It’s a lovely morning in London, says actress Sushama Deshpande, her voice clear and pleasant over the phone. She laughs about something and one realises, she doesn’t laugh once in Ajji (the first film produced by Yoodlee films, the new film production studio from Saregama India). She barely even smiles. Ajji is a dark, urban tale about a grandmother who wreaks vengeance on the monster who rapes her underage granddaughter.
Sushama reveals that slipping into the role was not too difficult. She was familiar with the hardships of women in rural areas thanks to her long-running Marathi play Whay Mee Savitri. “I have to give credit to Devashish Makhija, the director, for visualizing me as Ajji right from day one. When we discussed the role, I asked him for Ajji’s history and he handed me a four-page back story and invited me to contribute to it.”
The veteran stage actress credits the workshops that were conducted before they began filming with helping her get into this character. In the film, she goes from being broken from what happens to her grandchild to exacting revenge. “I asked Devashish for rehearsals because I am essentially a theatre artist and he assured me that he didn’t work without workshops.” During these workshops they worked out monologues that were possibly playing in Ajji’s head during those long silences in the film. “I don’t say much in the film. A lot is conveyed through my eyes and my expressions, and having those monologues in my head helped me convey what was intended.”
One of the crucial questions Makhija asked her before she was finalised was if she would be willing to cut meat. It was essential to the texture of the film; there could be no cheating. “I mentally prepared myself for it. He showed me films where meat was cut. And then took me to the butcher shop. It was an actual shop. I cut a chicken. I didn’t make much of it. I am an actor playing a part,” she says.
Working with the child actor who plays her granddaughter was a revelation she says. “Sharvani (Suryavanshi) is a talented, intelligent kid who would ask such mature questions that we would be surprised.” The thespian had a part to play in making sure the child was told what her role was without holding anything back. “The parents were hesitant. But I had a talk with them and made it clear that they have to tell her what her role was. She has the capacity to understand. I told them that she would hold it against them later if they lie to her.”
It is apparent that through the course of filming, Sushama formed a close bond with her director. “He is making a statement with this film. He sees it as a cause,” she says about Makhija, adding that she has already asked him to write another role for her.
The offers are now pouring in but the theatre artist in Sushama is being choosy. “I was called by a big banner to play yet another grandmother role. I asked them ‘Gajjar ka halwa dene wali Ajji hai kya?’ Then I have to decline. Not surprisingly, I haven’t heard from them,” she laughs, wryly.
Interestingly, Sushama is in London because she’s about to become an Ajji in real life. “It’s surreal because my daughter is due to deliver on Friday and that is the same day Ajji hits the theatres,” she signs off joyfully.
Editor’s Note: This article is presented in partnership with Yoodlee Films, the film studio arm of Sa Re Ga Ma India Limited. To know more about our advertorial and branded content, click here.