Director: Suresh Triveni
Cast: Vidya Balan, Shefali Shah, Rohini Hattangadi, Iqbal Khan, Shrikant Yadav, Vidhatri Bandi, Surya Kasibhatla
A person’s moral compass makes each individual different from the next. Director Suresh Triveni explores this in his latest work Jalsa. Starring Vidya’s Balan as India’s popular journalist Maya Menon, Jalsa tells the story of Maya and the people closest to her. The talented Shefali Shah plays Maya’s full-time maid as Ruksana. Set in Mumbai, Jalsa takes us into the lives of these two powerful yet vulnerable women that are caught in a web after a late-night accident upends their lives.
While the two women are divided by class and social standing, both Maya and Ruksana are mother’s. Triveni uses this common thread to start building a story that massively impacts families on both end. The director lays out the tragic accident (as seen in the trailer) right in the beginning and then begins to take us into the nitty-gritty details of that fateful night.
There is little that Triveni does with dialogues. It is the actions, reactions, body language and expressions that let us into a situation and inform us what’s happening. From Maya making up her mind to tend to the injured to Ruksana reaching the hospital to find her daughter in a bloodied state, the space and tension created comes through. However, the first few minutes of Jalsa do seem predictable. We know there will be a common connection that may surface between Maya and Ruksana and that’s exactly what happens.
Maybe it is done on purpose. Because what happens after the fateful Friday night accident comes as a complete surprise. While Maya jostles between doing what’s right and paying for Ruksana’s medical care, she fights the guilt of committing a crime towards someone extremely close to her. Vidya as Maya brings to life this character with great conviction. As a mother to an autistic son, Vidya’s journalist character is hard-hitting when it needs to be, but also has a soft note to her.
Shefali Shah as Ruksana seamlessly fits into her character as the beloved house maid that tends to everyone like her own family. The actress dishes out a sublime performance with minimal dialogues and letting her eyes speak more than ever. Apart from Vidya and Shefali, the film boasts of an exceptional supporting cast that delivers as demanded. Right from the film’s child artist to veteran actor Rohini Hattangadi, every actor brings to life this world.
As cops begin investigating this road accident, Triveni adds layers of suspense and confusion to keep the narrative interesting. He also introduces characters mid-way and well into the second half. These characters form a crucial part of the plot as the film comments on moral compass, corruption, journalistic ethics and politics.
Clocking at a little over a two hours, Jalsa is crisp and understands the audience is intelligent enough to join the dots. Even though it becomes a story about different people and ways to fulfil their respective wants, Triveni weaves a web that’s tight to keep you guessing and doesn’t break.
While Jalsa is highly satisfying, it’s low-key predictability may be a bit of a dampener. Also, I would have loved to see more confrontational scenes between Vidya Balan and Shefali Shah. It also infuses laughter with its social commentary on journalism and media ethics.
The film’s cinematography by Saurabh Goswami and Gaurav Chatterji’s background score stands out from the very beginning. Maya’s car sequences, panic attacks, the deafening accident sound and splendid background score add more depth and drama to Triveni’s screenplay. One such remarkable scene shows Maya stuck inside her car at a political rally celebration. Her screams are buried under the external sound of drums and dhol, similar to the tragic situation she has found herself to be in.
At a time when every second release is a biopic or a remake, Jalsa is a must-watch thriller with top notch storytelling and enjoyable performances.