Sample this: Early on in Mom’s first act, a black SUV slithers along the streets of Noida. Superficially, it might not mean much. Helped by Academy Award-winner A. R. Rahman’s (Viceroy’s House) ominous soundtrack, however, the viewers are hyper-aware of the horrors raged within. Minutes later, a battered young woman is thrown out of the car and kicked into the sewer. The whole film is made up of many such devastating movie moments—like a steaming cup of tea, steeped in disquiet.
Kudos to debutant director Ravi Udyawar for the efficient handling of the gruesome theme of sexual assault. He steers clear of the sensationalist display of the actual act in itself, but with Girish Kohli’s intelligent writing and Rahman’s score—a character in itself—still manages to deliver its horrific, heinous brutality to viewers.
Much like Raveena Tandon’s character in Ashtar Sayyed’s Maatr, Mom’s eponymous protagonist is a conscientious schoolteacher with a daughter. The highly discomforting conflict and the resultant payoff connects the two films. However, while the former is shrill, sordid, and overrun with clichés, Udyawar’s film puts in the effort to be a grim, yet engaging thriller, backed by its lead’s excellent performance. This is precisely what makes all the difference.
Unsurprisingly, this is a Sridevi (English Vinglish) show all the way. She is spectacular—both as the vengeful mother and the vulnerable stepmother aching for her stepdaughter’s (Sajal Ali, Zindagi Kitni Haseen Hay; Eng.: Life is So Beautiful) acceptance. Her dexterous balance between heart-wrenching emotion and restraint demands your undivided attention. When she breaks down at the sight of her daughter in the hospital, you feel for her. Moreover, when she sets out to hunt the bad guys, you are already rooting for her to win, relishing every moment as she takes them down, one by one.
Traditional narratives do not essentially matter; it is how the makers treat the many clichés within the film that does.
Despite the badassery, every Mom needs a helping hand—cue the supporting cast. An almost unrecognizable Nawazuddin Siddiqui (The Lunchbox) is brilliant as God-fearing sleuth Dayanand Shankar Kapoor (DSK for short), who takes on the risqué job of gathering information on Arya’s (Ali) perpetrators. They form quite the unlikely team—his deadpan wit effortlessly bounces off her quiet, controlled rage. Together, they are a treat to watch. An excellent moment in the film has DSK struggling to make sense of a painting in an art exhibit. “It is modern art,” Devki quietly responds as she leaves.
Ali’s winning portrayal as the victim who has PTSD, trying to make sense of the abuse in its aftermath, stays with you long after the movie is over. Adnan Siddiqui (A Mighty Heart) and Akshaye Khanna (Gandhi, My Father) are excellent as the doting father and the determined cop respectively. For better or for worse, however, you wish you had more of them on screen—their backstories, while not essential to the plot, would certainly be fascinating to see.
The film does make an occasional stumble, however: predictability and clunky dialogue are flaws that stick out like a sore thumb. There are also some narrative discrepancies. It does get increasingly difficult to digest Devki’s transformation from docile schoolteacher to a scheming vigilante. Sure, anger and hurt can be valid justifications, but is that enough for how sure-footed she turns out in her journey of revenge? We would have welcomed some more context.
Moreover, after a point, it is easy to predict what will unfold. It is important to understand though, that traditional narratives do not fundamentally matter; it is how the makers treat the many clichés within the film that does. The film might be a run-of-the-mill thriller, but it is what lies beneath that does not make it all that safe. Combined with the winning performances of its cast, this is a ‘cup’ rather rich in flavor, thanks to its director’s many deft decisions.