Mai review: Sakshi Tanwar shines on Netflix series
Mai cast: Sakshi Tanwar, Vivek Mushran, Wamiqa Gabbi, Raima Sen, Prashant Narayan, Ankur Ratan, Anant Vidhaat, Vaibhav Raj Gupta, Seema PahwaMai directors: Anshai Lal, Atul Mongia
“Mai” pulls off a difficult feat. It coaxes you into suspending tons of belief because you are drawn into its world and become invested in its characters. How is this possible? Every time you go (and this happens repeatedly), you are pulled back into the narrative. It loves every gritty, grimy and ultra-violent beat.
It is set in Lucknow, far from its ‘zakat-filled gallis,’ and is inhabited by people from very different spheres. Until a fatal collision, they come together and change their lives. This is an old conceit, but ‘Mai’ has reworked it by adding an unusual ensemble led by a soft-spoken, homely mother determined to avenge her daughter’s death.
It is not uncommon for mothers to be vengeful. Sridevi, Raveena Tandon, and Raveena Tandon both followed this path in ‘Mom’ and ‘Mantra’. Sakshi Tanwar’s “Mai” is very similar due to the subject. However, Sakshi Tanwar takes a different route. She gets involved in murky affairs involving dirty money, medical scams, and very dirty mobsters.
It is interesting to see Tanwar’s Sheel not straying far from her’susheel-bahu-biwi’ persona. She continues digging deeper into the dirt to find the truth behind her daughter’s accident. These are the hardest parts to accept. A grieving mother may be angry at the tragedy, but it is the ease with which her children face an insurmountable obstacle that is the most difficult part.
How does a woman, who splits her time between her family, and her inmates at an old age home, suddenly be able to take on complicit cops (Prashant Narayan), Raima Sen, and other brutal baddies without even turning ahead? This and many more (have a fence, will leap over it, sari, all; have killer, turntables as if it’s an everyday occurrence), is eye-roll territory. Nothing in season one that I’ve seen gives any clues in that direction. This is where the ease comes from.
However, I was struck by the dexterity of Atul Mongia and his writers (Mongia Tamal Sen, Amita Vyas), which made me admire Sheel’s husband. Vivek Mushran is a strong man who seems resigned to his fate. He runs a chemist shop and does bijli repair odd jobs as a hobby. Is this the man? Why is he acting the way he does? It is not hard to see how his attitude influences the way Sheel responds, but it is still a mystery.
They are still able to convince us that the two of them are one unit. They have raised a child (Wamiqa Gabrieli, who uses sign language, which is very effective), and have found their way through their own difficulties. It is the most fascinating part of the series, with the witty interactions between them and their extended families (Bhai Sahab, bhabhi, and the children).
Other parts include ‘chor-police” action (one long sequence in which machine guns rattle and bodies are thrown, life ebbing away is noted), non-stop gaalis, twists, and turns. The invective and the constant stream of it reminds me of ‘Mirzapur,’ as well as other crime sagas set within UP. It’s getting old and tiresome. But again, a few of the faces stand out: as a couple of louts-on-to-a-good-thing, Anant Vidhaat and Vaibhav Raj Gupta (last seen in ‘Gullak’) have something nice going on. Ankur Ratan is a good cop, always on the trail of the bad guys. However, Seema Pahwa should have had more: An actor who commands the screen so naturally has a difficult part.