‘Jalsa’ movie review: Vidya Balan, Shefali Shah shine in this tryst with truth

Director Suresh Triveni delivers a casting coup of sorts with the fantastic ensemble of actors, while also charting a relatable and riveting tale on how a self-righteous approach crumbles under circumstances

March 18, 2022 05:08 pm | Updated 05:08 pm IST

Vidya Balan in ‘Jalsa’

Vidya Balan in ‘Jalsa’

Since Yash Chopra’s Waqt, the quirk of fate has played an important role in driving the narratives of Hindi cinema. Screenwriters have often tested protagonists who take pride in their honesty. This week it is the turn of Maya Menon (Vidya Balan), a thoroughbred journalist who is presented as the face of truth by her digital channel.

One night, a little indiscretion spirals into an accident that threatens to derail Maya’s career and life.

Her life is her little, specially-abled son Ayush (Surya Kasibatla) who spends more time with the house-maid Rukhsana (Shefali Shah) and his grandmother Rukmini (Rohini Hattangadi) than with her busy and supposedly single mother. Ayush’s father Anand (Manav Kaul) is just a lively filler, perhaps somebody who could not keep up pace with Maya.

On a fateful night, Maya inadvertently drives into the life of Rukhsana. The rest of the story is about Maya hiding her guilt beneath the layers of confidence, assembled over the years in a profession that increasingly hates self-doubts. When Maya gets caught up in the situation, her senior colleague, a friend and well-wisher Amar (Iqbal Khan) tells her it is real life as if the news that they generate 24X7 is not.

On the other side, there is Rukhsana who seeks justice from a system that cajoles her to compromise or else… In a way, Maya and Rukhsana are mirror images as Jalsa is about people who seem to have risen over barriers of class disparity. But when fate puts them in a spot, the fault lines surface all over again. It is also about people who seek a life of dignity but when life tests them, the vulnerabilities of the poor show up.

Director Suresh Triveni, who earlier created the sweet Tumhari Sullu, has placed conflicts in front of his characters but they don’t cry for attention. They are mere coincidences that can happen to anyone, and hence are all the more relatable and mind-numbing. Thankfully, Triveni doesn’t bring religion and gender into play, and keeps it about how the self-righteous approach crumbles under circumstances; what we casually call ‘stress’ these days.

Inside the bigger arch, there is a young intrepid journalist Rohini looking for her first big story and then there is sub-inspector More (Shrikant Yadav) who is on his last case before retirement. How the life of these two intertwine is another compelling little story on how coincidence, sometimes, drives our conscience. Add to it an intense background score and crisp editing, and we have a sleek social thriller that leads to some crude truths. Sometimes, the camera angle conveys a meaning that the dialogue doesn’t. Take the scene where Rukmini, sipping tea at the dining table, tells Rukhsana, sitting on the floor, how they had always considered her family. Here, the camera observes Rukmini from the side of Rukhsana.

Be it the craze among the youth to be ‘liked’ on social media or the journalist’s urge to pin down the subject, the film also touches upon multiple facets of today’s society without being judgmental.

Triveni conveys many things through visuals and between the lines. Perhaps, there is a spiritual ring to it as well, as Amar tells Maya, the retired judge that she steamrolled during an ‘exclusive’ interview didn’t bode her well! When Maya gets caught in the traffic of a political rally, the hand of the larger-than-life cardboard of a greasy local politician appears to be asking Maya, what she is up to.

At the cost of repeating oneself, the depth of Shefali’s eyes and the emotions that they could hold continues to bewitch and baffle. Her Rukhsana is that vulnerable maid from the margins who makes an attempt to hold on to a life of dignity. She is somebody who takes pride in her work and honesty, very much like Maya. Fate tests both Maya and Rukhsana in equal measure, and both the actors grasp the opportunity well. If Shefali brings alive all these seemingly contrasting emotions in flesh and blood, Vidya captures the crumbling confidence of Maya with her body language and shifting gaze,

The casting coup is not limited to Vidya and Shefali; the most eye-catching performance is of Surya Kasibatla, as the physically disabled Ayush. Surya, who is reportedly fighting cerebral palsy in real life, is a natural performer with not a single shred of artifice. Not to forget Vidharthi Bandi as Rohini George, the seemingly harmless journalist found in every newsroom who cracks the biggest of black holes. Iqbal’s timbre adds weight and the seasoned Rohini Hattangadi immerses into the household.

However, the pace and the pensive mood could not hide some of the gaps. For instance, why does no other channel show interest in a story involving a celebrated journalist? The climax seems like an overstretched bid to redeem faith in humanity. The decision Maya takes towards the end feels a little improbable, and the way Rukhsana returns from the edge feels a bit contrived... but then that’s life, isn’t it?

Jalsa is currently streaming on Amazon Prime

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