Hindi Reviews

Jalsa Review: This Vidya Balan-Shefali Shah Film Succeeds by Knowing When To Speak and When Not To

If you go by the trailer, Suresh Triveni’s Jalsa looks like your garden variety procedural. It is still akin to a procedural, but the film isn’t trying to find its way to the culprit; we know who it is, and we know how it is. Instead, the film uses a hit-and-run accident to investigate a world whose ‘Jalsa‘ is entirely dependent on the forgiveness and despair of those occupying the lower rungs of a skewered structure. When the title card flashes, and it literally does, it is when you least expect it, at the birthday celebration of a wannabe politician — people responsible for twisting the structure further.  


Maya Menon (Vidya Balan) is a well-respected journalist whose self-righteousness is just as earned as obnoxious. She works until midnight only to conclude a meeting with “Let’s work on it tomorrow.” Ruksana Mohammad (Shefali Shah) works as a cook, and Maya’s son Ayush’s caretaker. A fateful accident makes it so that Maya cannot look Ruksana or herself in the eye. Jalsa follows the trajectory of her fall.  

Like every self-respecting procedural, an array of characters populate Jalsa. Corrupt cops, lying teenagers, an ambitious rookie journalist who has to survive before she can thrive, etc. Even if they fill the same space, they play different roles. They aren’t there to forward the plot. The plot contrives itself based on these characters and their decisions, because of which, even if Jalsa has the rhythmic tempo of a procedural, it scrutinises emotions, not motives. Likewise, its use of CCTV footage is more philosophical than analytical. A politician’s hoarding, irrevocably, hides a crime. A mother uses CCTV to keep her son close. Another mother, who doesn’t have the same financial or social pedigree, cannot find her daughter’s accident footage. They are everywhere, but only the select few are allowed control over them. 

Saurabh Goswami’s camera captures this film within the film to moving effect. Maya’s omnipresence — big screens in the office, giant billboards spilt across the city — takes on an ominous shade through his camera. When a speeding car hits something, the magazines in the backseat with Maya’s face on them fall to the ground. The expressive visual grammar punctuates many such things with an envious economy. The soundscape is just as pertinent and lends so much to the cinematic quality of the film. The opening credits demand recognition with how they unfold a person’s journey through the city coded by sounds. But choosing diegetic sounds — the hiss of a hot pan reacting to water, or a machine moving in a godown, or the dignified choice to mute a mother verbally abusing her son in a moment of anger — over a random background score, to heighten the drama in a scene makes all the difference. 

Speaking of things that make a difference, casting Vidya and Shefali as two mothers with two different experiences in motherhood is genius on the part of the casting team. My only complaint with the film is that we only briefly see Maya being Maya, but Vidya compensates for that omission. The way she channels her character’s mental anguish into something physical is masterful and effecting. Shefali’s Ruksana is a woman of few words and fewer pretences. While Maya’s moral ground slowly starts slipping beneath her feet, Ruksana’s doesn’t. This contrast builds up to a great climax; an agitated Maya is met with a silently imploding Ruksana.  


Maya is envious of a street dog sleeping in the middle of the road — at least it gets to sleep, she purports on her social media — but is careless enough to cut short the same slumber with her speeding car. This indifference, sometimes innocent and sometimes exploitative, is a significant thread that passes through Jalsa. Like the titular Jalsa of a politician who couldn’t care less that a worried mother is stuck inside a commotion celebrating him. Like Maya, who simultaneous admits that Ruksana is a better caretaker of her son and that she doesn’t even know what Ruksana’s daughter looks like. Jalsa isn’t just interested in the economic disparity. It also wants to see how disparate thought is based on where one comes from. The rich can afford to be indifferent, charitable, angry, and vengeful, but those less fortunate have to choose the path of forgiveness and compromise, even if unwillingly. Even if begrudgingly.  


This Jalsa review is a Silverscreen original article. It was not paid for or commissioned by anyone associated with the movie. Silverscreen.in and its writers do not have any commercial relationship with movies that are reviewed on the site.