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 entirely else. 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. 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.
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 film 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 is 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.
Cast: Vidya Balan, Shefali Shah, Vidhatri Bandi, Manav Kaul, Rohini Hattangadi, Shrikant Yadav
Streaming on: Amazon Prime Video