By Sneha Jaiswal (Twitter | Instagram)

The literal meaning of the Hindi word ‘Jalsa’ is festivities or fun. However, the 2022 Amazon Prime Original movie directed by Suresh Triveni, has little to do with its title.

Vidya Balan plays successful web-journalist Maya Menon, known to ask ‘tough straight questions’, but an accident involving her house-help’s daughter makes her seriously question her own integrity. Shefali Shah packs a powerful performance as Ruksaana, who takes care of Menon’s specially-abled son Ayush. How an invisible conflict brews between these two women from disparate economical backgrounds, forms the rest of the tale. There are a few twists in the story, one so absurd that it serves as satirical comic relief in an otherwise solemn movie.

Writer Prajwal Chandrashekhar, dialogue-writers Abbas Dalal and Hussain Dalal weave an intriguing tale with a solid first half. There’s the realistic victim-shaming in the case of a late-night hit and run case, with cops wondering ‘what was the girl doing out so late?’. Different people want to cover up the case for different reasons and the cracks in the script begin to show. For a seasoned professional, they make Menon commit some very basic errors – like an extremely dumb online search… it’s almost as if the writers forget she is a web-journalist. Sure, journalists can make the silliest mistakes under pressure, but even a rookie reporter retains some wits about them while shitting bricks.

Balan does the dual shades of a confident journalist and a panic-ridden woman quite brilliantly, you see her both as an intimidating boss-woman and a nervous wreck enduring anxiety attacks to keep her life together. Rohini Hattangidi has a great cameo as Balan’s onscreen mom, she is a loving mother-figure supportive of her divorced daughter’s hectic schedule, stepping up to take care of her special-needs grandson. Child-actor Surya Kasibhatla is riveting as Ayush Menon, he lights up the screen during his scenes and shares a heart-warming equation with Shefali Shah’s Ruksaana. The actor has cerebral palsy in real life too, adding profound authenticity to the role. It’s hard to believe this is his first feature film. Vidhatri Bandi as trainee-reporter Rohini George makes for an interesting addition, convincingly portraying an enthusiastic but nervous newbie in the field of journalism. Another actor who stands out in a brief cameo is Shrikant Yadav, who plays a cop on the verge of retirement, but gets caught up in the accident case and tries to hush it up.

If not for some of the script-writing flaws, Jalsa makes for an engaging watch, slowed-down by long lingering close-up shots that should’ve been shorter. Suresh Triveni and team test the patience of average Indian viewers with a lot of such protracted sequences. What makes them unnecessary is the fact that all the actors do a splendid job with their roles, emoting so well that they don’t need extra focus on their facial expressions for us to understand what’s going on in their head.

This is a no-nonsense movie, with none of the usual song-dance Bollywood films come with, no cringe-y or awkward jokes, and thankfully – no moral lectures or monologues either. The climax felt a little weak in comparison to the rest of the plot, Maya Menon makes a cathartic climactic disclosure that was too casual for closure. ‘Jalsa’ ends with a cliffhanger, leaving viewers to their own conclusions. I wish there was a more concrete ending.

It’s a 7.5/10 from me.

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