Shaala is one of my favourite Indian films; I feel it is in the league of Ray’s films. Sujay Dahake‘s Ajoba released yesterday, and I must say it is a brilliant follow up to his debut film Shaala.I would even go so far to say that he has outperformed himself and proved that he is one director we have to watch out for.
Ajoba which means grandfather in Marathi is based on a real life story of India’s first collared leopard Ajoba and noted ecologist Vidya Athreya. I think it would be easy to term this film as based on Human-Animal conflict, but it would be our laziness to term it as such. It is much more than this; it is about our nature and our relationship with nature.
Ajoba is story of India’s first collared Leopard who travelled 120 KM, over 29 days to reach his home. The film begins with Purva Rao getting information about a leopard which has fallen into a well in a particular village. Sujay builds up tension in this scene very well. He does not show the leopard at first, he establishes the crowd, he establishes the geography first,then he shows reactions of people varying from people talking on mobile announcing that they are here to watch a tiger, a driver asking for Leopard’s urine for his sick wife etc. And as soon as Purva entersSujay immediately focuses on the faces of villagers who are reacting with disapproval at her dress attire. Then he shows the prized catch-the leopard. In these 5 minutes he establishes how technology has penetrated even Indian villages in the form of mobile phones. India is a country where it has more mobiles than toilets, it shows the ignorance of common man, who thinks Tiger and Leopard are same, it shows how despite our technological progress we still frown upon an independent woman.
There’s a scene when Purva asks for a man for assisting in her work, the officer sends for man named Dynaneshwar Sawant, and says to Purva that he is one of us, while for Purva it means he is from forest department, the officer is implying about caste. It shows how we are entangled in this caste system, and we think we humans are superior race.
In another scene, when Purva comes to Malshej Ghats she asks about availability of water, and in background you can see women walking to fetch water, in a country like India where even basic right of water is not provided to human beings, it would not be a a wonder as to why anybody would care about animals. But then we want to build bigger and bigger dams which satisfies our ego, but is of no help to anybody like Sardar Sarovar Dam.
We have Shiva from a small village who has done his B.SC in Biology and joins Purva along with Dynaneshwar. Shiva is in love with a girl from his village and indulges in pre-marital sex with her, Sujay indicating the changing values in our society, that females in villages are no longer coy about sex, the only thing she insists is that he marry her.
It is good to see the camaraderie between Purva and Dynaneshwar which at first is awkward, hesitant and about senior-junior but as the film progress we see that they have respect for each other and love for one thing in common, which is nature.
When Dynaneshwar asks Purva innocently as to why she is unmarried, she tells him the reason is that she had to choose between her work and family/marriage, she chose the former as she loves her career. Dynaneshwar realises at this point how difficult it is for her in spite of her coming from a city, which he felt might has more privileges. In the previous scene he admonishes his wife and says he will continue to do the job he likes, he knows he can say that because he is male, but Purva cannot say that if she is married, may be for all those ugly glass facades which we build in name of development, we as society have still not accepted that women do have dreams and marriage is not what they always want.
Whenever Sujay shows the city in the film it is not your usual awe inspiring structures,instead he shows how the city is burning. His image of city has cars zooming past, it has no humans, it is machines which are zooming past in and out.
Thankfully Sujay does not portray Purva has some sort of crusader who has answers to all her problems. One of my personal favourite scene is when Purva visits a bar for a drink to celebrate her birthday.
Ajoba is a film, which forces us to look inside ourselves. It makes us ask ourselves how in the name of development we do not care for nature, at the end of the day we have to understand that everybody needs a home, it is not just humans who pay EMI’s for matchbox sized homes. Planet Earth is home not only to us human beings, but also other species on Earth.
Hrishikesh Joshi who plays the genial Dynaneshwar is perfect .His introduction scene and the way he speaks to enthusiastic college students are delightful. For me he is one of the actors to watch out for. One of the best things in the film is casting, be it Shinde, or Shiva or the old man who gives interview, I do not know if they had a casting director, but everyone looks perfect. Shrikant Yadav as Shinde is an delight to watch as he is is the one who acts as bridge between Purva and Villagers.
The only grouse I have with Sujay is despite Purva being a Telugu; she speaks in Malayalam in one scene.
Another thing is how Sujay uses the music in his film so excellently,it is not jarring or over the top like inmost Indian movies. He knows to use it perfectly, a good example for this would be the 5 minutes scenes before the interval which has one of the best use of music in history of Indian Cinema.
The whole movie has been shot with hand held camera, and the way they have captured locales of Junnar & Malshej Ghats is a treat to watch, Sujay reunites with his Spanish Cameraman Diego Romero, after Shaala. Special mention to Kanetkar Saket, the music director and Anish John and Avinash Sonawane the sound mixer and sound designer respectively,
Gauri Bapat deserves kudos for writing this brilliant screenplay. Sujay Dahake has written the story and dialogues and has also edited the film apart from directing,he is the very soul of the movie. After Shaala he has taken a brave step and pushed the boundaries of Indian Filmmaking. If we abandon this film it would be our misfortune as we will send a message across that we do not want our films to explore new ideas and new grammar.
More importantly it asks how long will we ignore our nature and surroundings, and be blinded by our greed and prejudices towards other beings.
Go watch Ajoba and let me tell you it it’s not often that one gets to see such an original, path-breaking and daring Indian film.