‘Mom’ review: A Dish Best Served Simmering

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Reading Time: 6 minutes


Long after it exits the cinema halls, Mom will be remembered for two things, primarily – apple pips and Sridevi’s stunning performance. While I’ll refrain from speaking about the former, I have no qualms in piping up about the latter. For, in director Ravi Udyawar’s debut project, it is Sridevi who effortlessly dominates the screen in the titular role. And mind you, she is no Mother India who will pick up a gun to shoot her errant offspring. She is Mom India who will gun down anyone who harms her family.

All this might sound like a dish made out of tripe and tropes. Au contraire, based on a screenplay by Girish Kohli, Mom is a smart, dark, and, for the most part, a moving movie. You’re introduced to the upscale Sabharwal family in Delhi, and in very quietly polished scenes you learn that Devaki Sabharwal (Sridevi) is a Biology teacher who’s not averse to displaying Salman Khan’s nude torso to explain the human muscular system. (Caveat – ‘t has to be an older photo – the sultan these days looks dangerously close to sporting a beer silo.) One of her students is her step daughter, Arya (Sajal Ali), who as it turns out, doesn’t quite fancy having Devaki replace her mother, and insists on calling her “Ma’am”, a disdainful addressor to remind Devaki that she’ll never be more than what she is to Arya in the outside world. Devaki has a daughter of her own from hubby and Arya’s dad, Anand (Adnan Siddiqui), but that’s not very central to the plot. Sajal doesn’t mind her cute sister, and neither do you. Devaki, meanwhile, longs to be called ‘mom’, and you know it’ll happen in the course of time. What it takes to get there is a horrifying journey, and one told through the lens darkly.

Sajal Ali, Sridevi, and Adnan Siddiqui before the trauma hits them
Sajal Ali, Sridevi, and Adnan Siddiqui before the trauma hits them.

In a superbly shot party sequence that throbs with A.R. Rahman’s DJesque track and strobe lights that takes place in a farmhouse, Arya skewers her classmate Mohit and his cousin Dewan’s attentions. High on booze, drugs, and the easily aroused male ego, the two, with their cohorts Baburam (Pitobash) and drug dealer Jagan (Abhimanyu Singh), kidnap Arya in a SUV. With editor Monisha R Baldawa, director Udyawar snips between the SUV riding the fluorescent-lit roads of Delhi and Devaki’s rising panic as Arya doesn’t answer her cell. This sequence is grimly violent, where you don’t ever see what’s happening inside the SUV, the camera following it, drone-like, a tentative observer, while Rahman’s background score so brilliantly cuts into the landscape of your dreading conscious, the synthesizers layering swathes of fear and terror. And when Arya’s limp body is thrown out, then kicked into a nearby gutter, you choke, frozen in terror, your worst fears confirmed.

Sridevi and Nawazuddin Siddique - life in a hellish metro
Sridevi and Nawazuddin Siddique: life in a hellish metro.

It becomes quickly apparent that the system is not going to help, it not being in the Pink of health. The four are let off, while the Sabharwals are left with an unthinkable and unimaginable, yet very real trauma. When Devaki brushes past the investigating officer Mathew Francis (Akshaye Khanna), telling him that she finds his law and system unreliable, she means business. And she gets down right to it, contacting private eye Daya Shankar Kapoor aka DK (Nawazuddin Siddique), who, in an earlier scene, has already offered his services, Bholenath ki qasam. From here on, Devaki begins to prepare a dish of revenge that she serves most certainly not cold, but simmering, explosive even.

Director Udyawar keeps the plot tight, the pace smooth and juiced up. There’s no histrionics, it’s mostly subdued, and you know it’s working because at every step of Devaki’s success, your apoplectic fury dripples most unexpectedly.

The plot does get a little predictable, there’s some holes that are big as the screen on which the images appear, and you know that the final revenge episode will not be smooth, and that Devaki will have to winkle this one out. And yet, the entire premise of rape and violence against women is so messily and unsympathetically dealt with in our system, and that the perpetrators get away with impunity, and that the burden of proof lies with the traumatized victim – what can be more horrifying than an unavoidable swab and intrusive tests after a violent, life-upending incident? – that you have no choice but to root for Devaki and her vigilante-style justice. In that sense, Mom is manipulative, but then, what cinema isn’t at some level, for it to be effective?

Akshaye Khanna - what those eyes hide
Akshaye Khanna: what those eyes hide.

Director Udyawar constructs his scenes with the skill of a thoughtful and stylistic auteur, but no specific cinematic prop for the construction. I’d be very interested to see what he comes up with next. There’s a very beautifully shot scene outside the courtroom when Siddiqui’s Anand is released on bail after a contempt case immediately after the main verdict. Akshaye Khanna’s character, who sympathizes and wants to help, is staring at Sridevi, who in turn is looking at Nawazuddin’s DK, who is looking at her. The director places the camera behind DK, and the entire scene dynamic is filled with thoughts, words, emotions, and to-do notes, all floating around in the scene, all unsaid, but all loud and clear.

Cinematographer Anay Goswami keeps the mood mostly dark and ominous, using blue filters and brown-tints to keep your adrenalin pumping at a steady pace. While, in the climax, the blue blends mysteriously with the pristine snow, helping with the shivers. Composer A.R. Rahman comes up with the beautifully haunting Chal Kahin Door, sung with a halting, pain-induced understanding by Shashaa Tirupati. And his background score is all synthesized paranoia, building the suspense and becoming part of it.

Nawazuddin Siddique and Akshaye Khanna face off in 'Mom'.
Nawazuddin Siddique and Akshaye Khanna face off in and about Mom.

Of the cast, Nawazuddin as the phlegmatic, yet pained investigator is marvelous. His buckteethed appearance might give his character a mask to hide his secrets and make his one-liners the nifty comic highs that they’re meant to be, but DK’s no pushover when it comes to confronting pure evil in a scene that’s truly heart stopping. Sajal Ali as the traumatized Arya is very good, her looks and act ensconcing a haughty Kareena Kapoor act; and yet, when she lets out a series of screams that spew out her abused internal soul, she guts you irreparably. Abhimanyu Singh is blood-curdingly effective as the villain who seems to be the only one who can stop super Mom in her tracks. Adnan Siddiqui is perfect as the polished, caring father and husband.

But it is Sridevi who’s far, far ahead of it all, and much above the script she’s given. When she shivers, trembles and breaks down in the ICU the first time she sees Arya after the incident, she’s so brilliant – the tremors and the shivers running up so effectively, you can actually see the first sob traversing from her gut into her mouth and then into her eyes. And those tremors never actually leave her, telling you very subtly that the only thing that’s keeping her from breaking down is her steely will to get justice. Just for her, Mom is worth the price of your GST-straddling ticket.

Sridevi - she didn't start the fire
Sridevi: she didn’t start the fire.

And then, of course, there’s the usually under-rated Akshaye Khanna. As the investigator who’s as miffed at criminals who get away as he is with someone who takes the law into their hands, he’s cool and very urbane. His body language as he accosts the rapists and hauls them into waiting vans is absolutely ramrod intense. And then, there are those eyes that are half-puzzled, half-supportive, as if struggling to make sense of his inner turmoil. What that actually is, is something that you’ll never know. Unlike the apple pips that you can Google for (I did), his feelings aren’t something you’ll find on the internet. Sometimes, it’s best not to know everything that you see.

Mom is rated U/A ((parental Guidance for children below the age of 12 years).  There’s violence and disturbing scenes.

 Ravi Udyawar Running Time 2h 26 min
Writer Girish Kohli
Stars Sridevi, Nawazuddin Siddique, Akshaye Khanna, Sajal Ali, Adnan Siddiqui, Abhimanyu Singh
Genres Drama, Thriller
Watch the trailer of Mom here:

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