‘Jalsa’: a noirish question for morality

When we choose to donate to charity, what’s the real driving force behind the magnanimity? Coat it with whatever luxurious emulsion you want (‘gratitude,’ ‘giving back,’ ‘goodness of my heart,’ ‘God is great,’ and other G-forces), the fact is that it’s the other ‘G’-factor looming over, like a hooded serpent, threatening to darken our pleasurable existence, that propels us into filling the pits on our personal wall that scream out to our discomfiture: guilt. It’s this guilt that, sharpened with the blade of hypocrisy, scythes through the noirish Jalsa (Celebration).

Vidya Balan: wielding the moral gavel.

Directed by Suresh Triveni (Tumhari Sulu), who wrote this feature with Prajwal Chandrashekhar, the movie works to multi-layer impact, as it looks the life of TV journo Maya Menon (Vidya Balan, brilliantly unmasking her character with the ease of one shedding an artificial shell, and then dodging their reflection), a single mother (Manav Kaul breezing through as the attendant father) of Ayush who has cerebral palsy: Surya Kasibhatla playing him has the same challenge in real life, a beautiful stroke of inclusivity in Indian cinema. Maya’s work-life imbalance is balanced by her mother Rukmini (Rohini Hattangadi, effortless, marvelous, and, like her character, propping the story and the family as only a mother and grandmother can) and Woman Friday Ruksana Mohammad (Shefali Shah), who cooks, eases the buffets that rock the Menon household, and is someone who Maya can depend on, as she ruffles feathers on her show, deflating egos by pricking consciences of the high and mighty, even as she dances a flirtatious waltz with her boss Amar (Mohammad Iqbal Khan, very good). All of that righteous stance and pose goes to test on acid-boil with a hit-and-run case involving a teenager (Kashish Rizwan).

Shefali Shah: a powerhouse act.

Using stillness, troubling cuts, and ominous frames, director Triveni questions the questioning of women’s independence and the shouldering of their safety on their own shoulders. He cocks a snook at the undercurrent of charity that we wear on our superior sleeves and then mark in our registers as we dole food and controlled independence to our house helps, so long as it suits us. But most of all, he looks at the judgemental gavel being turned into a hammer to cover up uncomfortable, semi-murderous truths. Adding another subplot that involves two cops—Shrikant Yadav as More and Ghanshyam Lalsa as Pradeep as terrific—and a local politico (the redoubtable Vijay Nikam throws in a punch in a cameo), the movie falters only because an unquestionably high-profile case gets a questionably low-bandwidth coverage in today’s day of frenzy-feeding and high-barometric reporting.

Ghanshyam Lalsa, Shrikant Yadav: cops not missing a beat.

Speaking of which, Vidhatri Bandi playing a hedging, hesitant beat-scribe is outstanding. But it is Shefali Shah who swallows the movie in a stunning final act, her infrastructure steely and gritty, yet wobbled by the truth. In a game of conscience-conscience, her character parlays guilt and loyalty to deliver the message subtly, and yet with a knock-out performance by the actor. Guilt and charity may coat the reality of the giver, making it all water under the Metro overbridge. But for those at the receiving end, that water’s bloodied. 

Movie data powered by IMDb. All images owned by the producers. Jalsa is streaming on Prime U/A (Parental Guidance for children below the age of 12 years) for disturbing images.

Director Suresh Triveni Time 2h 6m
Writers Suresh Triveni, Prajwal Chandrashekhar 
Stars Vidya Balan, Shefali Shah, Surya Kasibhatla, Rohini Hattangadi,
Genres Drama, Thriller