Jalsa Is More Than Just A Thriller; It’s Also About Being A Mother And A Woman, And The 2 Leading Ladies

What do I say about the two leading ladies?! They don't act. They become. They share screen space in just a handful of scenes in the movie, yet you can see the undercurrent of their collective power throughout.

Flummoxed. Pensive. Unsettled. I do not think I can describe what my state of mind was more accurately when the end credits of the movie started rolling on the screen.

‘Jalsa’, written and directed by Suresh Triveni of ‘Tumhari Sulu’ fame, is the kind of movie in which you discover new facets every time you discuss it or ponder over it. Here, what is shown is more than what is shown. It took me just half an hour to go from confusion over not being able to gauge how much I liked it to unwittingly explaining the nuances of some scenes to my family members.

And as I write this post now, I know I have discovered and interpreted some more about the lives and choices of Maya Menon and Rukhsana, played by Vidya Balan and Shefali Shah respectively.

Contrary to popular opinion, I don’t think casting Vidya Balan and Shefali Shah in a movie is half the battle won. Rather, it is a huge challenge to ensure that the script rises above their phenomenal talent and acute understanding of the craft.

Of course, it helps to have a star cast that is gold in every way, but ‘Jalsa’ is so much about the depth beneath the surface that it compels you to penetrate into the thought process behind each scene. The writing is clever, oscillating between symbolism, foreshadowing and drama. It is understated at times, pronounced at others. There are several threads that get established in the first half that tie together as the script inches towards the climax.

Vidya Balan and Shefali Shah together are explosive

What do I say about the two leading ladies?! They don’t act. They become. They share screen space in just a handful of scenes in the movie, yet you can see the undercurrent of their collective power throughout.

Without giving away the plot, it is hard to give them the appreciation they deserve for portraying such intense, emotionally heavy and complex roles with an incredibly natural finesse. While Vidya makes a remarkable use of her whole body to convey the guilt, privilege, and fear, Shefali’s eyes are enough to display her grief, anger and pain.

Maya and Rukhsana share a transactional, quotidian equation that exists between an employer and a domestic worker. The class divide is obvious and though there is no specific mention of it, an important point on intersectional feminism is made every time they are together. It made me question my own feminism more fiercely.

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It is strange, but during one scene, when they are supposed to be at the opposite ends of greys, I actually felt they were a team, mocking us for the double standards we hold as a society. Can we please have more of this combo in the future?

What worked and what didn’t

All the supporting actors have done their job wonderfully, especially considering they had to match up to the brilliance of Shefali Shah and Vidya Balan.

I want to give a special mention to child actor, Surya Kasibhatla, who plays the part of Maya Menon’s specially-abled son. He is a delight to watch and hits all the right notes. Kudos to the filmmakers for getting a child who has celebral palsy in real life onboard, to enact this role. This is a welcome step towards more inclusivity in Bollywood, and hopefully we will see more of such casting choices in the future.

With all its plusses, the only thing that bothered me about the movie was its pace and length. It has been promoted as a thriller but seemed to be more of a slow-burn to me. A little bit of trimming would have added more bounce and tautness to the final outcome. Also, Maya’s turnaround (and maybe even Rukhsana’s?) in the climax did seem abrupt and a bit improbable, but maybe, in days to come I will understand this transition better.

A film that needs you to unpeel layers slowly even after it’s done

All said and done, as a viewer, this movie did make me look inwards.

What is truth? Is it above survival? Are choices really choices or are they privileges disguised in our social stature? Are we all hypocrites in some ways? Or are we just doing whatever it takes to somehow pull along the strings of life? What does one choose when each path wrongs someone – either self or others? Is reconciliation always about forgiveness? Are our principles merely quotable quotes in the face of adversity?

Several questions. Complex answers. Or maybe, easy.

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About the Author

Anupama Dalmia

Multiple award winning blogger, influencer, author, multi-faceted entrepreneur, creative writing mentor, choreographer, social activist and a wanderer at heart read more...

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