A Collective Conspiracy of Silence
Ammu is a an important film that does not either beat about the bush to dilute abuse as "duty"
This film Ammu is a scathing indictment on marital abuse. Imagine a situation where the husband is the chief inspector at the local police station and is a regular at battering his wife. While Ammu is a powerful, celluloid statement on marital abuse, to sustain that "power" the director chooses an absurd and melodramatic closure to make Ammu come to terms with her new life without her abusive husband Ravi.
He, a police inspector, wants his wife to bring him lunch on the dot, to the police station every day. Why? Aren't there men to bring his lunch to the station? The bride is 25 years old, and the marriage was arranged by the parents on either side. What appears to be a happy marriage to begin with steadily deteriorates with the increase in Ravi abusing his wife.
Ravi wields great power within his police station, and extends the same power,physical and patriarchal, to 'rule' over his wife. He has an attitude problem, and can do clever psychological manipulation of her parents. He humiliates Ammu in front of his friends and colleagues and the story goes on.
Like most wives, Indian or otherwise, it takes a long time for Ammu to realise that she is being systematically abused by her husband. Though she is aware that she should walk away, the belief that they really love each other and that things will change stops her.
The first time she walks out, she befriends a lame beggar who recognises her as a battered victim at once. She walks back home. But the abusive situation aggravates instead of receding till a couple of women, one a police constable and one on special duty to observe cases of domestic violence in the neighbourhod ironically, appointed by her husband, tries to rescue Ammu. But she withdraws at the final moment.
Indian society treats the problem of domestic violence with a deafening silence. It is a silence that manufactures myths like: it does not happen among "educated people"; only drunken men beat up their wives; men beat wives because they truly love them, etc.
This collective conspiracy of silence encourages attitudes of self-blame, shame and resignation in women victims of violence. Behind this silence lurks acceptance, that men have the right to use violence, and women should adjust and endure. It is an acceptance that is somewhere tacit, somewhere overt.
Charukesh Sekar has directed the film with an iron hand except for the closure which is absurd and incredibly melodramatic for such a serious film. He gets solid support from Aishwarya Lakshmi in the title role, Naveen Chandra as Ravi.
Bobby Simha plays the criminal who conspires with Ammu an escape for both himself, and for Ammu, to ensure that Ravi is discredited for being irresponsible, and thrown out of his job. That is the only way in which Ammu can walk out of this relationship.
The number of women who are battered each year by their partners is unknown because of society's attitude. Domestic violence is defined as "all kinds of physical, emotional, and financial abuse in an intimate partner relationship." Emotional abuse, unlike physical abuse, can be difficult to define.
What is common, however, is the increased isolation the abuser subjects the victim to, as also the repeated accusations of provocation, and the assaults on the battered woman's self-esteem by loading the blame on her. She can also be isolated from her friends and family, her movements restricted, her credit cards, driver's license taken. Even access to a telephone can be denied.
Perceptions of domestic violence are deeply rooted in patriarchy which considers wife abuse and wife battering as a "private matter". This makes victims shy away from reporting abuse, as does the knowledge that many police officers and judges dismiss such abuse as 'inconsequential'.
Ammu's case is uncannily similar to the one faced by Rohini Nambiar married to a prosperous American NRI. Kamalika Banerjee who wrote in A Model Minority: "the first time her husband hit her, Rohini Nambiar thought it was a one-time transgression on his part. But very soon, yelling and hitting became regular affairs in their home.
"Every time it was because Rohini had done something to 'provoke' him—spent a little too much on their credit card, spoke too long with her mother in India, or had gone out with her girl friends when she shouldn't have. And every time it ended the same way, with him apologising to her and blaming it all on the 'stress at work.'
"Outwardly, of course, the Nambiars were a dream couple. He was rising up the corporate ladder; she had a pretty good job of her own; they had just moved into a bigger house in an upscale neighborhood of Los Angeles; their son was attending a private school. 'It took me six years to muster up enough courage to say to myself that I was no longer going to put up with this,' says Nambiar.
"So one day she packed her bags and left her husband's million-dollar home. 'It wasn't easy especially since we had a son, but the biggest hurdle I faced was convincing my friends and family that this was happening at all.'
"Her friends like many others thought that domestic violence did not exist among South Asians, and certainly not among educated and prosperous South Asians like the Nambiars." This example proves how global this problem is, everywhere, how identical the symptoms are, and how they are responded to.
Ammu therefore, is an important film that does not either beat about the bush trying to explain away or dilute wife abuse as "duty". It does not try to force a happy ending. It closes as the beginning of a new journey for Ammu.
She realises that there is no hope in the marriage which was dead since the beginning. Ammu's mother had warned her to tolerate abuse, never mind if it was her own husband, narrating her own one-time experience.
Aishwarya Lakshmi makes the best of her leading role in minutely expressing the fine nuances of the change in her mindset. Her reactions to the changing relationship is shown beautifully through her changing facial expressions and body language.
Ammu's women supporters present a combination of fear of being caught by their superiors, and the determination of helping and vesting her with courage are good. Bobby Simha as Prabhu lives his role to the hilt. Though he plays is a murderer, the script makes him endearing to the audience.
The script also throws up two different shades of violence as seen through the two men – Ravi on the one hand and Prabhu on the other. Naveen Chandra as the two-faced Ravi who has no qualms about insulting his wife in public is so good that half-way through the film, you begin to hate him.
The editing is crisp and tight, as it moves in and around the city with frequent sojourns into the police station to offer an insight into how things work there. Ravi is shown breathing down everyone's neck including his wife's, but the songs belted out by Prabhu to make light of the jail environs.
The cinematography is controlled and sticks to lack of glamour capturing the streets, shops and the railway station in the city well. Ammu is a not-to-be-missed film for both men and women.