Although, I have alerted you for the spoilers, I don’t think the fact that Ajji (which means Grandmother in Marathi) will finally end up avenging her granddaughter’s rape would be a surprise for the audience who have seen the trailer. One can never say in these arty films, what might happen in the end? I mean I am sure many of us were surprised to see the condition in which the body of the girl was found in Anurag Kashyap’s Ugly, we were also surprised by the ending of Sairat because of the mainstream kind of first half that it had. Yet, you won’t feel too surprised by the fact that Ajji takes the revenge in the end.
However, you will surely feel shocked and terrified when the act of revenge takes place . How many of you would look at that act and say, ‘oh! I saw that coming’? It will disturb you, might even make you sleepless, but many of us would say in the end, ‘Well, what else she could do? It is quite well justified.
In Hindi Cinema, revenge has been a part of many movies. The critics and the audience have been discussing whether it was right to be violent in the end or not? For example, in Rang De Basanti, many of us thought that they were wrong to kill the defense minister. On the other hand, if we see the parallels that were drawn between the Bhagat Singh story and the present time, it was a climax which fits the plot. In recent movies like NH 10 or Mom as well, we see an ending where the revenge takes form of violence. On the other hand, in movies like Pink, the justice happens through the court. The basic argument that happens after these movies is that, ‘Is the violence justified or not?’
Sadly, in today’s society most of us believe in the policy of ‘an eye for an eye’. That the punishment for rape should be death and one doesn’t even want to wait for the jury to make the judgment. They would like to do it themselves, fast and quick. Like the mob justice that is happening these days. It has become a dangerous trend, where so many innocent people have been killed by the mob, due to some unsolicited WhatsApp messages about baby lifters. Then we have those (not in large numbers) who believe that the culprits should be given a chance to defend themselves, and that hanging doesn’t have a place in a democratic country. Many also argue that hanging them means releasing them. They should be kept inside the jail for life.
The Supreme Court’s judgment on Nirbhaya rape has come, where it has rejected the appeal of the convicts to not hang them. Most, including Jyoti’s parents have applauded the judgment. They again were firm believer of ‘death for a death’. But still, many of us still demand death sentence to be removed.
Devashish Makhija’s Ajji can be seen on Netflix. The director released it on Netflix, because surely it wouldn’t have passed through the censors here.
The basic plot involves rape of a ten year old Manda by a politician’s son called Dhavle played by Abhishek Banerjee, and Manda’s Ajji, played brilliantly by Sushma Deshpande, a renowned theatre personality, avenging that. The policeman doesn’t help, Manda’s parents want to forget about it, because the policeman would take them to prison as they are doing things in their jobs that are supposedly illegal. However, the same policeman tries to extract money from Dhavle in order to get him free from the legal hassles due to the case.
Along with Ajji, the audience, also ask themselves, what else can she do? All her options to get justice for Manda seem to perish. She plans and prepare for the final act, and catches Dhavle when he is drunk and vulnerable. Dhavle has no idea what this old woman is up to, and that is there to get revenge by doing the gruesome act. And then, we see what happens. We are prepared for something to happen, but still it shocks us, because we have never seen such a thing in an Indian movie ever.
The lighting and the picturisation of the movie is dark and hazy, from the beginning only, cinematographer Jishnu Bhattacharjee is able to create the mood required for the movie. The place where Manda lives makes it believable that they cannot afford to get the justice delivered. There are very few scenes in the daylight, one of them involves a flashback where Manda is taking care of the finances of the tailoring that Ajji is doing, asking the customer to give the money which she owes them. In the same scene we can watch her, in the present time, lying helplessly with pain due to constant bleeding after the rape. She asks Ajji innocently, “You said I’ll become a woman when I’ll start bleeding, have I become one?’
The question that what kind of resolution is ideal in a conflicting situation has been discussed by someone like Johan Galtung, who has written the seminal text of Peace and Conflict Studies, Peace by Peaceful Means and Handbook of Peace and Conflict. He supports a non- violent method as the ideal one. But by a peaceful resolution he means a resolution with justice given to the oppressed.
On other hand we have Žižek in his Violence talks about divine violence.
“It is this domain of pure divine violence which is the domain of sovereignty, the domain within which killing is neither an expression of personal pathology (idiosyncratic, destructive drive) nor a crime (or its punishment), nor a sacred sacrifice. Those annihilated by divine violence are fully and completely guilty: they are not sacrificed, since they are not worthy of being sacrificed to and accepted by God- they are annihilated without being made a sacrifice.”(Žižek, 198)
Well, there is no doubt that if we generalize conflicts into grand narratives, where it is patriarchy against women, or capitalism again the poor etc, most of us, who call ourselves liberal and civilized, will end up supporting Galtung on that issue. But what if we give such a conflict a context? What if it is just a micro narrative, instead of a grand one? We need to look at the things that happened and the options that the victims have.
However, in the case of Ajji, there is no killing, and it is a punishment of a grave crime which was committed against a ten year old girl, but it can be argued whether the culprit, Dhavle is ‘fully and completely guilty’ or not? Just in the context of the movie, we can say he is completely guilty, and Ajji had no choice. But, she had a choice between killing him or not killing him, in which she chose not to kill him. Which makes us believe that she also thinks that killing a person is not the answer. The answer is to give him the punishment which will affect him for life.
In the end, the director chooses to have a resolution to the plot, but whether it is the resolution to the problem of sexual harassment or not, is a question still to be answered. It should perhaps depend upon the context of that particular case.
We can say, we have a movie, which would not have been possible without an online platform like Netflix and a brave director like Devashish Makhija. Hope he keeps making such movies.
Prabhat Jha is a writer, translator who writes in English. His poems have been published in Muse India, Odd Magazine and and a short story has been published in Anti-Serious. He also is the co-editor of a Poetry Journal called Collage. Apart from writing poetry he is also a playwright and an actor. He is one of the founders of a literary group called Graffiti, and part of a cultural group called Chorus, which is dedicated towards Gender Issues. He has a book of translation called ‘Between the Two Dams’, published by Authorspress to his credit, where he has translated poems of Taranand Viyogi from Maithili to English.