Jalsa movie review: Shefali Shah rescues the film in the final act

Two Mumbai women, occupying diametrically opposite sides of the financial and social divide, are impacted by a terrible accident that takes place one night. ‘Jalsa’, which reunites the ‘Tumhari Sulu’ team of director Suresh Triveni and actor Vidya Balan, for this emotional drama, has one of the most tightly-executed beginnings I’ve seen recently, which develops the odd bump as the plot progresses, until it reaches a cathartic, if slightly designed end.

Celebrity news anchor Maya Menon (Vidya Balan) lives with her son Ayush (Surya Kasibhatla) and mother Rukmini (Rohini Hattangadi). The woman who is her long-time cook and chief bottle washer is Ruksana (Shefali Shah). Maya and Ruksana have the kind of relationship which you will find in many Indian homes, a transactional familiarity, which can turn into accusation and entitled anger at the drop of a hat.

When Ruksana’s teenage daughter Alia (Kashish Rizwan) is badly injured in a hit-and-run case, other characters show up. Complicit cops, local strongmen, a trainee journalist who claims she has a tip-off and begins investigating. While these characters are given interesting touches to make us believe that they have full lives off screen that we have been made privy to– an about-to-retire cop who has a daughter getting married soon, a cocky young fellow who is the son of an ambitious man climbing the political ladder, a newbie reporter with a strange mixture of nervousness and enthusiasm– their tracks are unconvincing.

The weakest is the one featuring rookie reporter Rohini George (Vidhatri Bandi), who appears to swan into a swanky newsroom, and manages to begin working on this ‘high-profile’ case: as always, even the better filmmakers fumble when it comes to understanding how a news organisation works, and how stories are assigned. Several other loose ends leave more questions than answers: the reason that the victim of the accident was out so late with her companion is fuzzily delivered, and why the latter kept quiet is even more fuzzy. Also, it is unclear why Maya’s ex-husband Anand (Manav Kaul, also part of ‘Tumhari Sulu’) who occasionally shows up to keep his challenged son Ayush company, is in the film at all. Kaul is always watchable, but even good actors need something to do.

The focus on class as a running thread distracts from the core, leaving it to Maya and Ruksana to hold our attention when they are on screen, either alone or together. Vidya Balan power dresses and commands billboards, and wrestles with guilt well enough, throwing tantrums at home and flubbing interviews at work when it all becomes too much for her. Rohini Hattangadi is just right, as supportive mum, and ‘naani’ to a grandson who handles his disability with charming matter-of-factness. It is Shefali Shah, as the dignified ‘bai’ whose affection for ‘Ayush baba’ is nicely done, who rescues the film in the final act.

Jalsa movie cast: Vidya Balan, Shefali Shah, Rohini Hattangadi, Surya Kasibhatla, Manav Kaul, Kashish Rizwan, Vidhatri Bandi, Shafin Patel
Jalsa movie director: Suresh Triveni
Jalsa movie rating: 2.5 stars

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