Maja Ma review: Created by Anand Tiwari, the film poses a very valuable message with a tricky subject but is made palatable for a family audience!
Set up in a middle-class home in an Indian town, there's a young boy who is on the verge of marriage when a huge secret is unveiled from one side of his parents, which causes chaos. Sounds familiar to something like those PSA films of Ayushmann Khurrana or Rajkumar Rao that deal with tricky subjects? You're not wrong! Maja Ma, created by Anand Tiwari, and starring Madhuri Dixit in the forefront, the film is about how parents have a life of their own before they have children and just because they are born doesn't necessarily mean that their entire life has to become about the children. And while we expect parents to accept us no matter what we do, does the same apply to them? Can we accept them no matter what they are hiding in the closet? Read ahead for a full Maja Ma review but be warned as spoilers ahead!
Tejas (Ritwik Bhowmik) is a young guy who lives in the US and is in love with American-born Indian Esha (Barkha Singh). And they decide to get married, but in India, marriage doesn't happen between two people but rather between two families. Hence the drama ensues when the two families are made to meet in India. Between all the garba and Navratri feels, a harsh truth comes to reality when Pallavi (Madhuri Dixit) in a heated argument, reveals that she's a lesbian. But the film becomes further more complicated when the video of this is leaked to the entire world. Then it becomes about how everyone reacts to this revelation from Pallavi to her daughter Tara (Srishti Shrivastava) to her husband Manohar (Gajraj Rao) to her son Tejas to his would wife Esha and in-laws Bob (Rajit Kapoor), and Pam (Sheebha Chaddha).
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The film is a complete Bollywood masala entertainer that's made for the audience who is completely oblivious to such subjects just like Gajraj's Manohar. It's a conversation starter for many families sensitive enough towards the queer community even if not deep. The intense moments, emotions, and the intention of the film seep in through as how sun rays come through a curtain. They are layered amongst all the senseless comedy, accents, caricature-like characters, and setup. This precise layering sometimes lands well while other times just is not a great move. The families as a whole from afar work but when you start going in you see the cracks and dysfunctionality probably just like ours.
Whether it is the expectation from Pallavi to be a perfect mother and wife whose world just revolves around her family. Or Tejas who is treated as the prodigal son because of which he seems to have grown a massive ego and worships his mother. Or Manohar who is that everyday middle-class man that is well-rimmed into being a man rather than being a father or husband. Or the daughter Tara who has to take on the role of a social activist than a daughter. Though the entire setup of the family and their interactions with each other will remind you of your own home including Bob and his normalized cheap behavior towards women.
Madhuri Dixit dominates every frame that she's in! Her face is just so exceptionally expressive that your heart goes out to Pallavi's pain, suffering, and struggles. Though casting a superstar like Madhuri Dixit in the role of a closeted lesbian mother is in itself interesting and complicated as well. Her journey of hiding herself for the sake of the family to finally being herself wraps you in completely. But often, Madhuri's perfect look, her dancing, and the actress being herself overshadow Pallavi. It's like how it is with SRK, where the film title 'The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent' fits in perfectly.
As for others, they are reduced to being caricatures of their characters as they have to act as a particular agency to the central character, Pallavi. Tara is a social activist and nothing else, whereas Tejas is that typical selfish son who has a mother-god complex and cannot separate his mother and her individual identity. And even though Pallavi's husband Manohar's arc is interesting as he is reduced to being "namard" because his wife is a lesbian, yet it somewhere gets lost as it's dealt with via comedy. And the same can be said for Bob, Pam, and Esha who are just these "so-called" Indian Americans with accents that you are at odds with constantly. They are excited by everything in India but are equally shallow people who deal with lie detectors (WTF). Simone Singh as Kanchan, Pallavi's lover shines out, especially when she has agency, though sometimes even she falters. But all the actors try their best to work with what they are given, hence the script which is otherwise flawed lifts up little.
The last half an hour of the film is the heaviest and most dramatic where you have a lump in the throat. The only time the lie detector actually works is when Pallavi uses it to keep her point and Pam finally lashes out the truth. Though the resolution of the film is rather easy and simple but is full of hope. But the entire Indian American clan as a whole doesn't really work. I necessarily don't have a problem with the accent which is an intelligent sarcastic way of saying that just because you move to the USA doesn't mean your intelligence is raised but it would have been much better if Indian American actors were cast for these roles. And Esha's (who practically has no work) constant repetition of "my parents are not bad people" just becomes a defense strategy to hide shallowness after a point of time which Kanchan points out beautifully.
The film written by Sumit Batheja and Anand Tiwari is well-intended and mostly brings out its intention forward. But the structure of seeping in useless comedy that often doesn't land to creating a world that is too stereotyped (I mean, just because they are Gujarati doesn't mean they are constantly in Navratri mode!) to easily arrived conclusion makes it hard for you to fall in love with the film and put the message forth strongly. Though beautiful frames by Debojeet Ray in the entire film, editing by Sanyukta Kaza, and the background score enhances the experience of watching. Overall it's a mass entertainer with a very valuable message of having a choice in coming out that should definitely be enjoyed with family! But we hope that in the future, we get to see more depth in such stories just like Badhaai Ho rather than them being just conversation starters like Maja Ma.
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