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Ajjichi Shala The Grandmother’s School

A Village of Ajjis

Ajji. Grandmother. A term of endearment, of respect. Not necessarily used only to address a blood relative, but any elderly woman in the community. Or even a perfect stranger drawn close with affection.

A generation of women who dedicated all their lives to family, tending to the fields, the harvest and the family livelihood. A generation of women who got left out of schooling and even basic education. A generation of women pushed to the fringes because they couldn’t read.

Ajjichi Shala Grandmothers School Short Film Poster By Virtual Bharat

Pink Revolution

Cut to: Fangane Village, Murbad Zilla, Thane District, Maharashtra.

A small, scenic village set amidst green thickets. Pretty, sloping, red-tiled roofs arranged in an unforced, organic geometry. Fewer than 1,300 inhabitants live in Fangane. The special school Ajjichi Shala or Grandmothers’ School focuses exclusively on elderly women. Yogendra Bangar, who started the initiative in 2016, recalls the beginnings: “In February 2016, when we were celebrating Shivaji Jayanti, ladies in the village were reading ‘paath’ or holy passages, and I overheard the senior women wistfully say that they wished they could read the text too.” A month later, the entire village had rallied around the idea of giving their ajjis a belated education. The ajjis decided to don their striking fuchsia pink ‘school uniform’ sari, pick up their standard issue red-and-black school satchels and go to school.

Set up in two spare rooms in a local farmer’s house, the ‘shaala’ runs for just two hours, 2-4pm, a couple of days a week, and has about 30 ajjis attending. The youngest pupil is 60, the oldest is in her 90s. Nursery rhymes, basic math, the alphabet and painting. Plus, a spot of gardening as well.

Learning can be fun yet challenging for the Ajjis. The community togetherness is enriching but frequently, poor hearing and vision, added to difficulties in retaining what they’ve learnt makes this doubly hard. But the joy of signing their names instead of affixing a thumbprint at the bank? Priceless.

Ajjichi Shala Grandmothers School Short Film Poster By Virtual Bharat

A Place of Power

In Maharashtra, women typically wear a prominent smear of vermillion on their foreheads. It is the traditional Indic mark of the feminine, a reminder of divinity, a symbol of power. But what a blow it is to social relevance, to dignity, to pride when one can’t decipher bus numbers, cannot understand movie posters or advertorial scribbles on the wall. Imagine always feeling left out, the dismay of perennially standing on the sidelines, bereft of a simple skill that the more fortunate seem to manage almost effortlessly.

Our circumstances may have crippled us for a few generations, but do they need to any longer? How wonderful if India’s march to progress can once more be accompanied with robust education systems that includes every segment of society.

Onward then… Let no Ajji be left behind!


Created By:
Akshay Parvatkar
Amal Sudhakaran
Second Unit:
Shivam Borkar
Music Composer:
Ashutosh Sohoni
Sound Engineer:
Sumanth Shetty
Score Mixed and Mastered:
Shreyas Kandekar at West Harmony Studios
Choir Conducted and recorded:
Indranil Oak at Silver Oak Studios
Parth Oak, Arnav Oak, Ragini Shinde, Renu Kulkarni
Child Voiceover:
Shalmali Dashrathe
Christy Sebastian
Abhijeet Deolekar
Neelambari Kirkire
Backend Vocals:
Mugdha Inamdar
Line Producer:
Anshuman Shekhar
Camera Assistants:
Prakash Bamne, Yash Khaire
Drone Operator:
Amal Sudhakaran, Shivam Borkar, Yash Khaire
Post Production Studio:
Open Mind
Production House:
Bharatbala Productions
For Studio Virtual Bharat
Mrinalini Mitra
Lynette D’mello
Varsha Ramachandran
Vineet Mehta
Sayan Debnath
Shruti Mishra
Akshay Parvatkar
Anshuman Shekhar
Yash Khaire
Prakash Bamne
Pawan Dhankhar
Kannan Rajaram
A. Murugesan
Ghanshyam Patil
Project Virtual Bharat:
Hari Krishnan
Jawahar Sharma
Abhijeet Deolekar
Special Thanks:
Neelambari Kirkire
Yogendra Bangar
Sheetal More
Prakash More
To all the Ajjis of Fangane Village
Produced By Studio Virtual Bharat

Behind The Scenes