The electricity at the house has tripped, the candles are out and the faces are barely visible. If there is a sign for Ammu that the police inspector she is going to marry is a shady sort, this is it.

Ammu (Aishwarya Lekshmi) initially has no reason to complain. Ravi (Naveen Chandra) piles on the husbandly passion. His colleagues marvel at Ammu’s dedication. I will cut into two the man who dares to harass my wife, declares the husband who soon begins to harass his spouse.

Ravi’s dark side is expressed in the purple bruises he leaves on Ammu’s body. He has a way of making Ammu feel responsible for the violence, a familiar trap that is dexterously brought out by director Charukesh Sekar’s screenplay and Padmavathi Malladi’s dialogue.

The Telugu-language Ammu, which has been premiered on Amazon Prime Video, eventually finds a solution for Ammu’s plight in the form of Prabhu (Bobby Simha), a paroled convict. If Simha is an unusual casting choice, the suggestion that a tale of domestic abuse can contain a feel-good element is unlikely too.

Yet Sekar’s feature debut – he has previously contributed an episode to the anthology film Bench Talkies and directed the TV show Triples – hard sells its conceit on the strength of excellent performances, skilled filmmaking, and a cogent exploration of the complexities of domestic abuse.

Naveen Chandra is effective in the thankless role of the khaki-clad tormentor (the film boldly draws a straight line between custodial torture and domestic violence). The inimitable Bobby Simha is an excellent choice as the devil-may-care Prabhu, who gives Ammu the strength she needs to face her demons. A fine ensemble cast supports the main actors, including Satya Krishnan as Ravi’s junior officer and Raghu Babu as a beggar who tells Ammu what she doesn’t to hear.

Aishwarya Lekshmi and Naveen Chandra in Ammu (2022). Courtesy Stone Bench Films/Amazon Prime Video.

Aishwarya Lekshmi’s consistently impressive performance is especially powerful in the moments when she depicts the dual states of self-awareness and self-loathing that mark her character. Lekshmi aces the single-take scenes that reveal the conflicted emotions faced by women who are unable to flee abuse despite having the resources to do so.

A scene revolving around Ravi’s slap-and-make-up attempt is all the more effective because Sekar and cinematographer Apoorva Shaligram keep the camera trained on the couple, refusing to interrupt the force of Ravi’s manipulation and the rawness of Ammu’s terror. In another scene, Lekshmi’s face fills the screen as Ammu provides a justification for which she should leave Ravi as well as stay with him.

Ammu is hardly the first woman to have confused toxic power for “love”. Although the film makes Ammu shoulder the burden of her agony and produces the tellingly named Prabhu as her salvation, director Sekar doesn’t ever let Ravi off the hook.

The scripting acrobatics to put Ravi in a corner belong more to the wish fulfilment fantasy zone than the sobering and plausible film that Ammu is most of the time. Ammu’s attempts to prevent Ravi from getting into her head always ring truer than later events. Although movies about pressing social issues often take escapist exit routes, Ammu pays more attention than the rest to the harrowing journeys needed to reach the light.

Ammu (2022).