Jalsa movie review: powerhouse Vidya Balan and Shefali Shah fail to save this really badly written film
What: Jalsa review: This is such a waste of a great opportunity when you have two wonderful actors together in a movie.
OTT movie Jalsa review
Touted as a casting coup with two strong female leads, the filmmakers raised our expectations. They think when Vidya Balan and Shefali Shah are in lead roles, the audience will think this is going to be a ‘jalsa’ (celebration) of a movie.
Arre bhaiyya, we have had three years of watching OTT content where everything is contrary. First Red Flag clue is right here! Plus the colours of the movie poster remind you of Nolan’s The Dark Knight. No one is expecting female Jai and Veeru, this is going to be domestic Sholay…
And you will roll your eyes when the word ‘Jalsa’ actually shows up on the screen. Zabardasti ki hadd hoti hai, you’re going to think. Some wiseass writing committee came up with this idea and I am sure they must have high-fived at this ‘dhansu’ idea. It’s not.
So let’s get into the story. Vidya Balan is a hotshot journalist Maya Menon (these days everyone is hotshot this or that in shows and movies, gone are the days when Naseeruddin Shah and Ravi Baswani were struggling journalists in Jaane Bhi Do Yaaron!), with a show that speaks of the truth.
Here’s your Red Flag clue number 2. She’s going to be forced into lying about something.
Shefali Shah is the hardworking, loving cook who works in Vidya Balan’s home, who takes care of Vidya’s differently abled child Ayush, and Vidya’s mother played by Rohini Hattangadi.
Red Flag Three here: Shefali Shah is called Rukhsana. How is this clue? Mainstream Bollywood is all about ‘My name is Khan and I am not a terrorist’. How can Rukhsana do anything bad? So you know its Vidya Balan who will be responsible for something bad and Shefali’s Rukhsana will redeem the women.
Red Flags four, five, six and seven show up when the film introduces other characters in their world: An ex husband, a boss and a possible lover (kyonki women cannot be shown to be happy alone if single), an eager beaver young trainee journalist, corrupt cops, municipal hospitals are dirty and loud, fancy hospitals have judgemental staff (someone who asks gareeb Shefali Shah, ‘May I help you?’ and a chowkidar shoos away the young lad), and yes, cops who have to be corrupt. Haven’t you seen enough of these in our movies?
Even what happens when Vidya Balan is put in a difficult situation is now done to death. So instead of going to the cops, the woman who tells the truth hides it.
And feels guilty. So guilty she has nightmares with jump cuts. Only men will create a situation where ‘guilt’ is such a big hero. They should know that women grow up feeling guilty at every step: if they work, they will be made to feel guilty about leaving kids/home for too long (Rohini Hattangadi asks Vidya, ‘How come you came home so early?’), at work they will be questioned about getting easy tasks, if they get promoted and they are good looking, they will be made to feel guilty about that too… So this event which she feels so guilty about is depicted in a super melodramatic way: she washes her face, her hand shakes, she has to stare into mirrors. Surprisingly she sleeps, but gets nightmares. You've seen all this a thousand times.
One the other hand, Rukhsana’s fate is what happens to poor people in the movies. ‘Hai ri kismet’ is an age-old trope. The righteous anger Shefali Shah portrays is good, but all that glaring with her eyes, her hitting out at the garage guy, and also the angry sweeping of water at the doorstep, is predictable as mangoes in summer season. It’s not, ‘kitna natural acting kiya!’
But the dumbest thing about the story is that they keep mentioning CCTV footage as if it were going to make or break Vidya’s spirit. You wonder how the eager beaver reporter got the footage with the car and broken windshield and figured out who-dun-it when the cops have already told her that two hours before the high point of the drama happened the camera view was already blocked by a political party poster. But by this time you are already irritated with the movie.
Honest trainee journalist protecting her ‘sources’ and all is straight out of some Hollywood movie, and Vidya then confessing only to her (and on a phone camera when there is a proper interview set up in her office! Which ‘hotshot journalist would not want to go out in a blaze of newsroom glory? Even Emma Thompson faces a scandal on camera in the film Late Night (streaming on Netflix).
This is such a waste of a great opportunity when you have two wonderful actors together in a movie. We have grown up watching Mother India who will shoot her favourite son Birju to save ‘gaon ki izzat’ but why do the makers of Jalsa think that the audience will believe that one mother will want to kill another woman’s child in anger? For revenge? Thankfully you, dear audience will watch this at home, fast forwarding all the supposedly ‘clever build up’ parts and discovering that the story is wafer thin. The best part of the movie? The moment where the female real estate agent tells the young journalist, ‘Tu Jacob ko chai pila…’