The Nirbhaya episode is a brutal signpost for the horrendous state of gender based violence in Delhi. Films like Who killed Jessica Lal, Maatr, Pink and others have taken elements of that case to give their plot lines a contemporary feel and engage the audience to challenge the lack of security of women in the nation’s capital.
Mom, the latest in the series is a slicker offering than the others. As the name implies, the central theme is that of a mother seeking revenge when the legal system fails in bringing the culprits to justice.
Devaki Sabarwal, a high school Biology teacher lives in Delhi- the opening scenes show a well liked teacher at an upper class school in the capital, bringing humor and connecting to the kids at their level in class. A no-nonsense teacher, she chucks out a students phone, when he is caught sending porn to a classmate. Cut to her house, we find out with subtle imagery a fraught relationship she has with her step-daughter, a suave, loving husband and a cheeky younger daughter.
The easy upper-class professionals living and working cocooned in a crime ridden city is well captured, the older daughter, nearly 18 asks permission to go a party at a farmhouse in Delhi’s outskirts. The step mother does not want her to go, but is hesitant to lay down the law- this sequence is beautifully captured- the relationship is not strong enough to test dissent. Arya goes to the party, where she rejects the interests of a fellow classmate who has a crush on her. The insulted young man, complains to his cousin and another “gunda” type, they are shown snorting coke and a little while later as Arya goes out of the farmhouse to call for a cab, she is kidnapped, raped and left for dead in a ditch.
The mother meanwhile is frantic, goes to the police, but the next morning the Arya is found and taken to the hospital with severe injuries. Given the issue of gang-rape a senior investigative team is assigned and culprits are quickly found and a fast track court set up to try the 4 accused- who however get off due to lack of corroborative evidence. The step-mom, meanwhile feels somewhat responsible and decides to seek revenge with the help of a private detective. She then proceeds to castrate the driver, poison one of the rapists with cyanide and have the other held responsible. The last accused however is a career criminal and a harder nut to crack- he comes after her, shoots her husband and in the end the Akshay Khanna the investigating officer hands her his gun, so she can shoot him and complete the circle of revenge.
The movie is clearly a vehicle for Sridevi in the lead to showcase her immense talent- but it is taken so far that everyone else are just bit parts. The early part of the movie, where she is in class as a teacher, her easy rapport with her husband are beautifully done. The scene where she breaks down in the hospital is fantastic- this is how you would expect a mother to react- the shock at finding out her daughter has been viciously violated and feeling her daughter’s pain is done with the right amount of realism and just short of OTT. The scenes with Arya are clearly the best ones in the movie, one of my personal favorites was when Arya asks for a bed pan and then pulls the screen for privacy, Sridevi’s reaction just with the hurt in her eyes!
Sadly, however, none of us needed to be re-convinced on her talent or ability- it would have been a much better film, if the other amazing actors had been given more to chew.
Nawazuddin Siddiqui as the private eye- just totally wasted. The caricaturist portrayal was unnecessary and there is no back story of why he would implant himself in the start into the case. He can look nondescript as is, without a silly hair piece and teeth. It made no sense that they needed to meet in secret, and then openly sending messages??
Akshay Khanna as the investigator- another opportunity lost! He had little investigating to do and what he did was badly written- there was no build-up to his final sympathy for Sridevi, esp after he promises to arrest her if she is caught for seeking revenge.
Sajal Ali was the best written of the lot of supporting characters and her sequence portraying the mental anguish when she finds out that her rapists go free is just brilliant. She scarily looks like Kareena Kapoor though!
The +’s: Many thanks to Ravi Udyavar for his restraint in capturing the rape sequence- the SUV driving around in the empty streets, stopping so they can swap places with background score reminiscent of Psycho is just chilling.
The other gory issue captured well, is the obvious abuse of the young Mohit in prison at the hands of other prisoners. Without showing any overt violence, this is very chillingly shown.
There are no song sequences, thankfully and the ARR’s music is awesome- great to hear Maafi Mushkil.
The cinematography is gorgeous, capturing Delhi really well. Adnan Sidiqqui as the father has the right touch, supportive husband and loving father, both done well. The way the couple pursue justice is also well done, rather than hanging their heads and blaming fate or doing the very Delhi thing of finding out which important politician they know.
The other welcome change, is that none of the 4 rapists are political figures, just spoilt rich kids and a weakling and a career criminal.
The -‘s: And there are many!!
Sridevi sadly cannot pull off the avenging angel mom- even less convincing than she was in Army. She just looks all big eyes, with intense expressions and the most appalling accent. Surely if after 50 years and 300 movies, she still speaks Hindi with a strong accent, they can find someone to dub for her!
Other than that, the ease with which she learns to break into houses, prepare poison, disarm CCTV camera’s and plant evidence is just too far fetched. Slightly less likely is the fact that she gets from one end of Delhi to another in record time. She takes care of 3 of the rapists, not killing them but assigning them to terrible fates, but has no plan for the 4th, is unbelievable.
Even her going to the police station is slightly ridiculous, she goes there at around 3AM and the station has a private detective hanging around, she comes out and there is half a dozen cars and it is not dark??
There is no background for Nawaz’s private eye character and poorly written. Even less plausible is that he lets himself be caught by the Jagan, the criminal and dies at his hands. Akshay Khanna’s Inspector Francis is so poorly written that it is cringe worthy- he does no investigating whatsoever- and does not look intimidating at all! Even threatening Sridevi and Nawaz, he looks sorely ineffective and his final act of giving Devaki the gun to shoot- it was not set up properly. The ending felt half done.
The other key plot fail, was Arya’s sudden change of heart to Devaki- she over hears the inspector discuss how the other 3 rapists had been brought to justice and suddenly calls Devaki “Mom”!
And the final quirk, the director had the artist exhibition named after himself! Cute??
Overall, watchable but had to try and overlook so many pothole sized gaps in the script! Had to let several ridiculous things like non-Delhi licence plates on cars, wrong location names, cars going from Lodi Road to Defence Colony and then turning right into Noida- seriously?!