The Bollywood Ma used to possess superhuman talents like making the world's softest rotis and knowing just when her son arrived simply by sniffing the air. Now, the Bollywood Ma is the avenging angel who goes after rapists and kills them one by one because that's another thing mammas gotta do if they love their family.
Sridevi is the Mom with the capital M in this revenge thriller that follows a predictable although still discomfiting route. Directed by Ravi Udyawar, Mom has some intense sequences that stand out, notably the actual staging of the crime around which the plot revolves.
We've heard of it way too many times by now - a young woman gangraped in a moving vehicle and thrown out of it like a piece of used tissue paper. We already know what's going on in the vehicle and the camera understands that we don't need to see it. The horror lies in what we can imagine, put together with scraps we've seen and read in the media day after day.
Sridevi is a powerhouse and she's all magnificence as her lips quiver, her eyes reflect fear, and her stride grows into one of anger as she picks herself up from the shattered remnants of her family. But this transformation is all too easy - Jazbaa, Maatr, Kaahani 2...all of them offer vigilante justice as the only solution to combat rape and while it may satisfy some of our bloodthirstiness, it unfortunately lands the film in the realm of fantasy even as the characters struggle hard to stay real.
Mom is not without its moments. In one scene, Devki (Sridevi) meets with detective DK (Nawazuddin Siddiqui, who is stuck with a bad hairpiece and insufficient screen time) at an art gallery. The latter is there to give her some information she needs and the two talk about it while looking at a painting - that of Draupadi's red hair after she has drenched it with the blood of Dushasan.
The lower middle class DK cannot fathom the significance of this painting that just looks like a splotch of red and in fact, has no Draupadi in the frame. But Devki just says that this is 'modern art' - it could be her, invisible in the frame but celebrating the red stream of revenge that she has unleashed. The modern day Draupadi, perhaps.
The colour red has a constant presence in the film. When Arya (Sajal Ali), goes to the fateful party, she is dressed in red. It's also the colour of the newly dyed sheets of cloth drying in the wind as Devki approaches the two trans women, her ex students, to help her. The red apples that she cuts as that she cuts as the Biology teacher helps her formulates an idea. Devkiâ€™s car is also red in colour. The red curtains that Arya tremulously dares to open bit by bit to let in light...
But that's also the film's problem. It sees red and little else. It forgets that Dushasan wasn't the one who wronged Draupadi first, it was a world that allowed her to be shared among five men and made her their plaything which allowed Dusashan to do what he eventually did. Mom is reductive in its understanding of gender based violence and simply segregates people as rapists and good men ('A real man doesn't rape, DK declares at one point).
Akshaye Khanna smirks and scowls as a crime branch cop but is rather ineffective and unnecessary to the story. Sridevi is leagues ahead of him in holding up the scenes and he doesn't do much other than serve as a distraction.
AR Rahman's background score is just right for building tension and the songs are pleasant enough - a peppy number for the party, a gentle melody for a family reunion.
Mom is yet another film which will convince you that women going out to have fun can only end badly. It's true it doesn't say that women shouldn't go out because of this - thank god for that - and it ostensibly gives its central female character the agency to strike back. But it simply doesn't have the depth or intelligence to go beyond taking the rolling pin out of Ma's hands and replacing it with a gun.