Jalsa, directed by Suresh Triveni (Tumhari Sulu (2017)) and currently streaming on Prime Video, explores the fear of losing one’s secured position in society. Though the screenplay stumbles in places, Triveni still delivers an engaging enough film brimming with some rich psychological nuances. In this, he is aided majorly by the two strong central performances of Vidya Balan and Shefali Shah, who yet again affirm just what fine actresses they are.
In the film, Maya Menon (Vidya Balan) is a fierce, outspoken and committed television journalist. She is a divorcee who lives with her mother, Rukmini (Rohini Hattangadi), and differently abled son, Ayush (Surya Kasibhatla), in a posh apartment in South Mumbai. Ruksana Mohammad (Shefali Shah) is the house-help at Maya’s house and is considered by them as a part of the family. She lives in a small house with her husband, Salim, and two children, Imad (Shafeen Patel) and Alia (Kashish Rizwan). On a fateful night, Maya, while returning from work late at night, accidentally runs her car over Alia…
What works well in Jalsa is that Triveni and his co-writer, Prajwal Chandrashekhar, have layered the film with a degree of complexity not seen too often in Hindi cinema. They reveal the inner state of the minds of their characters not through dialogue but through several silent moments that by themselves speak volumes. The interior of the car serves as a space where Maya is figuratively and metaphorically trapped.
The theme of parenthood and the umpteen responsibilities that it demands runs deep within the fabric of the film. Maya is (naturally) worried that if she goes to the jail, then what will happen to Ayush? Ruksana wonders if she should take revenge on Maya for what she has done to Alia. More, one of the police officers involved in the case, has a daughter who is soon to be married and relocated in Colorado, USA.
Despite the meticulous knitting and criss-crossing of events, the narrative lacks a smooth flow and has its share of glitches. The introduction of Maya’s ex-husband, Anand (Manav Kaul), into the story does not add much relevance. The film also lacks subtlety in places. For instance, the hoarding of the place where Maya works with the tagline ‘Face the Truth’ has been overused throughout the film. We get the irony surrounding Maya and do not have to be reminded about it every now and then. Maya’s breaking down of her composed exterior happens much too suddenly adding to the choppy flow of the film.
Vidya Balan creates yet another strong character in Maya Menon. As we witness her transformation from a confident, righteous and independent personality to a crumbling wreck of a woman plagued by guilt and fear, we realise here is an actor in full control of her craft. She captures every shade and nuance of her character perfectly. Shefali Shah, too, brings in a fine textured performance, portraying a woman dealing with her own personal agonies and conflicts. Shrikant Yadav effectively portrays the policeman tormented by his conscience for knowingly adopting wrongful measures just so the marriage of his daughter goes through smoothly. Rohini Hattangadi brings dignity and restraint as a caring mother and grandmother with equal measure. However, Vidhatri Bandi as the newly recruited young and enthusiastic journalist keen on investigating the case could have added some depth to her character. She seems to be wearing almost the same expression scene after scene and doing little else. Surya Kasibhatla as Ayush delivers a fine performance.
On the technical side, Saurabh Goswami’s camerawork helps in knitting together the emotional fabric of the story. The production design by Ajay Chodankar and Vipin Kumar creatively utilizes the spaces, props and set decoration to provide an apt setting for the film. The musical score by Gaurav Chatterji heightens the tension and drama of the story but Shivkumar V Panicker struggles to always sustain the tempo of the film due to the inconsistency within the narrative. Thankfully, he redeems himself with his deft cutting in the climax of the film.
Overall, Jalsa is a sensitive enough probe into the anguish of helpless human beings caught by quirky turns of fate. And even though the film does fall sporadically, the expert performances by Vidya Balan and Shefali Shah help it to get by.
Hindi, Drama, Thriller, Color