Director: Adeeb Rais
Cast: Shabana Azmi, Anmol Rodriguez
A Parsi widow (Shabana Azmi) is excited about her day, for once. She is set to get her first tattoo. She is too old, too lonely, to worry about the "log kya kahenge" narrative. A nervous girl (Anmol Rodriguez), an acid-attack survivor, is excited about her day. She is set to start as an intern at a prestigious advertising agency. She is too young, too lonely, to not worry about the "log kya kahenge" narrative. Their paths cross, even as the world reminds them of their 'place' in society.
Adeeb Rais' 20-minute short, Auntyji, hinges on a worthy statement. Here are two outcasts – one by age, the other by appearance – grappling with the inherent stigma of their existence. It's only natural, and noble, that they find a lesson to learn in one another.
But I'm not sure about the way the director handles the "world" that surrounds them. The idea is to portray onlookers as insensitive, superficial people – which is fair enough. We all might have snuck in a curious glance if Anmol were in the vicinity. But Rais fashions her colleagues as characters straight out of an unsubtle soap opera. "When we see you, we realize how lucky we are," croons one of her fellow interns – a line you'd imagine is thought rather than said out aloud. An elderly supervisor jokes about the 'irony' of her doing a fine job on the design for a 'beauty product' brand – they all chuckle, and the camera cuts to Anmol's reticent expressions.
Rais fashions her colleagues as characters straight out of an unsubtle soap opera
The boss, a corporate caricature, informs her about a PR photo-shoot, and spells it out: the agency wants to showcase their policy of inclusivity and 'second chances'. They're using her, and not for her talent. Given that Anmol's real life mirrors her office experiences – she quit her job precisely because of these brazen prejudices – one would expect the makers to understand that awkward silences and furtive peeks reveal far more than self-expository dialogues and sad background score cues. Ditto for Aunty's son, who lectures her in the most unsophisticated Baghban-like manner on the phone to remind us of what she must defy.
Maybe this works in the sense that society becomes an ugly stereotype of silliness when someone dares to invade their concept of status quo. But that's reading too much into it; the metaphor wasn't really intended.
Filmmakers need to realize that viewers don't quite need to be spoon-fed generalized notions of negativity for them to appreciate the protagonists' positivity. Auntyji and Anmol, on their own, represent everything they should. Simply by stepping out every morning, they become mirrors of our own disfigured visions. We don't need scripted villains to manipulate us into believing that.
Filmmakers need to realize that viewers don't quite need to be spoon-fed generalized notions of negativity for them to appreciate the protagonists' positivity
The two scenes in which they meet, therefore, are warm. Largely due to the performers: Azmi is wonderful as a senior citizen who is well aware of the fact that she amuses the younger generation with her unorthodox attitude. She uses the 'grandmother' reputation to her advantage – notably in the tattoo parlour, where she gently teases the artists and breaks the ice.
Rodriguez is lovely as the quiet, self-conscious girl who is trying hard to believe in the humanity of her workspace. You can sense her internal conflict. There's a dignity to her, even as she reminds her boss that he "shouldn't have to try to be nice" because of her face. The same words could apply to the film she occupies.