(Warning: Possible spoilers)
If you had to pick between wrong and very wrong, what would you pick? That’s the question that Ravi Udyavar’s Mom poses, and very poignantly at that. What seems to be a rather chalked out, predictable ride, turns out to be a thriller-and-a-half, with enough nuance to keep you engaged and invested. Packed with intense and pitch-perfect performances, Mom is easily the frontrunner of this Hindi film fare we’ve seen so far in 2017.
The film revolves around the lives of Devki (Sridevi), her husband Anand (Adnan Siddiqui), and their daughters, the older one Arya (Sajal Ali) facing constant friction with her mother. But when Arya becomes the victim of a sexual assault after a party, and the legal system fails to incriminate the four accused (Pitobash, Adarsh Gourav, Abhimanyu Singh, and Vikas Verma), Devki decides to take matters into her own hands.
While on her journey, both as a mother and as someone seeking justice, Devki deals with the people within the system and outside it. While the well-intentioned crime branch officer Francis Matthews (Akshaye Khanna) doesn’t want to see Devki get on the wrong side of the law, private detective Dayashankar Kapoor or DK for short (Nawazuddin Siddiqui) understands what the mother is feeling, and decides to help her in whatever way, so she can find her justice.
Does Devki succeed, both in getting justice for Arya and in resolving her differences with her daughter? The film is dedicated to finding that out.
Mom, as a film, is beautifully scripted, not just in terms of the airtight and simple story by Girish Kohli, Ravi Udyavar and Kona Venkat Rao, but also in the gripping screenplay by Girish Kohli. The first half establishes the crime, the despair, and the character dynamics, while the second half focuses solely on the ideas of justice.
What’s most admirable in Mom, which is missing in most films with a story of crime and sexual assault at its base, is the treatment. Right from the police department’s mixture of nonchalance and concern, to the crime branch’s level of gravity. Even the courtroom proceedings are not over-the-top or purposefully dramatised to kill time. Even the home dynamic is well-displayed, allowing you to feel for Arya and Devki’s situation. That the objective of the film is clear right from the start helps the film take shape in a 147-minute runtime. And you’re never bored through it all.
Performances, aside from a deft treatment, are the backbone of Mom.
Sridevi doesn’t get a note wrong as Devki, with equal parts empathy and practicality, and all parts rage, and shines in the role of a mother looking for acceptance from and justice for her daughter. It’s in her silences that her character really lives, and she’s an absolute delight to watch.
Nawazuddin Siddiqui, credited as a special appearance, could do anything and it would be golden. Sporting a whole new look for the film isn’t just his biggest win – he makes you like DK and makes you understand his involvement well enough, and you root for him. He also brings the punches of humour to the film, only where necessary, and makes the film whole.
Mom is also a big reason for us to wonder why Akshaye Khanna doesn’t do more films. He walks the tightrope of good cop and bad guy perfectly, and doesn’t overreach beyond his place in the narrative, so much so that most of what he says in the first half is, “I’m sorry.”
Due props go to Adnan Siddiqui and Sajal Ali for their parts. They make the father-daughter dynamic believable, and Sajal Ali doesn’t oversell the part of a sexual assault victim – she displays the right amount of vulnerability and stubbornness of a high school teenager.
Credit also goes to the four actors playing the perpetrators of crime. Adarsh Gourav looks menacing enough, although he does toe the line of fear once in a while, making his stance as a schoolboy believable. Pitobash and Abhimanyu Singh are seasoned actors who play their parts to the T. Vikas Verma gets the rich Delhi boy vibe right, and adds value to the scenes he’s in.
Overall, Mom is a thrilling watch, one that doesn’t idealise nor demean the struggles of a family coping with their daughter’s sexual assault and the loopholes of the legal system. A well-balanced tale, in the hands of a sensitive and intelligent director, makes for one of the best films of the year.