Reviews TV + Movies

‘Maja Ma’ Review: A Shallow Telling of a Great Premise

You can’t help but care for Pallavi. Maybe because, you can’t help but think about the possible countless others who have lived their lives in the closest, those who might have gone on to fit themselves into the heteronormative world.


Directed by Anand Tiwari, and written by Sumit Batheja, Maja Ma, which claims the title to be the first original Indian movie released on Amazon Prime, attempts to “normalize the conversation” about gender and identity. And they do so with an interesting approach.

The movie follows Pallavi Patel (played by Madhuri Dixit Nene), a middle-class, middle-aged woman who is a dutiful homemaker, a devoted wife, and a loving mother. And like in many Indian households, she is placed on a pedestal by her son. But, she is also a person in her own right, an important and respected member of her society, and a dancer and an artist. As the trailer reveals, the premise of the story rests on the fact that a rumor about Pallavi, that she is a lesbian, starts going around, as discussions around her younger son’s engagement are underway. 

It is clear from the get-go, the rumor is not a baseless one. The main trajectory of the movie is to showcase how Pallavi handles the situation, and in turn, becomes a journey to accepting and owning her identity. 

Every character in the film has an arc that seems to tie in with the main plot. Her son, Tejas (Ritwik Bhowmik) wants to get married to Esha (Barkha Singh) but has extremely ridiculous in-laws who think it’s their right to poke their noses into everyone’s business and subject them to lie detector tests. So naturally, when the rumor breaks out, the engagement suffers. Then there is her daughter, Tara (Shrishti Srivastava)  is a social worker for the LGBTQ community. Tara plays the brand of an activist that is so vocal, it is borderline abusive. And, lastly, there is Manohar (Gajraj Rao), who wants to reignite the fuel in the marriage because the Vrindavan society’s questions about his manhood hurt his ego. However, this quest takes on a more humorous tone, which probably acts as a sort of respite from all the heavy emotions of the rest of the family. 

The fact that there are so many sub-plots that it takes away from the attention of the real issue, works for me, here. It feels telling of the way in which everyone assumes this rumor to be about their ways to come to terms with it. For Tejas, it is about getting his mother to go on a lie detector test or visiting a Baba to “cure” her. For Tara, it is about getting her mother to break away from the shackles of her conditioning and accept her reality. And for Manohar, well, it is about sex. 

Pallavi’s journey to coming to terms with her identity is also her journey to finding her agency. Throughout the movie, it seems like decisions are made on her behalf. In fact, it is only Sanjana (Shruta Rawat), who heads the organization that Tara works for who offers her some agency. When Tara urges her mom to come out, Sanjana says, “The call has to be hers. She is the best person to decide what is right for her. Only she can decide what she wants to tell anyone and when”. While Sanjana posits that the choice is hers, it seems like a weighted point to make in a movie where she has not exercised any choice until that point. It takes her a while to see and assert that along with being a mom, and wife, she is also a person with her own identity. The height of this realization was when she finally tells Tejas, “You put me on a pedestal like a God and took away my right to be a human.”

You can’t help but care for Pallavi. Maybe because, you can’t help but think about the possible countless others who have lived their lives in the closest, those who might have gone on to fit themselves into the heteronormative world. You root for Pallavi also because of the moments of deafening silence when she is alone which stands in stark contrast to the moments of noise and opinions that seem to surround her. 

You empathize with Manohar, who seems to be clueless. Manohar’s reaction to the truth (not the rumor) seems to be the only one that is justifiable. Pallavi’s assertion that he should have wanted to ask her about her desires felt veering towards the zone of gaslighting because, at the end of the day, she did lie to her husband for years.

However, outside of them, most of the characters are annoying. Tejas’s obsession with marrying Esha to the point that he closes his eyes to his prospective in-laws’ constant attempts at humiliating his family is cringeworthy. In what world is asking your mother to subject themselves to a lie detector test okay? That he needs the whole runtime of the movie to come to that realization is flabbergasting. 

Esha and her entire family don’t make sense. Yes, it is a widely known fact that many NRIs tend to be more orthodox than “Indian Indians”, but with the Hansraj’s it feels excessive. I can accept their distrust of  “Indian Indians” and maybe even that they are millionaires of great importance that scandals about them would be splashed on the New York Times, as Bob likes to claim. Their regressiveness almost feels like they have been reduced to caricatures created for moral posturing. It doesn’t seem like there is an ounce of openness or goodness in that family. This type of moral absolutism is annoying; no one is all bad or all good, and I feel that the Indian audience is evolved enough to understand that. And Esha, who stands in stark contrast to Tara, never goes against the expectations of her parents. It almost makes sense that Tejas chose someone so spineless, but the final speech by Tejas, where he concludes he is not worthy enough of her because she is able to love and accept her parents for who they are almost seems like we are applauding tolerating intolerance. And, even the fact that Tejas credits her with accepting his mother seems ridiculous, when her exact words were, “I know she isn’t. I mean, it does not matter to me. But it matters to our families,” which is just a roundabout way of saying it matters to her. The movie definitely turns around the idea that the generation gap or exposure is not the missing factor when it comes to being open-minded. 

Do I judge the movie based on the premise or the actual telling of the story? The premise is a good one; a great one even, you could argue. But the actual movie, I am not so sure about. Yes, it manages to get a lot of things right, but it also missed out on a lot. Save for a brief flashback, we get no insight into Kanchan and Pallavi’s relationship. While it seems to assert a sense of purity to being a lesbian, because they only ask her if she had sex with a woman, and not if she had been in love with one, it also in a way takes away the reality of desire, which exists in lesbian relationships. The ending seems to be too neatly packaged, with no real insight into these women’s past or future. And all we went end up viewing is an apology for her past. At the end of it all, the revelation changes nothing. Wasn’t she claustrophobic living a lie all these years? Didn’t suppressing her desires affect her at all? The way the movie posits her story, Pallavi was fine until the rumor broke out, and when she owns to it, she is able to continue with her life. The audience could interpret the final scene as more, but in the face of things, Pallavi never breaks away from her marriage, upholding the traditional system, and continues to be the dutiful wife and mother.

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Armed with a B.A in English Literature from St. Xavier's college, Mumbai she set out to become a writer about a year ago. When not binge eating and watching reruns of any show she can get her hands on you will find her talking animatedly/ day dreaming/ glued to a book.
Krupa Joseph

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