Jalsa is a stunning story about two mothers trapped at the crossroads of guilt and revenge…
Vidya Balan plays Maya Menon, an accomplished, ambitious, and cut-throat journalist for the TV channel “Face the Truth.” She lives in a posh sea-facing flat in Mumbai with her son, Ayush, and her mother. She drives a black Lexus, wears western clothes, and solitaires. Maya Menon looks cool and sophisticated in her caramel chocolate dress, forest green, phthalo blue, and black sarees. And yet, Vidya Balan’s facial expressions, when she allows us glimpses, portray her inner struggles superbly. For Maya, the reporter, there is no wrong question. But a cruel twist of destiny, thrusts her into the hot seat, forcing her to face a barrage of self-inflicted questions.
One night, on her way back from work, Maya falls asleep at the wheel and hits someone on the road. She panics and drives away, not thinking of the incriminating CCTV footage. Unbeknownst to her, the person she hits is Rukhsana’s daughter.
Rukhsana, played by Shefali Shah, is not only Maya’s cook and housekeeper, but she is also a compassionate friend to Maya’s son, who has cerebral palsy. Her life completely falls apart when her daughter Alia is brought to the community hospital, severely injured in a hit-and-run.
Shefali steals the show in her role as an unsophisticated domestic worker, with her uncombed hair, downcast eyes, and ashy, nondescript salwar kameezes. Her dialogues are short and terse, cutting through the plot like a well-sharpened sword. Her eyes convey a myriad of emotions—from compassion, to worry, to anger, to the deep overwhelming despair of a mother.
While Rukhsana is stuck by her daughter’s ICU bed, Maya’s home life goes into a tailspin as she tries to care for her child, cook, clean, and work. Maya takes on the responsibility of paying for young Alia’s care, but she is slowly disintegrating under the burden of her guilt.
She has several meltdowns at work — with her mother over Thai takeout, with Rukhsana because she is “potentially bringing infection” from the hospital, and with her son, played superbly by Surya Kasibhatla, because she is worried sick about his future. Scenes between Maya and her mother are very realistic, with veteran actor Rohini Hattangadi essaying the role of the mother.
The movie has a few twists and turns but does not linger too long on them. Director Suresh Triveni also weaves in characters like local police officers, young men who might have known Rukhsana’s daughter, local businessmen running for elections, and a curious intern who wants to make a name for herself by unveiling the culprit of this hit-and-run case.
Through the human and moral predicament of the actors, Suresh Triveni, the talented director of Jalsa forces us to sit on the edge of our seats and struggle with our own conscience, by posing questions about morality. Jalsa literally means “dramatic event,” but the screenplay is not at all melodramatic. The director triggers a grave conflict with the accident and lets the talented actors interpret their roles in their own way. Which they do with great finesse. So much is said without saying. So much is shown without expounding. He has done well by casting two tremendous actors in a mind-boggling plot.
A movie not to be missed — find it now streaming on Amazon Prime. Check out my interview with Vidya Balan, Shefali Shah, and Suresh Triveni below!
Monita Soni grew up in Mumbai, India, and works as a pathologist in Alabama. Her creative nonfiction and poetry pieces are inspired by family, faith, food, home, and art. She has written two books: My Light Reflections and Flow through my Heart. She is a regular contributor to NPR’s Sundial Writers Corner.