"apni ladki bhi itni raat ko bahar ghum rahi thi" - This line, mouthed by a character in Jalsa on Amazon Prime Video sums up two major things - one being still how the society perceives women living their free life and blaming them if something bad happens and the other highlighting how subtle and effective the storytelling of Jalsa is.
The film that stars Vidya Balan and Shefali Shah in lead roles is directed and co-written by Suresh Triveni, who also directed the fantastic Tumhari Sulu. Having seen this thriller family drama, here's what I thought of it-
Maya Menon (Vidya Balan) is a rich, successful and ethical journalist who is at her peak when it comes to her career but at the same time, is divorced, has her mother living with her and a specially abled child, Ayush. Ruksana (Shefali Shah) is the househelp at Maya's home who has an adorable bond with the child, Ayush and in ways, the child only listens to her and loves her. But she belongs to the opposite spectrum of the society as she is poor and is only making ends meet with her husband and two children. How one night and one incident changes all the dynamics and leads to absolute chaos - that is what Jalsa is all about.
It has been ages since I witnessed such layered storytelling coming out from Bollywood. Jalsa is undoubtedly amongst the finest when it comes to creating and justifying the layers of its characters. For instance with Maya, Balan gets to play the proud and powerful side but also the feared, angry, guilty side when the said incident takes place and connects to her own son. With Ruksana, Shah has to maintain a particular shade being worrisome, scared and confused about her daughter's accident but towards the climax, situation changes drastically, as she gets to portray anger, disgust and much more.
I am an absolute sucker for subtlety in filmmaking and Jalsa has an abundance of it. 'Less is more' is a concept that multiple filmmakers should adopt and try to effectively convey things without saying too much. I literally jotted down all the scenes where things were shown or spoken subtly and would just marvel at them later. Highllighting two instances - when Ruksana's son Imaad comes at Maya's luxurious house, he throws away his footwear because he doesn't know the etiquettes to put them on a wreck and then in the washroom, he is fascinated by the automated flush system as he plays with it and imagines himself as a superhero. In another scene, which is one of my favorite, Balan's Maya comes to see Ruksana's daughter who was hit and run by a car. But Maya is a rich woman and as she is slowly walking by in a Municipal Hospital, you see her not only being extremely uncomfortable but in the background there are multiple things that happen in a municipal hospital which are extremely common otherwise but jarring for Maya. This is sheer brilliance in portraying subtlety.
The writing by Triveni himself and Prajwal Chandrashekhar, the cinematography by Saurabh Goswami and the music and background score by Gaurav Chaterji all come together to complement every scene in the film in the most effective manner possible. In one scene where Maya loses her cool and lambasts at her son Ayush is brilliantly shot in a way where the audio goes mute as her temper rises and she says things she shouldn't otherwise.
Jalsa Review 4
Usually with films with two big faces at the helm can easily lead to undercooked supporting characters but that is definitely not the case with Jalsa. In fact, even the smallest appearance of a supporting character is so fantastically written to all other characters, who not only get moments to shine but their own connection to the storyline.
After coming out of the film, I felt the movie had similar tropes to the Anurag Kashyap film, Ugly but here, the climax is something that will satisfy you incredibly. In a master way of building you up to something, Jalsa takes an entirely differently route with the final act, which was amazing.
Jalsa Review 6
Honestly, there was barely anything that qualifies to be not-so-good and hampers the story. The only thing that I felt was that film totally deserves a theatrical release as well.
Vidya Balan and Shefali Shah are stalwarts and Jalsa proves yet again how fine these talents are. Getting to play opposite spectrums of the society but with layer after layer, both these actors do a terrific job. Especially, Balan, who gets to portray multiple shades ranging from pride and happiness to depression and guilt.
Coming to the rest of the cast, not one actor falters in their performance - be it a short appearance or a longer one. A welcome treat to see Rohini Hattangadi in a film after such a long time and even a small appearance from Manav Kaul was delightful. The entire cast, especially the retiring police officer and Ruksana's husband is played brilliantly by Shrikant Yadav and Sharad respectively.
In the end, Jalsa is most effective form of layered storytelling there can be and is undoubtedly one of the finest to come out in Bollywood for the longest time. First thing in order before you get busy in Holi celebrations soon - is watch this fantastic film.
Rating- **** (4/5)