‘Maja Ma’ movie review: Madhuri Dixit-starrer feels sanitized and superficial

The premise is progressive but the treatment of the Madhuri Dixit-starrer is as stilted as the Gujarati and American accents of its characters

Maja Ma Movie Review – These days, young filmmakers are keen on making this world an equal place, but the way they go about it often makes their screenplays sound like a manual on how to make stories more inclusive or how to pass the Bechdel Test. Usually made for the OTT subscriber, they look suitable to spark off a timely debate or discussion, but end up like a pretentious voice, articulating the borrowed outrage of a well-endowed viewer.

Director Anand Tiwari’s latest seems conscious of what has been done in the LGBTQIA+ space in the past; It pushes the envelope but keeps it well within the family-dramedy space, perhaps governed by the image of the lead actor. Usually, the discussion on coming out of the closet centers on the present generation, but what if a middle-aged mother is feeling stifled by the sexual orientation thrust upon her by society or centuries of patriarchy?

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Maja Ma

Director: Anand Tiwari

Cast: Madhuri, Dixit, Gajraj Rao, Rajit Kapur, Sheeba Chaddha, Ritwik Bhowmick, Barkha Singh

Storyline: When a rumor about Pallavi Patel, a devoted housewife, known in society for her dance and cooking skills, comes true, it threatens to spoil the marriage of her son with the daughter of millionaire Indian-American parents.

Duration: 134 minutes

During an animated discussion with her woke, heterosexual daughter, the closely guarded secret of Pallavi Patel (Madhuri Dixit) tumbles out, threatening to spoil the prospects of the marriage of her son Tejas (Ritwik Bhowmik) with the daughter (Barkha Singh) of a millionaire American-Indian parents, who have a rather exotic idea of Indian culture and tradition.

Tiwari, who had beautifully navigated the cultural differences in music in  Bandish Bandits, keeps it caricaturish this time as Bob and Pam Hansraj (Rajit Kapur and Sheeba Chaddha) use a polygraph test to find a match for their daughter. While it sounds funny initially, it soon becomes an offensive tool to keep the narrative moving.

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Writer Sumit Batheja, who recently showcased a father feeling suffocated in a relationship, something we usually associate with a son in Hindi cinema, in  Jugg Jugg Jeeyo, has taken a step further in Maja Ma. However, he expects only a little more sensitivity from the audience than the journalist in the film who confuses LGBT with LPG. He skims the surface of the issue at hand and, at times, physically punishes the male characters for making irresponsible, or in his words, “pedestrian” remarks. Thankfully, he has actors who don’t let it reduce to a pontifical exercise delivered in all caps in stilted American and Gujarati accents. Rajit and Sheeba imbue some flesh and blood into the cardboard-like characters. Ritwik is once again relatable and Barkha knows the drill meant for a girl caught between a boyfriend and parents. Shrishti Shrivastava excels as the daughter who could read her mother’s mind.

The vehicle is designed for Madhuri who chooses to take the mainstream route for a subject that demands an offroader. It goes without saying that Madhuri is a wonderful actor but there is no point in casting her if the plot has to be sanitized because of her presence. Pallavi doesn’t seem to be claustrophobic in the closet and the film doesn’t really address it. Does the writer really know her or is he selling what he can sell with Madhuri in the lead today? It is Gajraj Rao who gets the tonality of the dramedy right; As Manohar, the husband grappling with social pressures, he is spot on.

As the title in Gujarati suggests, the issue doesn’t come in the way of Maja (fun) but the two have been blended like oil and water — superficial!

Maja Ma is currently streaming on Amazon Prime.

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