Jalsa review: An absorbing, hard-to-slot morality drama
Jalsa, starring Vidya Balan and Shefali Shah, skirts the road of a conventional thriller
In Jalsa, the hit-and-run accident of an 18-year-old girl sets into motion a complex chain of events. But what sparks this commotion is something else entirely. Maya Menon (Vidya Balan) is a star journalist in Mumbai. Triumphant after an interview—it leaves her guest tongue-tied—she decides to hunker down at the office. There’s a different story brewing, on the climate crisis, and Maya needs to sit on the edit. The hours draw on. Later that night, driving home, mildly inebriated, sleepy, she causes the aforementioned accident. There is no better argument for keeping normal hours in this job.
Cast: Vidya Balan, Shefali Shah, Vidhatri Bandi, Manav Kaul, Rohini Hattangadi, Shrikant Yadav
Director: Suresh Triveni
Streaming on: Amazon Prime Video
By now the audience is several steps ahead of Maya. We know, for starters, that the victim is alive. We also know that she isn’t a nameless pedestrian. She is, in fact, the daughter of Rukshana (Shefali Shah), Maya’s cook. The revelation is handed to us almost immediately—but to Maya only around the 40-minute mark. The ensuing suspense is excruciating. It indicts, in its own way, the people of Maya’s class, and how late they are to ask after those who ask after them.
Jalsa, directed by Suresh Triveni, has shades of Bong Joon-ho’s Oscar-winning Parasite (2019). I was consciously trying not to think of that film but couldn’t (a shot of Rukshana on an intercom monitor took care of that). There are, however, many differences. Parasite has a playfully cascading tone. Its class commentary, likewise, follows the mechanics of a thriller. Jalsa is more of a drama. The screenplay—by Suresh and co-writer Prajwal Chandrashekar—is grim, measured, and mindful of human limitations. “I’m not complicated like you,” Maya’s business partner retorts when she accuses him of aggression. Later, when her son, Ayush, visits Rukshana at the hospital, Maya demands to know why. “Because he promised her”—comes the unfussy response.
There is another way in which Jalsa subverts convention. Vidya and Shefali don’t get a confrontational scene until the very end. We follow them on separate tracks: Maya as she’s wracked by guilt and paranoia over her crime; Rukshana as she negotiates a justice system invariably stacked against her. The result is like watching the greatest squash match translated cinematically. The actors feed off this synergy—and so does the narrative. What’s strange, therefore, is Suresh’s need to embellish Vidya’s performance—shaky cameras, dream sequences—while Shefali conveys steely resolve just by popping French fries into her mouth. Rohini Hattangadi and Shrikant Yadav shine in the supporting cast, and there’s an image I won’t forget soon: a policeman, writhing in trepidation, and a junior cop holding him down.