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THE ICON REVIEW: MOMMY MATTERS

In films both good and bad there’s always a scene that sticks with you, one that quantifies its essence and a moment you remember the film by in later conversations. In Mom, that quintessential scene happens late at night when a young, slightly drunk girl is kidnapped and raped in the backseat of a black SUV.

The camera cuts out of the car to an aerial shot of the SUV, tracking the vehicle as it slinks like a predator on a Noida freeway. The music, vexing and repetitive, graduates to a low shrill as the car halts to a stop and the driver switches places with someone from the backseat. The car moves again.

Unable to blink, we watch as unwilling witnesses. The moment of dread amplifies. There are no screams of struggle. A few cuts later, the girl’s corpse-like body is thrown neck-deep in a gutter; her face swollen and dead of emotion.

Debutant director Ravi Udyawar’s film sizzles with stellar performances and a wrenching storyline

Immediately the audience knows two things. One: these people are monsters; the second, an immediate after-thought: she needs retribution.

Arya (Sajal Ali) loses more than her chastity in that scene, and the intelligently-crafted ambience, silent in its entirety, screams at the top of its lungs.

Mom, a revenge thriller that has nothing to do with feminism, builds from that point.

As Devki, the Mom in Mom, Sridevi is the realistic equivalent of Taken’s Liam Neeson. She plays a pissed-off biology teacher with a killer instinct. With the help of a detective (Nawazuddin Siddiqui) Devki tracks down the villains and makes them pay — but only after the court of law is forced to look away. However, Mom doesn’t become a female avenger flick in a single moment.

The unflinching conflict of this mother-daughter dynamic is an indispensable element in the film’s preintermission half. The post-intermission killer hunt, written to be as lifelike as possible by screenwriter Girish Kohli, runs on the first half’s thrust — and Nawazuddin’s stellar performance.

There’s gradual progression.

Devki is a kind soul. A good wife to husband Anand (Adnan Siddiqui) and a loving stepmom to Arya. Actually, Devki tries too hard to win Arya’s affections. The petulant teenager, though, cannot accept Devki as her mother. At times one can’t sympathise with the girl’s snappy attitude, or her cause to rebel.

On the other hand, when Devki hears of Arya’s rape she breaks down like a real mother, grabbing her stomach by instinct, wailing as if someone tore out her ovaries.

There is a reason why the film is not called Step-Mom — and why Sridevi is Sridevi.

The unflinching conflict of this mother-daughter dynamic is an indispensable element in the film’s pre-intermission half.

The post-intermission killer hunt, written to be as lifelike as possible by screenwriter Girish Kohli, runs on the first half’s thrust — and Nawazuddin’s stellar performance.

On the acting front, Sajal performs excellently in some scenes, fi ne-tuning her television experience. Adnan Siddiqui, very effective as the distressed father, has ample screen time to show his cinematic chops. He was underutilised in both Yalghaar and A Mighty Heart, his Hollywood debut from 2007.

It’s a misfortune, however, to see Pakistani actors only shimmer in foreign productions. But that’s life (and foreign directors’ clarity of vision), I suppose. One cannot blame others for our own incompetence.

The film also stars Akshay Khanna as a law-abiding cop.

The actor brings his A-game because Mom is not a comedy (ref: No Problem, Shortkut and 36 China Town — all substandard comedies).

A.R. Rahman’s soundtrack — a lot of it found only on the album — is superb, as is the moody, perfectly framed cinematography by Anay Goswamy.

Debuting fi lm director Ravi Udyawar — formerly an ad-man who directed Silk Route’s music video Dooba Dooba — unleashes the pent-up filmmaker in him at every instance. Every fibre of Mom attests to his enthusiasm.

The scene detailed above, and most of Mom, is Udyawar’s calling card. A minimal, slickly designed, hard-coloured one at that. There are no gray areas in his narrative. Just black and white, good and evil — and the necessity of good to become evil in dire circumstances.

Published in Dawn, ICON, July 16th, 2017