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Maja Ma is insipid despite Madhuri’s magic
Not many Hindi films have broached the taboo subject of homosexuality. As I watched Anand Tiwari’s “Maja Ma” (2022), I thought of “Dedh Ishqiya“, a hilarious 2014 satire with Madhuri Dixit and Huma Quereshi as lesbian lovers, duping two charmers, played by Naseeruddin Shah and Arshad Warsi, into believing that they are falling for them. That movie was punchy.
Maja Ma, written by Sumit Bhateja, unfortunately, is a lost opportunity; it meanders off and plays it safe, not butting heads with society.
Pallavi Patel (Madhuri Dixit) is a housewife and a doting mother. She is a creative person with flair for visual arts, and known for her cooking and folk dance. Her son Tejas (Ritwik Bhowmik) is very close to his mother, and Pallavi dotes on him. Tejas works in America and falls in love with an American girl of Indian origin, Esha (Barkha Singh). Esha’s ostentatious Punjabi NRI parents, Pam and Bob (Sheeba Chadha and Rajit Kapoor), reluctantly agree to meet Pallavi and her husband Manohar (Gajraj Rao), and come to India for the engagement ceremony.
The NRI parents are quite stuffy and laughable caricatures, but the plot becomes downright bizarre when Pallavi shares more than the recipe of her coconut ladoos; a precocious girl in the neighborhood eavesdrops and videotapes every juicy rumor. This is projected on a large screen to the entire neighborhood at the Navratri festival.
A disconnected marriage
Now the impending engagement is doomed. Two respectable society women, who kept their affection for each other hidden throughout their adult lives, will be exposed as despicables!
The film shows how couples can live together without having a real connection. A woman often accepts her role as a caregiver and does everything to fulfill the desires ad needs of her spouse and children. But the men never venture close to their wives emotionally or try to discover who their wives truly are.
Gajraj Rao is superb as a generic Indian male, who tries to rekindle romance in the bed with some over-the-counter drugs. Tara (Srishti Shrivastava), Pallavi’s daughter, is an enthusiastic social worker who forces her mother to come out without her consent. Tejas, the spoilt and self-centered son, tries to fix his mother’s flawed sexual preference by procuring a jhada (cure). I could not believe this was really happening in this day and age.
As I watched Pallavi being humiliated for choosing to be herself, I felt sad for so many educated and accomplished women from all walks of life who are judged for their personal, social, and career preferences. Our society still wants everyone to be in a heterosexual marriage, unhappily or happily.
A competent cast, nevertheless
The cinematography captures the dances and details of local Gujarati costumes tastefully. The cultural setup, however, was not essential for the script, but when the star of the show is Madhuri Dixit, we expect the dances and costumes. And it pays off; Madhuri’s confident and in-command performance is riveting.
Gajraj Rao fits the role of an unassuming middle-aged Manohar, content to be president of his housing society and husband to Pallavi. Ritwik Bhowmik as Tejas works well as the embarrassed and unsettled son. Simone’s character, Kanchan, has a minuscule role, but she cuts right through Pam’s heavily accented hypocrisy. Bob’s temerity to subject Pallavi to a “lie detector” is the climax of this family drama.
Does Pallavi agree to take the test? Does she pass the test? Does she confess her love for Simone? Does she leave Manohar?
For that and more, I suggest you watch the film. It is streaming on Amazon Prime. It is a thought-provoking story, even if it offers a questionable solution.