Vintage Sridevi

In MOM, Sridevi has done what Big B once excelled at as ‘Angry Young Man’


It plays out along largely foreseeable, if disquieting, lines, but MOM doesn’t strictly fall into the category of a conventional rape-and-revenge drama. It breaks free from the genre constraints on the back of a clearly defined moral and emotional context. It presents vengeance as a choice between two wrongs separated only by their respective degree of severity: galat aur bahut galat, as the titular character puts it.

But do two wrongs ever make a right? If all this sounds like a bit of sophistry to justify the act of cocking a snook at the law, it is evident all through MOM that the two vendetta masterminds — schoolteacher Devki Sabharwal (Sridevi) and private detective Daya Shankar Kapoor (Nawazuddin Siddiqui) — are acutely aware of their ethical compass. The ambivalence at the core of the film places MOM a cut above the average Bollywood retribution drama.

An ominous background score and a long aerial shot of a black SUV gliding on a deserted, dark street at night — these are the only two audio-visual elements used to convey the chilling horror of a brutal gang rape in MOM.

This is the audio-visual medium (AR Rahman and Anay Goswami) at its best, under the skilled hands of debut director, Ravi Udyawar. No victim cries, no details, just a persistent, unforgettable background score that make the heart leap in fear. There is nothing more powerful than a viewer’s imagination.

The director clearly knows this but immediately forgets it, the moment the camera rests on the lovely, luminous eyed Sridevi.

As soon as Sridevi takes centre stage, all hell breaks loose (in a good way) — for the histrionics at display and for the audience who is hooked and hypnotized by that trembling accented voice and the easy switching of emotions from the vulnerable mother to the determined, steely person who takes revenge.

MOM is unabashedly a Sridevi show, 148 minutes long.

There is much to be applauded in the film. Here is a 53-year-old leading actress doing what Amitabh Bachchan once excelled at — playing the angry, tormented hero who is out to get the baddies.

“Aa gayi uski maa,” she whispers and growls to one of the antagonists in a chilling scene of revenge. Ah, the delicious satisfaction of sweet ‘apple seed’ revenge! (there is an entire sequence with apple seeds). It’s fascinating how the apple has been used in story telling through the ages, be it with Adam and Eve, or in Snow White, or in this case with MOM.

A woman can do much more, with a kitchen knife and a mixer blade, than a cop with his uniform and gun — this is the takeaway from MOM.

This really hits home when you realise Sridevi’s graph. She has transformed herself from the famous Yash Raj, white-costumed Chandni, who charmed with her sing-song baby voice, to the blue saree-clad sensual dancer in “Kaate nahin katte din ye raat” in Mr India, to a 360 degree turnaround as a middle aged, non-glamorous mother matching Nawazuddin’s humour and Akshay Kumar’s sarcasm. And what a transformation it has been.

Suddenly, Bollywood shines bright with hope for the heroine over 50.

With her brilliant talent gleaming through her face (she is even more beautiful with slight age lines),  Sridevi is a far more a riveting watch than a shirtless Salman Khan with his 6 plus packs or the quintessential middle aged Hindi film hero, who refuses to grow up.

But does this justify a talented star, 300 films old now, being treated bigger than the subject? When will a filmmaker respect the story more than the actor? Both Udyawar and Rahul Dholakia (Raees), seem to be better than most other overrated directors from the current lot. However, they seem to prefer catering to the age-old stardom and paisa vasool dialogue baazi in their films.

It certainly worked, going by the number of times the more cliché-savvy members of the media clapped at the press show of Mom.

However, some questions were left unanswered in the film. Who are these rapists? Surely, they are more than rich, spoilt brats and goons with shaved heads and a Shakti Kapoor grin? Simply giving Nawazuddin big teeth and a semi bald look is not enough to add layers to his character as a detective. Why does Akshay Khanna as a cop still arrive too late on a crime scene? More importantly, why don’t we see more of him in the film, considering he is as compelling as Sridevi in every frame, with or without her?

MOM is a well-stylised movie that can easily grip a viewer for two hours. When told with the larger purpose of finding emotional depth in the victim’s life, a film can go beyond its stipulated time. Rang De Basanti is probably the only film that addressed a national issue with as much drama and yet left behind some thought provoking debates for long.

MOM could have been the same, but it doesn’t end up, eventually.

A woman’s safety is an issue far more urgent and compelling than the box office and stardom. It gets more dangerous when a film allows the magnetism of an actor to overshadow the deeper horrors of rape.

The 80s revenge drama trope has its thrills but in 2017, we need to go beyond and dig deeper into the loopholes of justice. And the solution does not lie in apple seeds and Sridevi’s anguished eyes alone. Not in the name of rape.