Jalsa: Shefali Shah Shines Bright In This Complex Human Drama

Suresh Triveni’s debut feature Tumhari Sulu was a film about a housewife who is full of life. It was a slice of life film that resonated with the audiences, particularly the middle aged women. Here the director switches gears and tells a story about moral ambiguities and class divide among other aspects. There is a lot that the director packs in, sometimes it feels too cluttered but still the film is largely watchable. A major reason for that is Shefali Shah’s presence. The actress is clearly having a blast in her second innings but more on that later.

Maya played by Vidya Balan is a strong willed, super popular journalist. This comes out strongly in the introduction scene of Maya . We see her grilling a powerful person, there is a holier than dow attitude. It is a character which is clearly influenced by Barka Dutt just like the many female journalists that we have seen on screen. Maya is someone who believes that truth should come out however things take a turn when she gets embroiled in an unfortunate accident. Shefali Shah plays the house help of Maya called Rukshana. Rukshana’s daughter is the girl who gets hit by the car and is severely injured.

What follows is a series of events that challenges nearly all the characters and pushes them to confront their dilemmas. Other important characters include Rohini Hattangadi who plays Vidya’s on screen mother. Revealing anything more wouldn’t be appropriate as there are many threads in the screenplay.

Suresh Triveni is successful in capturing the audience’s attention from the start, the sense of dread and foreboding is masterfully captured. As a result you are sucked into the story and want to know what will happen next.

An important aspect of Jalsa is the intricacies of human behavior when they are pushed over the edge. At many points Jalsa unfolds like an examination of human psychology.

The class divide between Rukshana and Maya has also been brought out well by the director. This divide can be seen in many scenes. For example there is a scene where Rukshana’s son comes to Maya’s house. He plays around with motion flush in the toilet; he is very amused by the number of toys that rich people can buy.

The scenes featuring Rohini Hattangadi are filled with certain warmth. It is a straight forward role but still the scenes work because of the effervescence that the senior actress brings in. The good thing about her character is that she gives it back to Vidya’s Maya. She doesn’t take things lying down when Maya has fits of anger.

Lastly the scenes featuring Surya Kashibhatla as the 10 year old boy with cerebral palsy are also very good to watch. The bond that he and Rukshana share comes out naturally. This is why the twist in Rukshana’s character during the pre-climax feels odd.

Coming to Shefali Shah it is great to see the actress doing such great work in her second innings. As Rukshana she uses her eyes to great effect. She does a splendid job in portraying the anger and the dismay. She doesn’t speak a lot in the film but it is her performance that you remember the most. It is difficult to say that this is the same actress who played the unapologetic villain in the web series Human.

The chief reason why Jalsa doesn’t become a great film is due to the inconsistent characterization of Vidya Balan. We are first introduced to her as someone who is absolutely fearless and can manage anything. However there is a serious shift in the tonality as we go along.

Yes a certain fear would be there at the start but you never see her feeling guilty about what she did. It is always about what will happen if the police find out. The character actions and the characterization don’t simply gell.

There is an attempt to show that she is feeling guilty towards the end but it never feels comprehensive. We see Maya confessing to a trainee journalist called Rohini, Rohini is seen taking a video of her confession but there is no guarantee that Maya will be punished for what she has done.

The climax is also underwhelming as Maya never apologizes to Rukshana. We just see Maya sitting on a bench with her. The portrayal of the journalists is also stereotypical in nature. It is something that we have seen in countless other films; honestly it is high time that the filmmakers think differently on how to portray journalists.

Because of the inconsistent characterization Vidya’s performance also suffers badly. Her emotional outbursts feel forced and don’t create the desired impact. Vidya is sincere but we have seen the actress do far better work in the past. This is a performance that she can do even in her sleep.

Another issue with Jalsa is the addition of too many subplots. You get the feeling that Suresh Triveni has bitten more than he can chew.

In a nutshell Jalsa is very much watchable but it needed a tighter screenplay.

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