On the surface Ravi Udyawar’s Mom is fine, it taps into the current outrage over violence against women and then gives the easy solution of movie-style revenge and catharsis. Maatr did it a few months ago, and dozens of films in the past played out on the same template. But underneath its pro-women stance is the insidious patriarchy that says women ask for rape; and once raped, a woman cannot be whole again.
To illustrate, when the worried Devaki (Sridevi) goes to the police station to report her daughter Arya (Sajal Ali) missing, the cops coolly say that today’s girls go off with boyfriends on Valentine’s Day, so there’s no need to worry. To which Devki says, “My daughter is not like that.” Meaning girls who have boyfriends deserve to be kidnapped and raped?
Later, in hospital, the doctor tells Devaki about the girl’s horrific injuries, but she starts howling in agony only when told of the rape. Later, when confronting one of the men, she screams. “How dare you touch my daughter.” Not injure, not strangle, not attempt to murder, but ‘touch’. And the worst, the incident takes place when the girl’s father Anand (Adnan Siddiqui) is away, which seems to suggest that once out of the ring of male protection, women are vulnerable.
The film moves on quite predictable lines, with the mother avenging the rape of her daughter, the only added layer being that Devaki is the girl’s stepmother; Arya refuses to acknowledge her desperate attempts at maternal love, and calls her “Ma’am,” like she does in class where Devaki teaches. The four men, who commit the gruesome act (the moving car is shot from a top angle leaving the audience to imagine the horror), leave Arya to die in a ditch (a totally gratuitous shot has one kicking her in) but she survives and also testifies against the men. For very flimsy sounding reasons, they get away. Arya inexplicably blames Devaki for what happened, and screams when she tries to console her. Unlike the nasty husband in Maatr, at least Anand is sympathetic and supportive.
The investigating cop (Akshaye Khanna) looks all huffy, though the cops clearly fudged the investigation. Devaki’s biggest supporter turns out to be a mildly creepy detective called DK (Nawazuddin Siddiqui, brilliant even in weird get-up), who offers to help because he is also the father of a daughter, so can understand her pain.
The trail of revenge is mostly preposterous — one of the men is castrated with the help of transgenders — add sensation to social message, shake and stir. The film has been designed for Sridevi to Act with a capital A, and she does, often lending hackneyed scenes a sense of dignity. But that’s her star power in action, the same film with an unknown actress and a smaller budget would have been an exploitative B-flick.