Maja Ma, directed by Anand Tiwari, is a classic example that yet again illustrates that merely having an interesting idea or even having one’s ‘heart in the right place’ is nowhere enough towards making a decent film. The film, streaming on Prime Video, falls short on almost all counts and even seasoned performers like Madhuri Dixit and Gajraj Rao can do little to redeem it.
There’s very little that Maja Ma has going for it. in the film, Tejas Patel (Ritwik Bhowmik), a young man from Gujarat and working in the US, is in love with Esha (Barkha Singh), the daughter of aspiring politician and Trump admirer, ‘Bob’ Hansraj (Rajit Kapur). After winning Bob and his wife, Pam (Sheeba Chaddha), over via a lie detector test (!) to prove he truly loves Esha and not her money, the action shifts to Gujarat where the two families meet to carry forward the engagement and marriage of Tejas and Esha. Tejas’ mum, Pallavi (Madhuri Dixit), is the ideal wife, mother and the dancing queen of their housing cooperative society. In an altercation with her activist daughter, Tara (Srishti Shrivastava), Pallavi inadvertently lets out something she’s kept close to her chest all these years. That she prefers women to men. The conversation, recorded on a mobile by a nosy little girl of the society, is jazzed up and uploaded on the net. It goes viral causing havoc with Tejas and Esha’s love story as well as putting Pallavi under the scanner from all those around her…
The biggest culprit of the film is its terrible, lazy script that takes a genuinely interesting and sensitive idea and then ruins it beyond repair. The film mixes the drama of what is an extremely sensitive issue with puerile, facepalm, cringeworthy humour and some totally caricaturist characterizations (Kapur and Chaddha with terrible American accents in particular) that Tiwari is unable to lift with his ordinary direction. The hypocrisy of the great Indian middle-class and the battle for someone different, who constantly faces hostility and boycott from a judgemental, conservative society and therefore chooses to live within the closet, is treated rather insensitively and finally resolved much too conveniently (the mode of questioning in Pallavi’s lie detector test) and ‘correctly’ with everyone now open-minded and inclusive. Really?
Actors like Dixit and even the reliable Gajraj Rao flounder as there’s very little they can do with what they’re given to work with. Only Simone Singh as Pallavi’s close friend, Kanchan, lifts the film ever so slightly and provides the film with its one strong moment as she gives Chaddha her comeuppance and shows her the mirror to her marriage with Kapur. Chaddha does shine here as her silence reveals all. Srishti Shrivastava as a LGBTQIA+ activist, who realizes the duplicity of her own ‘wokeness’, does give the film an odd perceptive moment or two.
Sensitive topics are best avoided by filmmakers if they are treated like this. Maja Ma is disappointing to say the least and as for Ms. Dixit, she deserved better. Far better.
Hindi, Drama, Color