Review: Maja Ma
Issue #80: A Womaning Movie Review
When it comes to my love-hate relationship with Bollywood, if there is one thing that I am proud of, it is that I am a Madhuri Dixit fan.
I mean, who isn’t?
My love for the lady who taught us 90s kids how to count ek-do-teen was rewarded this week, and how!
I was traveling last Thursday and decided to download some movies to watch on the flight.
(High hopes because I was traveling with a toddler and everyone knows that the entire flight is only as happy as the toddler onboard it.)
But I knew that one of the movies I had downloaded had Queen M on it.
So I decided that the childfree passengers on board could use a taste of what the lockdown has been for those of us with little humans.
Of course, I ultimately caved after a minute or twenty of the above. But the few minutes of the movie I squeezed in left me hooked.
The movie I was watching?
Maja Ma is a story that revolves around a Gujarati family of four.
The father, Patelbhai, is the society Chairperson - a quintessential Gujjubhai, who wins elections on the back of the popularity of his charismatic wife.
The son, Tejas, is studying in the US, and has fallen for a young NRI woman, Esha.
Esha’s parents, ‘Pam’ and ‘Bob’ are politically active in the US. Bob is close to Donald Trump and about to launch his Mayoral campaign. Their concern about the man their daughter wants to marry goes from zero to ‘lie detector’ within 5 minutes of the movie.
The daughter, Tara, is in a long-distance marriage and living with her parents as she pursues a PhD in Gender Studies after quitting her CA pursuit midway.
The hero of this story is the mother - Pallavi - your typical “perfect” wife, mother, homemaker, painter, dancer, cooker of coconut-based desserts.
The story revolves around Tejas’s attempts to impress his future in-laws and convince them that his family is worthy of their daughter. He is worried that his father’s poor English speaking skills or his sister’s social activism will thwart his mission.
The plot quickly pivots to the the point where the family member Tejas is least worried about - his mother - finds herself at the center of a controversy.
A video of Pallavi has leaked and it threatens to katao the naak of (embarrass) the family, not just in front of Pam and Bob, but the entire Gujju society they are so deeply entrenched in.
It is hard to tell more beyond this without spoiling the movie beyond the trailer, so fair warning…
The video shows Pallavi in a heated conversation with Tara in which she (Pallavi) says that she prefers women over men.
Predictably, all sanskaari hell breaks lose.
The society women start excluding Pallavi from rituals that were unimaginable without her so far.
The men start questioning Patelbhai’s mardaangi (masculinity).
Tara wants her mother to come out of the closet and proclaim her identity to the whole world.
Tejas is in denial that his ‘pure’ mother could be capable of something like this.
Pam and Bob do not want any association with a family so scandalous.
YouTube being YouTube makes a criminally catchy autotune of the video.
Was what Pallavi said in the video true?
Or just a flippant remark made in the heat of the argument?
If it was false, will Pallavi be able to prove it to her friends and families, including her lie-detecting in-laws?
If it was true, will they all, in turn, be able to accept her?
Answering these questions is what Maja Ma is all about.
My favourite scene in the movie features three women - Pallavi, and the mothers of her children’s current and future spouses, Kanchan and Pam.
Kanchan, Pam, and Pallavi find themselves together in a trolley/ropeway.
Pam starts talking about how ridiculous the idea of lesbianism sounds to her. She giggles nervously even as she talks about how she cannot imagine two women being together, and calls it unnatural.
Kanchan calls out all of Pam’s hypocrisy in just the best way I have ever seen on-screen, with one question to meet them all, and in the silence bind them:
“Are you happy in your marriage?”
Criticisms and high points
Since watching the movie, I have read several criticisms of it online - ranging from the cringeworthy accents of the actors to the fact that this story was written and told by (as far as we know) cis-het men. (If you are unfamiliar with this terminology, I will link to a piece explaining it at the end.)
It is not my responsibility - as just a viewer who liked the movie - to defend every criticism of it and its makers. Obviously, a movie about queer relationships and queer people made and enacted primarily by cis-het people would lack some vital perspective that most of us cannot even imagine.
So we don’t know what we are missing there.
I will say, however, that the accent were damn funny.
More to the point, I loved that this movie attempts to tackle the question of ‘unnatural’ relationships by posing a few questions to what we consider ‘natural’ relationships:
Are most women happy in heterosexual marriages?
How much of invisible labour is too much invisible labour?
And what toll does it take on the invisible labourer?
Is the consent of the woman a part of most marital sex?
How well do husbands know their wives? Do they know them at all?
Does the pedestal of being Mother India leave any space for a woman to be herself?
Is even a shred of herself left in a woman after years and decades in these ‘natural’ relationships?
The performances are all on point.
Simone Singh, Sheeba Chaddha, and Gajraj Rao are absolute stars.
Anand Tiwari is a masterful storyteller and I cannot wait to lap up every bit of content he has ever created.
And I cannot sully the Queen’s performance with a review from my humble keyboard.
You can watch Maja Ma on Amazon Prime. Here is the trailer:
If you are unfamiliar - or not as familiar as you would like to be - with terms like cis, het, queer, etc., here is an interview I did with a friend who happens to be lesbian and trans which should serve as a great primer: