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Dark, disturbing, daring—Amazon Prime’s ‘Ammu’ is not a preachy take on domestic violence

Aishwarya Lekshmi’s Ammu joins Taapsee Pannu’s Thappad and Alia Bhatt’s Darlings to show how women ultimately save themselves from bad marriages.

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Amazon Prime Video’s first Telugu original movie Ammu answers the questions most often thrown at domestic violence victims: “Why don’t you leave your husband?” While Ammu is a story of hope, it does not shy away from walking along the darkest of roads to show the emancipation of its titular character.

Written and directed by Charukesh Sekar, this unique story captures the essence of small-town and middle-class India. Ammu (Aishwarya Lekhsmi) gets married to her neighbour Ravi (Naveen Chandra), a police officer. It starts on a dreamy note—stolen moments of affection, coffee and bike rides as the couple falls in love post an arranged marriage. But the sting of the first slap is as horrifying a surprise to Ammu as it is for the audience. It only progressively gets worse as Ravi appears to be a model officer who pioneers female officer-led squads for women’s safety while beating his own wife black and blue. No one knows what’s going on behind closed doors.

Naveen Chandra and Aishwarya Lekshmi play their parts to perfection | Amazon Prime Video
Naveen Chandra and Aishwarya Lekshmi play their parts to perfection | Amazon Prime Video

Stellar cast, tight plot

Ammu is an Aishwarya Lekshmi film through and through. From lighting up the screen with her million-dollar smile—when she finds herself falling for her seemingly perfect husband—to being terrified of when and why he would strike next, she delivers a flawless performance. Lekshmi manages to convey the confused horror of being a victim and the desperate need to ‘fix’ her husband with love. Even when she decides to teach him a lesson, it is the lack of gung-ho that makes her extremely human and relatable.

Naveen Chandra as the abusive, conniving husband does a fantastic job of sending chills down your spine. The merciless mistreatment of his wife, his good husband façade and control over Ammu’s body make you empathise with the protagonist and why she feels so trapped. From swapping her contraceptive pills to lashing her with a belt, his control over Ammu seems unbreakable.

Bobby Simha as Prabhu, an ally of Ammu, shines despite a role that could have done with more fleshing out. A paroled convict who wants to make up with his sister before her wedding, Prabhu recognises Ravi for who he truly is.

The rest of the cast has also managed to do justice to their roles. From Raghu Babu as the beggar who tells Ammu what she doesn’t want to hear, to the junior officers played by Anjali Ameer and Satya Krishna, Sekar has made the choicest selections for his film. Ammu’s mother—who tells her that even one slap by a husband is good reason to leave—is done well in a brief role by Maala Parvathi.


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The anatomy of violence

Ammu shows succesfully shows the many faces of abuse | Amazon Prime Video
Ammu successfully shows the many faces of abuse | Amazon Prime Video

This year, Alia Bhatt, Shefali Shah and Vijay Varma starrer Darlings also dealt with the theme of domestic violence, albeit with a different tone and resolution. Earlier, Taapsee Pannu’s Thappad (2020) showed that one slap is enough to reflect on a marriage and maybe end it too. They show how choosing to stay and ‘improve’ a relationship by having a child can be a disastrous idea. Interestingly, this refusal to bring a baby into a violent household is what ties all three films together.

The three women–Ammu, Badru (Alia Bhatt) and Amrita (Taapsee Pannu)—take different routes to walk out of abusive marriages. What makes each of these films remarkable is the nuanced understanding of how domestic abuse affects people—often rendering them incapable of immediate action, no matter their education or options.

There is also no sensationalisation or titillation of the violence being meted out to the women. This shows a welcome change and growth in the gaze deployed to look at domestic abuse.

Ammu finds her voice after she first tries to leave, comes back to save her marriage and finally decides to beat her husband at his own game by taking away his dignity just like he had sought to take hers. There are no drum roll moments, just quiet contemplative ones, such as when Ammu innocently talks about wanting to try a new restaurant with bright, sparkling lights.

But from Ammu to Darlings, what stands out the most is that it is the women who ultimately save themselves. They might have allies and support systems, but it is they who initiate the action and resolution. That in itself is an empowering message for all those who are trapped in abusive relationships, clawing to get out.

(Edited by Zoya Bhatti)

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Amazon Prime Video’s first Telugu original movie Ammu answers the questions most often thrown at domestic violence victims: “Why don’t you leave your husband?” While Ammu is a story of hope, it does not shy away from walking along the darkest of roads to...Dark, disturbing, daring—Amazon Prime’s ‘Ammu’ is not a preachy take on domestic violence