Aishwarya Lekshmi, who portrayed Poonguzhali in Mani Ratnam’s Ponniyin Selvan, will be stepping into new territory with Ammu, Amazon Prime Video’s first Telugu original feature film. Aishwarya plays a woman facing domestic abuse from her husband (Naveen Chandra), a cop. When a cop is the perpetrator, where does Ammu go? The film, scheduled to stream on October 19, is pitched as the journey of a woman who finds an unlikely ally (Bobby Simha) and fights back. Filmmaker Karthik Subbaraj dons the hat of the creative producer and the film is directed by his associate Charukesh Sekar.
Speaking to MetroPlus in Hyderabad, Charukesh says he came across news reports that revealed a surge in domestic abuse cases during the lockdown. “We were all homebound to protect ourselves from the virus; I never imagined the possibility of such collateral damage — of domestic abuse.” It got him thinking and the story of Ammu was a natural progression.
Ammu isn’t set during the lockdown, Karthik is quick to add, “I liked Charu’s first draft and after further iterations, we finalised the script. Our production house, Stone Bench Films, was keen to begin work. Around the same time, Amazon Prime Video showed interest and they felt it could be a Telugu film.”
Naveen Chandra as cop Ravi in ‘Ammu’
| Photo Credit: Special Arrangement
Karthik and Charukesh were mindful that the film should not appear as a project conceived on their home turf, Tamil Nadu, and passed off as a namesake Telugu film. “The issue of domestic abuse is universal. We made sure that the story is narrated in a manner that is authentic to the Telugu milieu. For instance, the work atmosphere of a Telugu cop would be different from that of a Tamil cop.”
Aishwarya, who had worked in Karthik’s Tamil film Jagame Thandhiram, says her friends and close associates advised her against taking up a heavy subject for her first Telugu film ( Godse, in which she plays a pivotal role, hadn’t come up then). “Once it took the shape of a digital project, we did not have to worry about the box office and could focus on the creative aspects.”
Once she began filming, Aishwarya realised that enacting a domestic abuse victim can be emotionally draining. “Imagine if just acting as a victim could be so stressful,” she says.
For Naveen, it was an eight-year wish to work with Karthik. He recalls watching Jigarthanda and actor Naren, who had worked with him in Sarabham, stating that Naveen should work with filmmakers like Karthik. When the opportunity finally arrived, he was excited. “I was determined to do the film, though it involved juggling my dates.”
Naveen says it was not easy portraying an abuser: “On certain days I was nearly in tears after wrapping up the shoot. This is not a character I can take back home, so I listened to music and danced to get out of that zone.”
Bobby Simha in ‘Ammu’
| Photo Credit: Special Arrangement
Charukesh refrained from conducting any workshops and preferred that Aishwarya and Naveen emote naturally without rehearsals.
The film’s cast and crew included several women and Charukesh and Karthik bounced the ideas off the women to be doubly sure that the issue is dealt with sensitivity and not with a male gaze. Cinematographer Apoorva Shaligram, dialogue writer Padmavathy Malladi, editor Radha Sridhar and costume designer Stephy Zaviour were among those who weighed in. “One of our team members is a survivor of domestic abuse. We took her feedback. Ammu is representative of every woman going through abuse and we wanted the film that holds a mirror to the harsh reality, to spell hope,” adds Charukesh.
The film also addresses the deeply ingrained patriarchy. A dialogue has Ammu revealing to her mother that she was slapped by her husband, to which the mother responds, “but what did you do, Ammu?”
Aishwarya, a doctor turned actor, recalls meeting women who have been constantly subjected to abuse: “I’ve met women whose broken ribs would be healing, which is an indication of the abuse that has been happening over time. We hope this film will make people think. Sometimes, we need films to go beyond entertainment.” Naveen agrees, “I hope at least one among 10 abusers introspects and change.”
Karthik sums up, “It would have been easier to show the abuser as a black and vile character. But the reality is complex. Naveen’s character is volatile, unpredictable and could be smiling before doing something nasty. This film is about such character studies and about finding support systems and hope.”
(Ammu will stream on Amazon Prime Video on October 19)