenience. Ajji has never experienced LOVE. She was made to have sex when her husband felt like it. And she cared for him even less, so she withdrew into her own inner world, her shell, where she grew cynical of the world. But this made her WIT razor sharp. Her occasional repartee and humour is a survival mechanism, to find some reason to carry on living in a world that’s increasingly hostile to goodness. Her husband’s sporadic marital-rape of her gave them a son, one she didn’t care for much either. In this son she saw (unfairly perhaps) that this cycle of patriarchy will continue, and she can do nothing to stop it. Ajji never stood up for her son. Perhaps because she didn’t want a son in the first place. Instead when Ajji got a GRANDDAUGHTER – Manda, Ajji set about immediately taking her under her wing. Here was a FEISTY girl that reminded Ajji of how she herself used to be when young. In the few years that Manda has been in Ajji’s care, Ajji has turned Manda into a miniature version of her own INNER self. And it’s when Manda – this carrier of Ajji’s hopes and aspirations – is raped, that something unleashes inside of Ajji.
A character sketch
Dhavle is always on a POWER TRIP. Dhavle was probably beaten as a child by his father. Unfortunately he is beaten by him even now as an adult. Dhavle sees the power his father wields over the system, the police, the brokers of real estate, and his own party workers. Dhavle is powerless before his father. Even the construction site Dhavle oversees is something his father has bestowed upon him, and can take away from him too, as and when he pleases. Dhavle lives with this constant insecurity. Unwilling to let anyone see this insecurity, Dhavle is always trying to assert his own power over those weaker than him, be it socially, politically, by gender, by age, or even in his own family – his wife and his helpless little girl. This is the power game that plays out when Dhavle brutalises the prostitutes he has deviant, violent sex with. This also plays out at home where his wife is nothing more than an obedient dog to his commands. This plays out when he sadistically rapes a lifeless mannequin, taking it apart limb by limb, almost revelling in the fact that it cannot fight back, or say ‘No!’ The one time someone challenges his bullying ways is probably the feisty little Manda who – as Dhavle recounts – bit his hand when he slapped her. To ‘teach’ her a ‘lesson’ he raped her – a girl… ten years old… from the poorest strata of his world. Dhavle chose – yet again – to assert his power on the weakest link in the chain. Because he isn’t capable of picking on someone his own size. This is exactly what Ajji tries to tap into – this misogynistic need for power that the patriarchal Indian man constantly craves. She hunts Dhavle down, makes him feel powerful, and intends to strike when Dhavle would be drunk on his own power, and hence be at his most powerless! In the jungle that might be the only way for a weaker, smaller animal to bring down a beast of prey, especially one as wily as a Wolf. And this is what makes ‘AJJI’ the Fable for our wretched times.
A character sketch
Leela is defined by a mundane ARROGANCE. Little Manda almost hero worships this woman not just for the attractive make-up and garish colours she wears (unlike all the women in Manda’s slum world), but for the arrogant CONFIDENCE she carries herself with. Leela is UNAPOLOGETIC about who she is. She doesn’t care what anyone thinks of her and her decisions. She’s arrogant enough to have a deep confidence of being able to do sometimes unimaginable things. Eg. She believes it’s HER baby she’s carrying in her stomach, not some man’s just because he happened to leave some sperm inside her. Its SHE who will be the parent of this child, and so it’s entirely HER decision to keep it. The lack of vulnerability she feels (but won’t openly acknowledge) translates into a deep desire to be a mother. Having a child would give her the softness of character she secretly craves perhaps. She’s arrogant enough to know she can help Ajji despite her place in the pecking order of society. But she’s also realistic enough to know she can’t be police witness, for fear of the system coming down hard on her colleagues. Men like Dhavle don’t faze her. Her veneer of arrogance protects her soft centre from their hard gaze. She considers such men scum. It’s her arrogance that doesn’t let her accord them the power that they think they wield over her kind. To us she looks like a victim of circumstance, because we cannot imagine why a woman would choose to be a prostitute. But to Leela’s mind she’s a woman of her own mind/heart. She would’ve been a grovelling, slavish housewife to a misogynistic man in her village if she hadn’t run away. Ok, she’s paying the price for having run away, she got kidnapped and sold into the ‘trade’. But here men – although brutal – are her slaves, instead of the other way around. And most importantly her arrogance is unselfconscious. It seems to have formed on its own as a response to this patriarchal / misogynistic world she was thrust into. And in this Ajji connects deeply with Leela.
A character sketch
Manda is defined by how FEISTY she is. Manda’s feistiness is evident when we see her coping with the rape and through the ensuing trauma. She does feel trauma like any other minor being subject to something this extreme would, but her reaction is different. Her feistiness makes her not want to be dependent on others. It’s something she’s imbibed from her Ajji. Manda tries to not ‘burden’ her parents with her situation. She would rather hide stuff, so people won’t have to take care of her. Her feistiness also manifests in a certain fearlessness. She’s almost not aware of her gender. It’s the way Ajji wanted her to turn out, unafraid of men, believing both genders are the same. In her attitude and her dealings with the world Manda is no different from a ten year old boy. But its this very feistiness that incites Dhavle to make little Manda acutely aware of the gender inequality our society perpetuates. This has left Manda a little confused. And now Ajji will have to steer Manda into an adulthood where she must continue to be feisty and fearless, but also careful in navigating a world where the rules are made by the male of the species.
THE ARCHETYPES OF ‘AJJI’
Vibha (Ajji’s daughter-in- law) is the always-busy, always moving, always looking to keep surviving, always working ANT. She has to find a way to keep moving on or she can’t make sense of her life. This is the way Smita Tambe played the character as well – with the nonstop fidgeting, restless workaholicism of an Ant.
Milind (Ajji’s son) is the ever-drooping, drying, dying FLOWER. He has lost all lust for life, having been at the receiving end of a brutal father and a loveless mother, growing up, and a dominating wife now. Shreyas Pundit played the character as a wilting Flower, who finds a chance to bloom again when his little girl Manda starts showing him affection.
Dhavle (the rapist) is the lascivious, fanged, cocky, prowling WOLF, always hungry for flesh - female flesh - preferably tender. But before his abusive before pack-leader- wolf father, Dhavle turns into a sniveling pup. Abhishek Banerjee played Dhavle as a gnashing-teeth wolf, king of his little concrete jungle lair, lying in wait every night for his lackey Umya to bring him his meat for the night.
Umya (Dhavle’s sidekick) is the scavenging, scurrying, slimy-to- touch, carrier of filth RAT. Manuj Sharma scurries around Dhavle, scavenges the night for meat for the Wolf, leaving the remains of every ‘meal’ in the garbage that he comes from too.
Inspector Dastur (the corrupt cop) has eyes that dart about constantly, looking for scraps, watching over his shoulder, scavenging for evidence, without a shred of loyalty to anyone or anything. He is the one you must never turn your back on. He is the HYENA. Vikas Kumar plays this cop as the most untrustworthy allegiance-shifting critter of the jungle of Lomadpara, where this story is set.
Leela (the prostitute, and Ajji’s confidante) is the homeless, always-reviled, gritty- survivor STRAY DOG of the night. The one that shows warmth wherever she gets some. And gnashing her teeth at whoever appears to be a threat to the safety of her pack. Sadiya Siddiqui plays Leela as the sniffing, watchful, hungry, yet loyal Stray. Helping Ajji become one herself by the end.
Ajji (granny) is a hunting HAWK. She circles the night, silently, purposefully, peering at her prey with one eye, her head tilted, waiting for her chance to swoop down and make her kill. Sushama Deshpande plays Ajji with the single-minded sharpness and grace of this bird of prey, unafraid to dig her talons into Dhavle’s flesh when she finally gets her opportunity.