Charukesh Sekhar is one of the most talented filmmakers of the current times. A director with focus and clarity, he has taken time to make his debut and when he did it was with a subject called Ammu that is a universal issue and resonates with the fair sex most often, almost every day in our society. Instead of making the story hugely dramatic to earn empathy, the director allows the prime characters to tell their story in an organic manner simultaneously facilitating the audience to understand why the people behave in a particular manner. He doesn’t risk the story by turning it overtly sentimental but intelligently brings in a third character who generates subtle humour to provide balance to the plot. Excellent performances by the artistes give a perfect finish to a well written script with a noble intent. The very articulate Charukesh Sekhar shares his experiences that went into the making of Ammu with Klapboardpost.com. The director is a mechanical engineer and has made many short films even while he was busy with his academics. He says, “In the last 13 years, I was in the process of film making. I was exploring and finding my voice.”
Q) Was Ammu meant to be theatrical? How did the idea germinate?
A) I had done a series called Triples on Hotstar but this is my first film. This is an Amazon original from day one and wasn’t theatrical at all. Amazon wanted to do their first Telugu original. I was in touch with Amazon for a different project and that was taking a lot of time, we pitched this to them and they absolutely loved it. During the first lockdown, I came across this article about domestic violence; The cases were on the rise and I was surprised because we were going through something that we cannot fathom. The air we were breathing was risky and we were in panic, staying indoors. It wasn’t safe to venture out but staying indoors wasn’t safe for a lot of women and for some men. Not just divorces, the article talks about the rise of domestic violences cases going up because of lockdown. It said that the nature of lockdown was such that the people staying at homes faced a drastic increase in domestic violence. It got severe and irrespective of the reasons of how a man gets provocated, there is no justification for violence. There are men who commit violence without provocation. There could be a trigger and having a day at work, or something not going your way cannot be a reason to get violent against someone.
Q)Why wasn’t Ammu fighting back when retaliation is normal in such cases?
A)There wasn’t a hint that the women would become emotionally strong. When I was writing the script, I had written that particular scene where she goes to the DIG office to complain. Once that is done, he drives her back home. Before asking in front of everybody, he hits her and she has to say no. She is aware he is in control of the situation and going back home, having said yes would be harmful and so out of fear, she says no. I knew my story till that point. The moment I wrote the scene, I realised that could be the climax. I knew I had written the climax. I wanted him to be in the situation where she asks him in front of everyone if he hit her and he shouldn’t have an answer or he should say yes. I needed both these characters to go from point A to point B. I started looking up for an element of him getting suspended. I wanted a smart play..I was very sure she shouldn’t hit back.
Q)What was the exact reason for that?
A)The moment she hits back..she becomes someone who is despised all along and Ammu will never become that. I have heard cases where women have retaliated and I heard from one survivor that the moment she decided to walk out on her marriage was the moment she hit her husband back when he hit her. This man had turned me into something that I despised and that appealed to me strongly. Why was Ammu given so many chances? There are women who are subjected to so much struggle and torture before they are able to break out. It is a culmination of isolation, helplessness and fear of being ridiculed. With women of all walks of life, there is an element of social stigma, conditioning, patriarchy, a lopsided system that stops victims from speaking out. There are women in high profile jobs commanding respect from society who are struggling to come out of bad marriage. There are highly regarded, respected, well networked women who have taken a lot to save the marriage, they truly think their love can change the husband. There is fear of social stigma but there is nothing separate called love. Love is always combined by compassion, empathy and respect.
Q) Did the film run the risk of being outdated?
A) The film didn’t result in domestic violence; It resulted in being spoken about. Some journalist was talking about the effect of lockdown, she had no idea she would stumble on this topic. Lockdown had just thrown light on the subject. It did not give birth to the subject.
Q) Is it the right thing to do, walk away..is that how one deals it?
A) I am not the right person to deal with. There are remedies available in the system. Every woman can have a support system in the family and extended family. There are support groups, agencies, and police systems to help such victims. It is very important for every woman to seek out help in their own time and in their own comfort, at their own pace. All we can do is be there for them and lend support and have an empathetic ear without judgement. Everybody’s path is different, they should be coming out at their time. They can’t be forced out.
Q)Bobby Simha’s role as a catalyst?
A)I needed a reason for the police officer to get suspended. I was looking for several laws and Isaw a section..if a police officer helps, aids or abets an escape of a prisoner in parole..that would entail suspension. That got interesting for me. He could be suspended and I started thinking of this angle where a parole prisoner comes into play. Both the prisoner and Ammu are prisoners in their own way. I wanted to tell a tale of two prisoners helping each other. It is Ammu saving Prabhu than Prabhu saving Ammu. The response was quite great. Being a women centric film, from day one I was sceptical if I could pull it off. Thanks to the support system, my colleagues, women, my wife, friends etc..they were a great team.
Q) Was it an all women team?
A)At a point during pre-production in the film, I thought maybe I shouldn’t direct and have a woman do it. I wanted to avoid the male gaze that inadvertently gets added to a women centric story. I wanted a female cinematographer and I did not know the technician of Cinema Bandi was a woman; I already saw Cinema Bandi and liked the work. I was looking at a website, Indian women cinematographers list and saw Apoorva’s profile. I thought that would be a great addition and got in touch with her. The editor (Radha) and I have collaborated before and I was introduced to the costume designer (Steffie) and the rest from the production team. Dialogue writer Padmavathi was able to translate what I had written into Telugu with great soul, she was able to add value to the story. She was also recommended by many. It was an all men direction team.
Q) Tell us something about your artistes
A)My artistes exceeded expectations. Just not primary characters but the rest of the team got involved, believed it was a story to be told and braved all odds and invested emotionally. Malla Parvathi, Satya Krishna cried on the last day. At that particular scene where Ammu confesses to police officers, right after that Aishwarya Lekshmi began crying and so did I. It was an emotional shot. I was able to observe these people in action and I was able to tell them why I had written and where the thought process came from. After that, they acted it out. I wouldn’t say I extracted it. It was a collaborative process and I learned a lot from it. I had great support from the team and from the technicians too. I had everything I could ask for.