We’re going to choose different strokes for different folks~ Devashish Makhija
A published author, artist and filmmaker Devashish Makhija stepped into the industry assisting maverick director Anurag Kashyap on Black Friday. Since then, Makhija has directed popular short films such as Rahim Murge Pe Mat Ro, El’ayichi and Taandav and assisted Shaad Ali on Bunty Aur Babli. He has also directed Oonga, a story of a little adivasi boy’s obsession with becoming Rama, set against the backdrop of corrupt land mining activities. After years of churning out some amazing content in both written and film form, Devashish has finally broken ice with his second feature Ajji, produced by SaReGaMa’s new venture Yoodle Films. After rocking Busan International Film Festival in its World Premiere, Ajji played at the Jio MAMI 19th Mumbai Film Festival. We spoke to the director about how he went about making the film.
From the trailers and whatever we’ve heard of the film, ‘Ajji’ seems a powerful tale of revenge and drama. Tell us about the germination of the idea and the process of making the film.
It emerges perhaps from many years of so much anger that I started feeling ashamed of being a man in a world where women are seen by most men as pieces of flesh. I know that sounds harsh, but then what men do in moments of uncontrollable lust is also harsh. Meting out capital punishment outside the paradigm of the Law is a dodgy topic. But what does an individual – relentlessly beaten down by the System – do when subject to extreme injustice? And no injustice seems more extreme than a violation of the Body. In the larger picture we may / may not have the right to Land, Home, Property, other people, nationhood. But we most certainly have the right to our own bodies. Our body and our soul is our own private nation. And when that is under attack, I sometimes feel that no form of defense might be too much. But it’s just my own point of view, and we tried to explore that through this film. And place it before the public consciousness.
The cast looks very unconventional, but it hits in the right places. How did you go about selecting the actors?
Abhishek Banerjee, Anmol Ahuja, Manuj Sharma of Casting Bay, were my pillars on this front. Abhishek is more than just a casting director for me, he sees people through my eyes and ALWAYS finds me gems for the characters I write (In this case my co-writer Mirat Trivedi and me). The idea was to cast ‘people’ more than ‘actors’… faces the cinema watchers in India may not have been exposed to much (or at all). A world as extreme as this one could not have any context or reference of the real world, or the fictitious extremes I was trying to create, would’ve collapsed.
How difficult was it to find funding for a dark, grim thriller like ‘Ajji’?
Surprisingly for me – after almost a decade of not being able to find backing for my dark stories – things got damn bloody easy. My agent Tulsea introduced me to Saregama early last year, when they were just about starting their 100 film pledge. They jumped at the idea of this film. I couldn’t believe my luck. Siddharth Anand Kumar and Vikram Mehra – the producers – gave me freedom I hadn’t ever expected from this industry. If this film pushes boundaries today, it is more because they allowed me to do so, than anything else. I’ve been around. I’ve seen many of my films bite the dust. I’ve turned my scripts into short stories and published them because I was starting to lose hope… the producers of Ajji have brought back this elusive element into my life.
Today, bold and powerful films are being chopped away by the censor board. What is your take on this and how do you think ‘Ajji’ will fare in front of CBFC?
Not too well. There will be cuts. We’ve already been told what cuts are being expected. Lets see. I’m aware i’ve made a film that would be extremely unpalatable to some. I don’t intend to be arrogant or adamant about things. We’re going to choose different strokes for different folks. The festivals and the digital release will ensure those who want to watch the uncensored version will get to do so. If a limited theatrical release requires some balancing out of the extreme elements in this film, we might consider it. I do want my 76 year old gentle minded father to watch it too. Life’s complicated like that!
There are talks about your next film and we are already excited. Could you tell our readers what is it about and how far into the project are you?
We start shoot in two weeks. Bhonsle is the film Manoj Bajpai and I have fought to make for four years now. Muvizz who made Taandav have put everything at stake to produce it. It is not an easy film to produce. We have collectively fought very hard to find funding and pre-produce it in the last few months. It has elements of Taandav, but is an exploration of newer themes – both personal and political. We hope to have a first cut ready in time for Cannes next year.
(Transcribed by- Yash Thakur)