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Sakshi Tanwar’s Gutwrenching Performance Cannot Save Mai
Starring Sakshi Tanwar, Vivek Mushran, Seema Bhargava
Directed by Atul Monga, Anshai Lal
The grieving mom out to avenge her daughter’s murder is not a new subject. We’ve seen Sridevi do the vengeful mom’s act in what turned out to be her final film. In Mai Sakshi Tanwar is a portrait of anguish and rage as her mute daughter is killed in a staged road accident From here Sakshi’s Sheel goes into a loop of vengeance and vendetta that seems real only when she is vulnerable.
There is a chilling sequence in Episode 3 where Sheel is accosted by two very dangerous goons as he emerges half-dressed from a bath.. One of them pushes Sheel to the wall and threatens to rape her.
“I will give you a better time than your husband,” he warns her as he pushes his hand in her blouse and his pelvis in her petticoat.
It is a shocking moment, perhaps never seen in Indian cinema, where a decent respected housewife is slut-shamed for snooping around to find her daughter’s killers.
Think about it. A grieving mother hence a woman of inviolable sentiments,violated with such crude brutality.
The actor performing this heinous act of violence is Vaibhav Raj Gupta, so endearing as the elder son of a normal middleclass family in Gullak ,here transformed into a puppet perpetrator of violence. His character Shankar too must have been from a normal family . I imagine the son in Gullak losing his job and transforming into this menacing villain in Mai.
Ghosh Mai imagination!
Vaibhav Raj Gupta’s brilliant take on masculine toxicity gradually crumbles and we realize he is as broken as Sheel.
“You will do anything for your family. I will go to any lengths for my daughter,” Sheel tells Shankar in another memorable moment of raw reckoning.
There isn’t enough of those memorable moments in the lengthy six episodes to keep us invested throughout. Sure, the grieving mother’s vigilante act is emotionally charged and potentially explosive. We get that. But the way Sheel goes from broken mother to determined vigilante just doesn’t make any sense.
The writing, though strong at some points,collapses under the weight of too many subplots,some interesting, others are just impediments to the smooth journey of a narrative that attempts to record an ordinary working-woman’s trek from grief to rage.
Sakshi Tanwar brings an impressive volume of emotional urgency to her role.But many other good actors are only wasted in parts that don’t get breathingspace in a plot that creates a stampede of clamouring characters.In the beehive of activity, there is also a family tension brewing in the backyard as Sheel and her husband Yash(Vivek Mushran who deserved more space) and his elder brother and Bhabhi fight over Sheel’s children’s upbringing.
There is an arresting moment between the two sisters-in-law with one of them spitefully telling Sheel that her daughter was lucky to have died ; or else she might have become like her mother.
I am not sure if that remark about Sheel is unfair.She is so determined to get justice for her slain daughter that she cannot see all the feelings that she is steamrolling. She hobnobs with very dangerous criminals ,even outwits them repeatedly, and that includes the villain’s mistress/wife Neelam(Raima Sen) a woman who doesn’t think twice before annihilating those who betray her trust. Prashant Nayaran turn up twice, first as the crime kingpin who gets bumped off in the first episode and then as a snide nasty serial killer who goes on a rampage in the final episodes.When he is asked to leave after the bloodbath by his hirers he gets the most ominous dialogue of the series. “I am the kind of piles that never goes away,”
I do hope the same is not true of the series. I have really had enough of Mai.And no matter what she wants to do or say next I am not interested.