Films released in the recent past, like Shubh Mangal Zyada Saavdhan and Badhaai Do have been bringing the issues faced by the LGBTQ community to the fore. While the above films were about young people coming out of the closet and seeking acceptance, Maja Ma centers around a middle aged Gujarati housewife Pallavi (Madhuri Dixit), who inadvertently gets outed as a lesbian in front of her family. While her son Tejas (Ritwik Bhowmik), who is all set to marry a rich NRI (Barkha Singh), takes the revelation as a slur on his honor, daughter Tara (Srishti Shrivastava), who has always championed the rights of the community despite Being hetrosexual, finds a righteous cause close to home. Her docile husband Manohar (Gajraj Rao), meanwhile, feels that this revelation has cast aspersions on his manhood. Tejas’ whiter than white would be in-laws Rajit Kapur and Sheeba Chadha, who talk Hindi with the broadest Manhattan accent there is, want to call off the engagement. How the situation rights itself forms the crux of the story.
Maja Ma tries to bring different things into its fold. Middle class mores collide with the woke mentality in the film. We see a lie detector test being done on one hand and on the other, we’re told that it’s up to the individual to reveal details about herself, as and when she sees fit. Does sexuality relate to the body or to the heart? It’s love which everyone, irrespective of their sexualty, is ultimately seeking and that should be the broader perspective. Marriage isn’t just the union of two bodies. It also calls for companionship and friendship and that’s one of the teachings of the film.
The film oscillates between indifference and sympathy, symbolised by Pallavi’s two children. While Tejas wants to ‘cure’ his mother of her disease, Tara wants her to live life on her terms, society be damned. Pallavi realises that being a dutiful wife and a loving mother has suppressed her sense of self. And that she lets to express that first before coming to terms with her true sexual identity.
Rajit Kapur and Sheeba Chadha are fine actors and rise above the caricaturish roles they have been given. Sheeba, in particular, has a redeeming moment when she gives up her American twang to chastise her husband in chaste Punjabji. Barkha Singh plays the ideal girl – one who loves her parents without being judgemental and sticks with her boyfriend no matter what. It’s a vanilla character which she has played with vigour, infusing it with some color in the process. Srishti Shrivastava too is playing to a type, though she infuses much sincerity to her role of a rebel without a cause. Gajraj Rao has played the befuddled, good-natured spouse umpteenth times and can now do such roles in his sleep. The film is more or less a face-off between the mother and the son. Ritwik Bhowmik is a natural fit as the loving son who takes time to come to terms with the new truths about his mom’s life. The love he feels is palpable and so is his selfishness.
Simone Singh’s brief role as Pallavi’s childhood friend brings a breath of fresh air to the proceedings. Her interactions with Madhuri are the best thing about the film and we wish there were more of their scenes together. Madhuri Dixit relies on tons of her experience as an actor to do justice to her role. She hasn’t let the weak script stymie her efforts and rises above it to give a command performance once more. Her love for her family, her angst for living a lie for so long, her need for acceptance – all get articulated through her eyes and body language. She’s the glue which holds the film together. We forget its several cringe-worthy moments because of her presence.
The film, which is saying such an important thing, could have been made with a little more sensitivity. That it’s still watchable is thanks to Madhuri Dixit, who makes it all seem believable.
Trailer: Maja Ma
Rachana Dubey, October 6, 2022, 3:30 AM IST
STORY: Pallavi, a devoted housewife and a doting mother, is faced with buried truths from her past. The narrative revolves around how she embraces certain realities, pivotal to her personality and sense of self, and its impact on her near and dear ones.
REVIEW: Pallavi Patel (Madhuri Dixit), is a graceful dancer, a dutiful wife and an extremely dedicated mother. Her son Tejas, while pursuing a career in the US, falls in love with an NRI Punjabi girl, Esha (Barkha Singh). Despite doubt and hesitation, her parents, Pam and Bob (Sheeba Chadha and Rajit Kapoor), agree to the match and decide to meet Pallavi and her husband Manohar (Gajraj Rao). The situation turns on its head when a nasty rumour about Pallavi spreads like wildfire and puts her son’s engagement in the dock. What transpires after that changes everyone’s course of life forever.
Writer Sumit Batheja and director Anand Tiwari display a unique approach while narrating a story about two lesbian lovers who came out to their families 30 years into their marriages. Without using any sexual innuendos or below-the-belt jokes and gags, the duo comes up with a competent narrative that feels extremely relatable and easy on the senses. The dialogues are on point – not too dramatic and not cut and dry. The film makes a conscious effort to navigate the internal conflicts that various characters feel, with Pallavi’s sudden revelation, with care and sensitivity. The difficulty that Tara and Tejas feel while trying to accept their mother’s sexual preference, gender dynamics, the absence of sex in marriages, social and cultural conditioning of and individuals, and Pallavi’s dilemma that pulls her into numerous families at all times are just some of the lanes that the film meanders in.
But in recent times, one has seen several stories about individuals coming out to their loved ones and finding gradual acceptance (Bai, Modern Love – Mumbai on the same platform). The conversation here could have easily gone beyond that; there was scope for it. The film has a large number of elements that are applaudable, but there’s still something that feels amiss at the end. Probably, it’s the conveniences used, and a happy-in-the-hood kind of an ending for Pallavi and her lover, Kanchan (Simone Singh). A more realistic conclusion would have elevated the material way more. Also, the pace of the film feels incredibly slow on several occasions which should have been looked into more carefully.
The film has a beautiful setting and blends in the vibrancy of Gujarat during Navratri really well. The camerawork is neat. The dress department makes every character look striking – several times even when it’s not needed in a scene. The music is strictly okay.
The film puts the spotlight on Madhuri Dixit, almost entirely. And she delivers a confident and lived-in performance. Her ability to emote with her eyes and her expressions is beautiful. Gajraj Rao effortlessly plays Manohar; he’s extremely likable and cool. Ritwik Bhowmik as Tejas, and Srishti Shrivastava as Tara pick up the emotional beats of their characters well. Simone, Rajit, Sheeba, Barkha and Ninad needed some more heft to their characters. Rajit, Sheeba and Barkha’s accents don’t create the right effect but their effort to get in sync with the material is evident.
All in all, ‘Maja Ma’ is a cool family watch, which feels very relatable, at times in ways that can be difficult to put into words.