The promos of Aamhi Doghi would have you believe that the film is only about the relationship between two women – a young, confident and frank Saavi (Priya Bapat) and a shy, traditional and calm Ammi. The title of the film also suggests the same. The film, though, is only partly about the camaraderie between the two. The trailer of last week’s Gulabjaam had almost reduced the layered and touching film to a slapstick comedy. Aamhi Doghi’s case is somewhat of the opposite kind. The promos had raised my hopes sky high, but the film didn’t turn out to be as good. That is not to say that the film lacks nuance, I was only expecting it to be something different.
Much like Gulabjaam, Aamhi Doghi is more of a character study than a conventional story with conflicts. Despite the title, the film is mainly about how Saavi grows as an emotional being over the years. Of course, it’s her relationship with Ammi that acts as a catalyst for the change in her, but the story is still very much about Saavi, narrated by her and hence putting herself first, like she does in everything else.
Saavi is a single child brought up by her father who has taught her to be practical right from childhood. In what might be a first for Marathi cinema, a spunky Saavi doesn’t miss her dead mother at all. She shares a rather turbulent relationship with her disciplinarian lawyer father, with her rebellious streak only making it worse. One day her father brings a wife home, much to Saavi’s shock. But Saavi finds herself getting along not too bad with her step-mother Ammi who’s just 7-8 years older than her.
The screenplay written by the director Pratima Joshi along with Bhagyashree Jadhav remains faithful to acclaimed writer Gauri Deshpande’s touching tale, ‘Paus Aala Motha’, from which it is adapted. But being a short story there’s a lot more scope for the screenwriters to establish the setting, flesh out the main characters and even add a few wherever it seems logical. The addition of Saavi’s best friend Neha certainly helps us in getting to know Saavi better and even making the proceedings more plausible in the second half. But the decision to add Saavi’s love interest, Ram, is a bit of a mixed bag. Yes, his branch of the story underlines Saavi’s non-conformist attitude and other character traits, but it takes too much screen time, reducing the scope to further develop her relationship with Ammi.
Greater care could have been taken in establishing the period in which the story takes place. The film begins in the present with the 20-something Saavi narrating the story of her youth in a flashback which should logically take us to the 90s or early 2000s. But the production design suggests a much older period.
But, Priya Bapat’s career best performance ensures that these issues don’t dilute the overall emotional impact. Her brilliant act reminds us that she’s come a rather long way since the blink and miss role in Munnabhai MBBS (2003). Saavi is also probably the most nuanced character she’s got to portray on screen and Priya doesn’t let the opportunity go waste. Saavi is not a particularly likeable personality – she’s almost haughty, emotionally cold and judgemental, for most part of the film. But it is Priya’s performance backed by the fine writing that still make us empathize with her. Mukta Barve, one of the best Marathi actresses of her generation, underplays Ammi to good effect. But her performance slightly comes across as one note, as Ammi doesn’t seem to transform at all over a whole decade or so that the story unfolds.
Special mention here for Mangesh Dhakade’s background score that underlines the emotions in scenes in the most subtle manner. Music is seldom such skilfully used in emotional dramas in the Marathi film industry.
Pratima Joshi’s debut feature may not be the most skilfully directed film, but by remaining faithful to Gauri Deshpande’s beautiful short story, backed by a career-best performance by Priya Bapat as the protagonist, it holds your attention and makes you care for its characters, which is more than what most Marathi films manage to do. The deep empathy with which the women are portrayed in the film can very well act as a soothing balm for feminists in a week which also sees the release of the already much maligned Sonu Ke Titu Ki Sweety.