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If the director did indeed want to explore non sexual loving relationships between people in Maja Ma, that needed to be delved into in more detail with a lot more nuance and depth.
Maja Ma landed on Amazon Prime a few days ago and like everyone else I looked forward to watch the movie, especially since women playing pivotal roles in movies and shows always makes me very happy. However, I did skim through a few reviews before, and unfortunately landed on one that had a dead giveaway, without a spoiler alert.
So here is an alert for you. This piece contains spoilers so if you have not watched the movie yet and want to watch it, please stop reading now.
Madhuri Dixit plays an ordinary, but seemingly perfect Gujarati woman leading an idyllic life teaching dance in her neighbourhood. She has two grown up children – an activist daughter and a clueless, entitled NRI son, as well as a man baby as a husband (played by Gajraj Rao) who needs to be given his medicines everyday despite being fully able to take them himself.
But more than all this, Madhuri nurses a deep secret in her heart that she has not let anyone get a whiff of.
Until one day, an altercation with her daughter causes her to spill the beans inadvertently. The daughter picks a fight with her mother without sufficient reason and then pushes her repeatedly, so much so that she lets her closely guarded secret slip.
Which makes me wonder, a confession as dark as the one she is holding just needed a little domestic conflict for its revelation? The daughter appears mad without context at the poor mother for her ‘conservative’ worldview. Why didn’t the father’s worldview come under scrutiny as well? It is not as if he was a progressive, feminist dad. Why was the onus of being a progressive parent placed on the mother’s shoulders only?
In addition, at no juncture is the daughter’s activism lauded or supported by anyone among her friends or family. The daughter’s role in the whole film felt like it existed just to help the coming out of her mother. She is neither taken seriously nor is her profession given the respect it deserves. On the contrary, she is berated constantly especially by her brother who despite his Western education, thinks very little of the great work she is doing.
In one of the most ludicrous scenes where the mother is asked to take a polygraph, she passes the test despite lying. In the explanation given, it appears as if she wants to declare to the world that the love she had for another woman was pure and never “sullied“ with sex. What about a sexual relationship between two women needs to be camouflaged, or made pristine by using only words like love and affection, removing physical gratification from the equation?
If the director did indeed want to explore non sexual loving relationships between people, that needed to be delved into in more detail with a lot more nuance and depth. Asexual relationships are a reality and it would have been wonderful to get an insight on them, however this movie provided none of that. Madhuri and Simone Singh (the 2 gay lovers in the movie) have just one scene together that sheds insufficient light on their relationship. I have a strong suspicion the sexual aspect of the relationship was whitewashed because it was Madhuri playing the character and the whole would-the-audience-accept-the-DhakDhak-girl, the Indian woman of our dreams, as a sexually independent lesbian lover, was a pivotal factor.
In all, Maja Ma is a wasted opportunity that could have explored repressed sexuality, gender equality, sexual freedom, lesbian relationships, women having to stay in the closet for decades, asexual relationships and many more issues.
Even possibly, the mental state of the heterosexual partner whose life is ripped out from under his feet in the moment when he realizes his spouse is gay. At the end, my empathy was also with Gajraj Rao. What is he supposed to do now? Divorce his wife? Stay married while she explores her sexuality? How to heal from a betrayal that is no one’s fault, but is yet collectively all of ours?
In the last scene, he begs his wife to stay in the marriage. I could not help wondering how that would work for both. We continue to pussyfoot around divorce and hesitate to show it as a healthy exit to toxic relationships.
All the women characters in the film are terribly written.
I have already spoken about the activist daughter who was portrayed as an annoying person when in reality, her character had a beautiful arc.
The lesbian partner had one sparkling scene where Simone Singh shone and I suspect that one scene is going to get her a lot more offers. I hope we see more of her on OTT. But what about her emotions when Madhuri rejected her? Is there simmering anger at having to live a closeted life because of her lover’s lack of strength? Why did she get married? And what about her husband?! While all the multiple level reveals were happening, what happens to this person who knows nothing about his wife being in the closet!
Poor Sheeba Chaddha who plays every role brilliantly has no redemption in the movie. In the end, she makes a meek attempt to stand up to her brutal, arrogant, misogynist husband but it is too little, too late both for the movie and for herself as well.
What is most flummoxing also is the fact that Rajit Kapur walks away with absolutely no castigation whatsoever for his horrendous behavior with everyone! He wreaks havoc on the entire family and the extended one as well, and yet there are no consequences he bears.
Maja Ma is an insincere effort to show a sensitive issue like the coming out of a middle class homosexual woman on screen. If this is a story filmmakers want to tell, then a lot more research and honesty is needed so it can touch audience’s hearts.
I am a banker, author, poet and an intersectional feminist. Speaking up on social issues, mentoring and coaching and cooking up a storm for friends and a certain strapping 21 year old boy are what read more...
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