Maja Ma (Gujarati for “I’m doing great”) stars Madhuri Dixit as the queen of the kitchen and the dandiya dance move. Pallavi Patel is also the keeper of a secret whose revelation threatens to ruin both her domestic equilibrium and this review.
We can’t tell you how Pallavi, a dutiful wife and doting mother, becomes responsible for the possible break-up of her son’s engagement. All we will say is that Maja Ma reveals its hand very early on and then expects us to hang around until the end without confronting the ramifications of Pallavi’s disclosure.
The Amazon Prime Video release has been written by Sumit Batheja and directed by Anand Tiwari. The heavily laboured film updates the classic Hindi melodrama in which heroines were hauled over the coals for past transgressions (usually a former lover or a child born out of wedlock). This film’s equivalent of Pallavi’s trial by fire is a lie detector test insisted upon by her son Tejas (Ritwik Bhowmik).
Tejas has taken this test himself to prove to his prospective in-laws Bob (Rajit Kapur) and Pam (Sheeba Chaddha) that his interest in their daughter Esha (Barkha Singh) is entirely romantic. Bob and Pam are Americans of Indian extraction with loads of money, ghastly accents and a hidebound belief in traditional Indian values.
Any scandal that affects us will be reported in the New York Times, declares the politically ambitious and always fatuous Bob. Tejas is too much of a wannabe to tell Bob that the NYT has more important stories to chase.
Pallavi and her husband Manohar (Gajraj Rao) bend over backwards to accommodate their obnoxious guests. Tejas’s sister Tara (Srishti Shrivastava), a firebrand activist for queer rights, plays along for her brother’s sake.
Once the cat is out of the bag, Maja Ma is expected to follow through on Pallavi’s predicament. What is the emotional price paid by this deeply repressed woman, who has sacrificed her personal happiness and uncomplainingly raised a family for years? It’s hard to tell from either Madhuri Dixit’s enigmatic expressions or the writing and direction, which are all over the place except where they need to be: by Pallavi’s side at all times.
An important sub-plot revolving around Pallavi’s childhood friend Kanchan (Simone Singh) serves as a prop to create suspense over Pallavi’s fate. Bob and Pam are far too stereotyped as snobby NRIs to be taken seriously. The only interesting detail about Tejas and Esha is that they have been remarkably chaste during their courtship.
It’s a vegetarian-and-ham affair, loud when it shouldn’t be and bromide when it was required to be bold. The prescriptive message of tolerance of all shades in the rainbow has been more rigorously tackled by similarly-themed films in the past. The subversions in Maja Ma are too tepid to do full justice to Pallavi’s heroic self-abnegation.
Srishti Shrivastava survives the carnage, with her portrayal of Tara giving some sense of what is at stake for Pallavi. Sheeba Chaddha has a couple of excellent scenes in which she lays bare both her prejudice and her disgust at Bob’s hypocrisy.