Jalsa Movie Review: Shefali Shah Saves the Movie in the Final Act

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Two Mumbai women, occupying diametrically opposite sides of the financial and social divide, are affected by a horrific accident that takes place one night. ‘Jalsa’, which brings together the ‘Tumhari Sulu’ team of director Suresh Triveni and actor Vidya Balanfor this emotional drama, has one of the most executed beginnings I’ve seen recently, which develops an eerie bump as the plot progresses, until it reaches a cathartic ending, albeit lightly designed.

Famous news anchor Maya Menon (Vidya Balan) lives with her son Ayush (Surya Kasibhatla) and mother Rukmini (Rohini Hattangadi). The woman who is his long-time cook and bottle-washing chef is Ruksana (Shefali Shah). Maya and Ruksana have the kind of relationship you’ll find in many Indian homes, a transactional familiarity, which can turn into accusation and anger in the blink of an eye.

When Ruksana’s teenage daughter Alia (Kashish Rizwan) is seriously injured in a hit-and-run case, other characters appear. Complicit cops, local strongmen, a trainee journalist who claims to have a tip and begins to investigate. While these characters are given some interesting twists to make us believe they have full off-screen lives we’ve been told – a cop about to retire who has a soon-to-be-married daughter, an arrogant young man who is the son of an ambitious man rising through the political ranks, a rookie journalist with a strange mix of nervousness and enthusiasm – their leads are unconvincing.

The weakest is the one starring rookie journalist Rohini George (Vidhatri Bandi), who seems to rush into a swanky newsroom and manages to start working on this “high-profile” case: as always, even the best filmmakers fumble when it comes to understanding how a news organization works and how stories are assigned. Several other details left unanswered leave more questions than answers: why the accident victim was out so late with his companion is rendered unclear, and why the latter shut up is even more unclear. Also, it’s unclear why Maya’s ex-husband Anand (Manav Kaul, also a member of ‘Tumhari Sulu‘) who occasionally shows up to keep her disputed son Ayush company, is in the film. Kaul is still watchable, but even good actors need something to do.

The emphasis on class as a common thread takes the focus away from the heart, leaving Maya and Ruksana to hold our attention when they’re onscreen, alone or together. Vidya Balan dresses up and orders billboards, and struggles with guilt quite well, throwing tantrums at home and missing interviews at work when it all gets too much for her. Rohini Hattangadi is just the ticket, as a supportive and “naani” mother to a grandson who handles his disability with charming simplicity. It is Shefali Shah, a worthy “bai” whose affection for “Ayush baba” is well made, who saves the film in the final act.

Cast of the movie Jalsa: Vidya Balan, Shefali Shah, Rohini Hattangadi, Surya Kasibhatla, Manav Kaul, Kashish Rizwan, Vidhatri Bandi, Shafin Patel
Director of the film Jalsa: Suresh Triveni
Jalsa movie rating: 2.5 stars

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