Mom (2017): How we miss Sridevi! Just when you thought Sridevi had run out of surprises she does Mom. A film so steeped in the angst of maternal revenge that you fear it will tie itself up in angry knots. But no. There is a…a… certain …what do you call it?... thehrao ,a moral narrative equanimity in the storytelling. A lot of it comes from Sridevi’s central performance as a mother craving acceptance from a disgruntled unhappy daughter. They bond after a family crisis. Out of this age-old done-to-death yarn debutant director weaves an exceedingly impressive saga of vendetta that leaves us disturbingly satisfied. The hallmark of a solid revenge tale is the ability for the audience to slip into the protagonist’s mind-space and live his or her agony. Here Sridevi doesn’t allow us a moment’s reprieve. It is hard to look away from her anguished responses to her daughter’s predicament for even a second. Yes, she is THAT effective. Nothing from her past performances prepares us for her bravura turn as a mother who will avenge the wrong done to her child, come what may.
Sridevi surrenders her personality to the mother Devaki’s role flowing along with the character’s startling deeds and misdeeds until we no longer know the difference between the two. As Sridevi evolves into a determined avenger even her body language undergoes a change. There is a shot where she stands at a cop’s table in the second-half, looking down at him with disdainful contempt, the earlier hesitation and nervousness of an ordinary aggrieved citizen gone for good. But ‘Mom’ is not only about Sridevi’s performance. Unlike many of her earlier films including the wonderful ‘English Vinglish’ where the rest of cast paled into insignificance, ‘Mom’ is bolstered by a solid supporting cast.
Sajal Ali as Sridevi’s daughter is vulnerable and strong. The girl holds her own before Sridevi although as per scriptural demand, they don’t have many scenes together. The handsome Adnan Siddiqui makes a terrific husband to Sridevi. They look like a couple in joy and grief and the family breathes an easy air of unrehearsed togetherness. Akshaye Khanna is terrific as a cop torn between duty and justice. He has one major sequence in the parking lot with Sridevi where he proves he is no spring chicken. We need to see more of Mr Khanna on screen. But it’s Nawazuddin Siddiqui as a lowbrow detective who features in some of the film’s most likeable scenes. His interactive instincts in scenes with Sridevi are on high alert. But he never tries to score over her. Rather, Nawaz plays Sridevi’s foil perfectly. He is the family man with a conscience. And he bonds with Sridevi’s character on that level without intellectualizing his involvement in her problem. Somehow the even pitch at which director Ravi Udyawar holds all the characters and their performances goes a long way in giving this film the feel of an emotional payoff.
Though the film is nearly 2 ½ hours long, nowhere does the narrative allow itself the luxury of taking a breather. The dramatic tension is relentless. Very often the scenes are cut in a way that they heighten the drama without resorting to hysteria. Some of the scenes featuring the negative characters could have been less blatant. One villain’s post-vendetta appearance makes us cringe. But then subtlety is not thrust into the narrative. It flows naturally from the responses of the characters who when faced by trying times gather themselves together to challenge the status quo.
‘Mom’ is an important film. Though its theme is nothing new the debutant director ensures a vigorous accountability to almost every scene. You may be tempted to wonder why Mom seems such a special film with almost every shot exuding freshness and a secret relevance that may or may not be revealed at any point. It’s just so reassuring to have Sridevi around. Thank God some things never change. This is one of the best film in recent times. And not only because of Sridevi.
Phullu (2017): I remember the first time a woman actually mentioned she was having her ‘chums’. She is a frankspeaking effervescent actress who always spoke her mind. But she still shocked me when she mentioned her time of the month to me. I pretended not to be shocked. ‘Phullu’ played by that underused Filmistaan actor Sharib Hashmi, now finally and fittingly famous for The First Family, has no such pretensions. Once he gets to know how women smother their painful menstruation days in unhygienic cloth and rags thereby inviting unmentionable infections, he makes it his life’s mission to introduce proper sanitary pads in his backward village. Fine. We all have a mission in life. Some want to change the world by blowing up buildings and mowing down innocent pedestrians. Some just want to make a difference by easing the pain of human beings. As Phullu says at one point, “Any man who doesn’t understand a woman’s pain is unacceptable in the eyes of God.”
‘Phullu’, the modern equivalent of a village idiot, will bring the sanitary napkin to the womenfolk of his village even if he is ridiculed heckled and thrashed. His mother (Nutan Surya) calls her son a ‘mauga’ (sissy) so many times that it could be his nickname. But no. Phullu is a not gay. Every man who is interested in menstruation is not gay. Cleverly debutant director Abhishek Saxena has portrayed Phullu as a virile heterosexual whose marriage to the comely Bigni (Jyoti Sethi) triggers off a libidinous binge in Phullu and an anti-libidinous outrage in his mother. “She rubs herself with Lux soap twice every day and he keeps smelling her all day long,” the old lady complains to the neighbourhood gossip. Phullu’s adoration of his wife reminded me of Nawazuddin Siddiqui in Mountain Man , though this is a far more sexed-up adoration. The use of an old Mukesh song Chand si mehbooba and a memorable romantic trip on a boat across a silent river ,convey the love that this man feels for his Significant Other.
Sharib Hashmi reminded me of Nawaz before he(Nawaz) grew aware of his acting skills and began to use them consciously.
The dialogues are voluptuous and swarmy the way the rural people speak when they talk about bodily functions specially sex. But some of the actors are clearly amateurs facing the camera for the first time wearing newly-purchased loud unsophisticated sarees to look their cheesy parts. Whatever reservations one may have about the film’s crude exterior and cruder contact points in the plot where Phullu addresses the menstrual issue(“Why do you use cloth under your petticoat?” he asks a scandalized woman) all our misgivings are blown away by Sharib Hashmi’s plot-defining performance.
He breathes an unvarnished earnestness into Phullu’s part making us believe that a man can actually be so committed to accessing sanitary pads to women who can’t afford them. Many sections of the film , like the episode with the well-meaning press reporter(played by Namya Saxena) convey a coarseness of conception and an inelegance of execution that make us cringe. But there is so much heart to Sharib Hashmi’s part and such a genuineness about his character’s mission to make every woman’s time of the month, comfortable.
Phullu gets you not for any discernible cinematic qualities but for just being what it is. A film about a simple innocent rustic man who wants to make women comfortable. Period.
Image source: IMDb