Jalsa review: Vidya Balan and Shefali Shah in top form

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Jalsa review: Vidya Balan and Shefali Shah in top form

Illustration: Arati Gujar

Jalsa is the story of two mothers- Maya Menon (Vidya Balan) and Rukshana Mohammad (Shefali Shah). Maya is the editor of a popular news portal and is known for pursuing truth through her journalism. Rukshana works as a cook in Maya’s home and is a trusted friend and caretaker to Maya’s teenage son Ayush who suffers from cerebral palsy. Rukshana has two children of her own as well. It’s evident that they are heavily dependent on each other. Within a few minutes of us getting to know them, things escalate for the worse on a fateful night in Mumbai when Maya accidentally runs over a young girl and flees the scene. Little did she know that this was Rukshana’s daughter Alia. From here a battle of moral dilemmas and difficult choices ensue, that is both riveting and thought-provoking.

Director Suresh Triveni and his team of writers have created two strong protagonists who, when cornered by conflict become difficult to both predict or pin down. Maya scrambles between saving her reputation and the future of her son. Whereas Rukshana fights a judgmental world that eats into the victimhood of her daughter. From religion to power, from education to financial status, from class to caste, there’s so much that divides these two women and yet one thing strings them together – motherhood and their resolve to protect their children.

Jalsa is a battle of moral dilemmas and difficult choices that is both riveting and thought-provoking.

Triveni blurs moral codes as Maya and Rukshana respectively walk into dark alleys they never encountered before and take stark decisions that they may not be proud of. He creates an atmosphere of chaos and tension where everything is out there for the audience to see, and he leaves it to us to join the dots. We want to take sides but Jalsa doesn’t allow us to. It’s dripping with the possibility of human error and the desperation to survive. Life is way more than taking a stance between right and wrong, and the plot reflects that at every turn.

There are others whose lives are indirectly at stake too in the film. The cops who mask the crime, the young reporter who is desperate to impress her seniors, the politico whose birthday banner comes in the way of crucial CCTV evidence- all of them represent human beings around us who make choices, not based on changing the world, but on getting closer to the life they want. Choices that aren’t based on integrity, but on circumstances and self-preservation.

Director Suresh Triveni and his team of writers have created two strong protagonists who, when cornered by conflict become difficult to both predict or pin down.

Jalsa remains unpredictable till the end, and thus manages to engage. It asks us to question our idea of a liberal, fair world that may feel like a blur in the India of today. An India that’s driven by dirty politics of religion, gender, opinions, and power, but also politics of the mind.

If Jalsa’s cast is its backbone, the soul of the film lies in its sound design. Both Vidya Balan and Shefali Shah are such strong personalities on screen that they don’t need to try hard to draw empathy. They both play their parts earnestly, and never overpower the other. Vidya is charming and believable as the editor who loves metal music and hates unanswered questions during her talk show; while Shefali pierces the screen as the lone woman fighting for justice. Rohini Hatangadi is back on screen after years as Vidya’s mother, and she reminds us once again why she’s the only Indian actor with a Bafta award in her living room. Shrikant Yadav is brilliant as the honest, yet helpless constable who hides facts to guard his daughter’s future.

Jalsa remains unpredictable till the end, and thus manages to engage.

Though visually the film captures the ruthlessness of Mumbai in both day and night with ease, the hero of Jalsa is the soundscape created by Anthony B Jayaruban. The sound design plays with you as the film jumps between the chaos and the silences within the minds of the characters. The treatment of sound doesn’t just reflect the tension in the environment, but the dilemma and the heaviness that the people in the film carry within their conscience. It may be argued that it manipulates you to think in one direction, but all cinema is an act of taking you away from the reality you’re living. In essence, it achieves what it sets out to. Thankfully, Triveni ends the film on hope, highlighting the power of love and how the human spirit can evolve into something bigger than just the individual self.  If one had to compare, I’d say Tumhari Sulu was without a doubt a lot more wholesome and inspiring as a film. Jalsa is dark and a bit more complex, yet a worthy watch.

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