OTT Review: Mai, A Mother's Revenge

One of the grittiest and most nuanced series to have come out of India, it’s propped up by a stellar cast, murky twists and a lodestar in the form of lead actress Sakshi Tanwar


Sushmita Bose

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Published: Thu 26 May 2022, 7:48 PM

When you note the title, Mai: A Mother’s Revenge, you may be tempted — like I was — to do an eye roll and think, “Oh dear, not another one of the avenging mom types please!” But hold that thought, because Mai is nothing like what Indian popular culture has dished out so far. Yes, there is the conventionality of a mother’s loss but that’s about it.

Set in Lucknow, in the northern Indian state of Uttar Pradesh (where lawlessness is a moniker), Mai is the story of a young woman Supriya (Wamiqa Gabbi), who’s killed when a truck runs her over. But the breadcrumb trail leads her grieving mother Sheel to stumble on to a shocker: that there’s more to Supriya’s ‘accident’ than meets the eye.

It all seems to be connected to an old-age home and a path lab run by a mobster — with fingers in the drug trade pie — called Jawahar (Prashant Narayanan). Sheel is a volunteer at the old-age home, which also acts as a front for Jawahar’s shady activities, so it’s easy for her to delve into the matter. She realises that Supriya had gotten wind of something that probably made her a target. But it is not clear what exactly had happened, and who exactly had ordered the hit — and why. For one, there are many ‘suspects’, the prime one being Jawahar’s mistress Neelam (Raima Sen). For another, bits of information about Supriya also begin to emerge out of the woodwork — including the fact that she was having an affair with a married man Farooque (Ankur Ratan) who’s part of the state police force. Was there any way in which she was complicit in the supply chain of murkiness?

I’ve watched Sakshi Tanwar in a Hindi soap opera — a couple of decades ago — called Kahani Ghar Ghar Ki, centred around the goings on in a traditional Indian joint family with. Her outreach in Mai is similar. Sheel is the conservative, middle-class, middle-aged housewife with a trademark bindi on her forehead. But by the end of the first episode, you don’t quite get to figure out what is driving Sheel: it can’t be just a ‘mother’s revenge’, else she wouldn’t be carefully nurturing one moment and then clinically murderous the next — and that’s where the morbid beauty of the characterisation lies.

There’s also Prashant Narayanan — who plays a double role; at a long shot, you may say he’s trying to be inspired by Javier Bardem in No Country For Old Men, while also throwing up a macabre sense of humour (in his second avatar) — but the truth is he gets as close to that as anybody can, and you literally get the jitters each time he comes on screen.

Other than being a twisty thriller, there are also the grey areas of family ties: the control mechanisms, the dark secrets, the façades that are just waiting to get blown away. One engagement that shines with its insecurities is the one between Sheel and her husband Yash (a superb Vivek Mushran). My only grouse was that the impending second season could have been avoided, and the case closed as a limited series. Let us hope the momentum is kept up!

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