Mary Poppins Returns
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All Critics (7)
| Top Critics (1)
| Fresh (5)
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Exactly as heartbreaking and infuriating as it needs to be.
Ajji is a bit of a mixed bag. The film has some really powerful moments. But the problematic treatment and the art-heavy approach keep it from being the ideal thriller.
Outrage over the rape of children is easily provoked, but it takes hard work to make a movie about the justice that is due to them. Ajji takes the easy way out.
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.
The mood is right, the tone is right, the pace is right. The film doesn't delve in the grey zone. There are two sides and you need to pick one.
Theatre actor, writer, director Sushama Deshpande commands your unflinching attention from beginning to end with her unsaid words and raw emotions.
Direct and effective, Ajji finds the lurid line between child rape drama and genre revenge thriller and walks it steadily through to a satisfyingly gruesome conclusion.
This review will start off as a comparison between this movie and another one very much like it, a South Korean thriller called Don't Cry Mommy. I remember saying in that movie, and it still holds true to this day, that making a movie centered around a rape victim or the relative of that victim is definitely a very tricky ordeal. You have to walk a fine line between between tasteful (even though there's nothing tasteful about rape, but you know what I mean) and exploitative. Movies like I Spit On Your Grave are an extreme example, naturally, but those movies can definitely work as a bit of wish fulfillment fantasy for some of the victims that have gone through that. But there's movies that are meant to portray, rightfully, the rape as something tragic and unacceptable, compounded by the fact that the justice system in their specific country might not do anything to those responsible for this heinous act. Don't Cry Mommy and this movie fall into that same category. In films like this, I think you definitely have to be far more careful to avoid falling into exploitation or histrionics. And, given that I posted my review of Don't Cry Mommy onto Letterboxd a week or so ago, then you know that I hated the approach this movie took to its portrayal of rape. The rape of the lead character's daughter was used to justify every melodramatic and manipulative trick that particular South Korean filmmaker had up his sleeve. I understand that rape is a difficult thing for anyone to go through, but the movie chose to exploit that and use the rape of the lead character's daughter as a plot device. It wasn't used as something to actually tell a story around, like in this movie or Hope, a movie where they used the rape to tell the story of a father slowly trying to gain his daughter's trust back after her ordeal. In Don't Cry Mommy, it was done to justify the mother going on a killing spree of those responsible. Not to mention the horrible overacting and weeping that the film contained in abundance. It was just awful. And I was worried that that's the movie that we were gonna get here, except that it takes place in India. The movies definitely share a lot of similarities, but those similarities are skin-deep. Whereas Don't Cry Mommy is all about the melodrama, this one is quite the opposite. I don't wanna say there's anything subtle about this, because the movie is relatively straightforward as far as narrative is concerned. But the approach the movie took is definitely more of a minimalist one. What I mean by that is that the movie is more arthouse than it is a pure thriller and that, to some, might be one of its biggest faults. The reasoning behind that might be because the film doesn't have a traditional thriller tone, it's not necessarily always the most...enthralling film to watch. What I mean by that is that its pacing is very slow and methodical. It takes its time getting to where it wants to go and, again, some people might end up being bored with this movie because of that pacing. Look, I feel that it's a valid complaint, it's not an easy movie to watch in terms of making you feel like a lot is happening. There's a reason for that and that's because there's not a lot happening here. But I feel the underlying current of how some sectors of Indian society view women, sex workers, immigrants, those of a lower caste, etc, etc, etc gives this film a deeper context. It's not just about Ajji's journey to avenge what was done to her granddaughter after a corrupt cop convinces the girl's mother not to press charges. This cop is on the rapist's father's payroll. The rapist's father is a politician, of sorts, and this cop has been paid off to cover their tracks. He's already covered for Dhavle (the rapist) two other times prior to his rape of Ajji's granddaughter. Anyway, the movie looks at the plight of people who others might look down upon for one reason or another. And it is infuriating, seeing the cop try to blame the family for what happened to the little girl. Yes, there certainly was some irresponsibility on their parts, to be sure, but the issue shouldn't be about any issues in their past or anything of the sort, it should be focusing on what was done to this girl. And, again, of course, the cop is on the payroll, but still. It's also a movie about how the affluent, some of them of course, buy those tasked with bringing lawbreakers to justice for their crimes. It's not just a western problem, by the looks of it. Of course, never tried to suggest that it was, but it's still sobering to see how easily some people are bought off. Having said that and everything the movie covers, I still don't think it goes as deep as it can with its themes. And I get the reasoning behind it, they wanted to keep the story on a more personal level. They wanted to focus on Ajji (which isn't really her name, but she's just referred to as that multiple times) and her quest for revenge. This quest is, obviously, very, very, very slow as she doesn't just go out and do it once her granddaughter is raped. She makes a butcher friend of hers teach her how to cut up meat. She's very methodical in everything she does, she doesn't just barge in. I mean, first of all, she really can't and, secondly, the movie would be over very quickly if she did. There's one unreasonably long scene that, quite literally, goes nowhere where Dhavle and his closest buddy...defile a mannequin and, quite literally, dismember her. I have no idea what the reasoning behind this scene was, honestly. If the idea is to show that these two are depraved individuals (mostly Dhavle), then showing him having fake sex with a mannequin is probably not the way to go about it. I mean, at least it's a mannequin and not an actual, live human being. Seriously though, this scene goes on forever and it'd be one thing if you got something new out of it. Like that fight scene in They Live that goes forever. It was more entertaining the longer it went. This fake sex with the mannequin was, obviously, not meant to be entertaining, but it just didn't need to go as long as it did. Dhavle is already a depraved enough individual with what he's done to Ajji's granddaughter. Sushama Deshpandee (Ajji) is very good in this movie. She seems to be the only one who's actively doing anything for the girl, her parents are distant and preoccupied by their jobs. Ajji is the one getting her ointment every day and looking after her, making sure she's comfortable and safe. So you get a sense of how close these two are, even if there's not much backstory to their relationship. Casting is strong all around and the scripting definitely helps with that. The thing about this movie is that, in spite of its methodical pace, it feels closer to how it would actually play out in real life versus a movie like Don't Cry Mommy. And I realize that 'realism' is an overrated noun in media. Who cares about realism if your movie is no good, right? Well, in this case, the movie is good so it definitely helps here. Having said that, however, the movie sort of tops out at just good. I don't feel that it ever comes close to ever being very good. I don't know why, but it just didn't ever leave that level or strive to be something better. Again, I think its lack of exploration of the societal issues at play here held the movie back. It could have told a more all-encompassing story while also still keeping it personal to Ajji and her granddaughter. Sadly, it was not to be. Don't really know what else to say about this. I definitely had some issues with this movie, but I still thinks it tells a story worth watching. It's a story that's told intelligently without resorting to histrionics. Strong lead performance and scripting, so, in spite of my issues, I'd still say that this was a good movie and I'd recommend it.
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