(Warning: Spoilers Ahead)
I enjoyed watching “Maja Ma” thoroughly.
I’d always been a diehard Sridevi fan and had never taken to Madhuri Dixit in her peak dancing heydays.
But, I’ve been warming up to Madhuri Dixit, especially after her comeback and her recent performances. In fact, I like this version of Madhuri Dixit 2.0 a lot. Yes, she still looks and dances like a dream. But along with that, the bold choices she’s making with her roles like in “Maja Ma” and essaying them with conviction and confidence. Yes, she can out beat any of today’s top actresses by a mile. She is our current Madhubala and desi Marilyn Monroe.
What’s the plot?
Back to “Maja Ma”, the story is about Pallavi Patel, a middle-class Gujarati homemaker. She’s reputed in her community to be a pious and dutiful woman who excels in dancing and cooking. Tejas, Pallavi and Manohar’s son, wants to marry Esha Hansraj, a rich NRI woman and the daughter of Bob and Pam Hansraj. All hell breaks loose in this traditional parivar when the Hansrajs come to India to meet the Patel family to fix the match. But Pallavi needs to first prove her sexuality, and that she is a good Indian woman via a lie detector test.
For those complaining that the movie felt sanitised, I’d say it is the right start. Not everyone, mainly from the older generation, can jump straight away from Point A to Point Z. People need time to absorb, sink in, and accept differences from the norm.
So, “Maja Ma” plays the perfect medium to break that ice and get people to warm up to the idea of possibilities and differences among us. And it does that in a way that’s gentle and compassionate.
I particularly liked how they conveyed the conditioning of women to be submissive self-sacrificial goddesses at the cost of their purpose and wellbeing. Pallavi chooses a conventional marriage over eloping with the love of her life, Kanchan, owing to fear, shame, and duty.
Tejas’ perception of Tara, his feminist sister, is reflective of the societal views. As if being a feminist is an aberration, madness, and embodiment of evil. He views his mother, like most of us do, as a goddess. While there is nothing wrong with giving that respect, the problem arises when we view our parents, especially mothers, as more of a God who can do no wrong, and less of a human, who’s flawed and vulnerable.
When Tejas discovers that his mother is a lesbian, he’s crushed. Suddenly, just like that, his mother falls from being a god to being a demon, or literally possessed by some of them. He cannot view women as individuals separate from the many roles they play.
The movie also shows the flawed belief people have about why some women are lesbians. One reason is that their husbands are incapable of sexually satisfying them. Of course, there are many other flawed beliefs which are not shown in the movie.
Then there’s the confrontation of Pallavi, Kanchan and Pam inside an aerial tramway. In a showstopper scene, Kanchan takes on Pam for her intrusive and insensitive remarks about Pallavi.
Another powerful scene is when Pam throws a fit for his obnoxious ways and their perfunctory marriage.
Before Pallavi passes the lie-detector test, she asks Bob to explain what lesbianism is. Of course, he doesn’t give a proper answer. The immediate association of lesbianism is to only sex, thanks to the infinite porn sites catering to the male gaze.
When Pallavi’s confession goes viral in a Yashraj Mukhate style, people jump the gun and view her as a deviant slut. When Pallavi passes the lie-detector test, Bob certifies, “She’s good,” before approving the match. These scenes remind us of the dire need for sex education in our homes and schools.
The direction by Anand Tiwari and performances by everyone in the cast are top-notch. Madhuri Dixit lends grace, beauty, and depth to her character. Though Dixit has the maximum screen time, it’s Simone Singh who plays Kanchan who gets the best scenes. Simone packs in a punchy performance.
I’ve heard criticism that Madhuri Dixit doesn’t look the part of a typical middle-class Gujarati woman. But who better than Madhuri to break the ice with her massive fan-following among the older generation, especially? So that way, her casting choice was strategic. Even Simone Singh doesn’t look like the regular or average middle-class Gujarati woman at all. But their luminous performances made up for it.
What could have been better
The writing could have had more depth.
My major grouse with “Maja Ma” is that I’d have liked to see more of the relationship between Madhuri Dixit and Simone Singh. It felt like a ‘touch and go’, almost as if the filmmakers were scared to explore any further. When you tell a story, tell it with love. There shouldn’t be room for fear.
You have two absolutely gorgeous women who are veteran actors in Madhuri Dixit and Simone Singh. It’s a crime to waste them. I feel Madhuri Dixit makes the ideal romantic heroine. Movies like ‘Dil Toh Pagal Hai’ worked because of the intense chemistry between her and Shah Rukh Khan or Akshay Kumar. In fact, someone please start a petition to have a mature romance movie featuring the three of them again. I can bet they’d set the box-office on fire again.
Anyway, my point is the writer got two gorgeous women as his romantic leads. But there’s almost 0% sexual tension between them. At least, we see some passion in Kanchan’s eyes when Manohar tries to get cosy with Pallavi in the car. But that’s about it.
As for Pallavi, she looks more scared than anything else in the movie—forget being turned on by Kanchan or any other woman. And we as viewers are expected to be magically convinced about their sexuality, deep love for each other and latent desires.
Imagine a scene like in mainstream Bollywood romantic movies. Something on the lines of “Aur Paas Aao” between SRK and Madhuri in “Dil Toh Pagal Hai” in “Maja Ma” between Madhuri and Simone. Now we’re talking. But are the writers and filmmakers listening? Such a missed opportunity to create one of the trendsetting and authentically inclusive lgbtq love stories in Bollywood. Pity.
That the focus was more on the dysfunctional parivar than the lead female characters—their internal journeys and relationship—is the movie’s biggest weak point.
For example, Tejas’s character goes through a complete arc in the movie. He realises his blind spots at the end. But the main romantic leads in the movie are insipid—a sharp contrast to their colourful outfits and dances.
Pallavi finds Kanchan has cancer, which turns out to be the turning switch inside her in the movie. It hits you then that forget the physical, but even the emotional intimacy between the love interests is lacking. What is this new genre of romance? Nirupa Roy?
Unlike between Manohar and Pallavi, who reveal their innermost feelings to each other during their domestic crisis, we really do not know what the equation is between Kanchan and Moolchand, her husband. Moolchand is oblivious of Kanchan’s sexuality, which is oblivious to us, viewers as well. Is Kanchan a lesbian like Pallavi too or is she a bisexual who’s happy in her marriage? Maja Ma leaves us scratching our heads.
Maja Ma gets the ball rolling
Overall, “Maja Ma” is a wholesome entertainer with dance, humour, and drama. While the writing could have been more nuanced, I think they’ve done well in sending the message across. It’ll provoke people to question their conditioning and beliefs. If not outwardly, they will surely introspect internally. “Maja Ma” has achieved its purpose of breaking the ice and cracking conversations on gender and sexuality in a closeted culture.