Jalsa movie review: Vidya and Shefali struggle with half-baked characters

A lot is said and written when a women’s project is presented to the public. And in Suresh Triveni’s Jalsa, you can see two equally strong and fiery female characters leading the film. It’s obvious to expect plenty of strong dialogue, emotional turmoil, and dramatic events, and yes, you get all of that in abundance. But the pace, or rather the way things happen, bothered me throughout. Somewhere I missed the pre and post interval switch in the narrative. And without giving away any spoilers, the climax might leave you extremely disappointed. The questions I was left with after seeing the film – is Bollywood ready for such brave and experimental cinema? Is it fair to leave it up to the audience to perceive the ending as they wish? Under the guise of breaking the norms of conventional cinema, is Jalsa making things a little too complicated for the audience rather than entertaining them? (Also read: Deep Water movie review: Ben Affleck and Ana de Armas shine in Adrian Lyne’s comeback thriller about toxic marriage)

However, one thing that works in Jalsa’s favor is that she doesn’t try to make a social commentary, sound judgmental, or educate the public about the class divide. There may be many subtle references to these disparities in society, but never so much as to bore you.

Jalsa tells the story of a famous Maya journalist (Vidya Balan) and her cook Ruksana (Shefali Shah), who also takes care of Maya’s specially handicapped son, Ayush. Things get worse when Ruksana’s 18-year-old daughter, Alia, is the victim of a horrific hit-and-run accident. This unfortunate incident brings Ruksana and Maya at loggerheads and they both try to tackle the situation with some lies and secrets that cannot be unleashed.

Throughout its 128-minute runtime, it seems director Suresh Triveni was in a rush to wrap up the film quickly without bothering to turn several pages of the book. Whether it’s the stories of the actors, their traits or why they behaved in a particular way or the mere presence of certain characters in the story, a lot remains unexplained.

For example, we are never told why Maya and her husband (Manav Kaul) are separated, why Maya’s mother (Rohini Hattangadi) lives with her, what is her son’s health, how long Ruksana has been working in Maya, is there something more between Maya and her colleague and the ambitions of trainee journalist Rohini George (Vidhatri Bandi) – these details, however small, would certainly have added to the story and given depth to the narrative.

Jalsa starts off on a high note, and within the first few minutes she successfully engages you, making you curious if justice would be served. In the search for truth, we come to encounter many flaws that exist in the systems of the police, politics, the media, and the wealthy. And then how the less privileged end up with barrel scratches to choose from.

Triveni, who co-wrote the film with Prajwal Chandrashekar, with dialogues by Abbas Dalal and Hussain Dalal, paid attention to the story and its development. But amidst it all, the creators didn’t pay as much attention to character arcs. They mostly seem half-baked and extremely one-dimensional without too many layers to explore.

Despite these half-hearted character sketches, it’s the performances that impress in Jalsa. Vidya Balan is in top form. Sassy as a boss, vulnerable as a caring mother, and rebellious as a daughter, she plays her role to perfection. The scenes in which she screams or shivers in fear speak volumes about her understanding of the character. She is complemented beautifully by Shefali Shah, who delivers a restrained performance. It’s amazing how Shah emotes just with his eyes and expressions. She doesn’t speak for most of the movie, but you relate the most to her character. The conflict against which she fights, but which she always keeps in herself, is moving.

The other actors, as mentioned, have short but meaningful roles and do justice to what the story expects of them. The character of Rohini George, if properly engraved, could have helped the film a lot. Nevertheless, Jalsa leaves you a lot to think, guess, perceive and conclude. Watch it on Amazon Prime Videos starting March 18.

Cast: Vidya Balan, Shefali Shah
Director: Suresh Triveni

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