Sunaina Bhatnagar’s Dear Maya begins as a dark tragic tale, and like a butterfly, metamorphoses into a warm-toned romantic comedy. It’s thoroughly predictable. The three women in the film lose make-up when they lose the boy, and when they are seen again with make-up and good clothes, it’s safe to assume that they have found love of a man again. All three of them fail the Bechdel test, but at the end of it all, none of these frivolousities really matter because there is Manisha Koirala bursting into that old lovely hearty smile that once made her the reining queen of Bollywood. She is radiant, filling the screen with a likeable honesty that is so rare to see these days.
Dear Maya has a familiar story. Paavam Paavam Raajakumaran, a Malayalam comedy-drama from 1990, narrated the story of a stingy, middle-aged, simpleton who falls in love when he starts receiving love letters from an unknown woman. Little does he know that the author of the letters is one of his roommates who, along with his friends, take the clueless man for a ride for free booze, money and fun. It was fun, yet the narrative was brilliantly convincing.
In Dear Maya, the settings are darker and sombre. High school students Ana and Ira start writing love-letters to their neighbour Maya Devi, pretending to be an old suitor. Maya is a recluse who lives with an old maid and two giant canines in a dilapidating mansion from where she never steps out. Since Ira is an insensitive spoilt brat with no flair for writing, it’s Ana who authors the letters. Ana is kind, bright, and beautiful in a more traditional way, unlike Ira who loves to flaunt her long legs and flat belly, and whistle at charming boys in the neighborhood. So the love-letters transform Maya Devi just like how the girls had expected. She trades her dark clothes and dull expressions for brighter ones. The girls get the shock of their life when they realise that Maya has decided to sell the mansion and go to Delhi in search of the man who has been writing her such beautiful letters. Ana, who had been taking pride in her literary talent, goes into panic mode. Unsurprisingly, Ira refuses to take a part of the blame, although Ana tries to guilt trip her.
This is one of the films where a pinch of comedy would have done a lot of magic. The gloominess in the air often comes across as unwarranted. Bhatnagar chooses the joyless road to tread. She attempts to make Maya’s story sound like a life-affirming poem, potent enough to win Instagram over. The movie’s representation of man as a metaphor for life makes it disappointingly superficial.
Koirala used to be an actress of fine comic timing, just as she used to be beautiful object of despondency. It would have been nice to see her throw some tantrum and crack some jokes, instead of standing by that window sill and nervously staring at the outside world. The scene in the second half when Ira and Ana confront each other, is hard to be taken seriously since the young actresses are evidently punching above their weights.
Cinematographer Sayak Bhattacharya’s camera captures the cool tones of Shimla, showcasing the melancholy and chill in the air. Anupam Roy’s melodious music add to the mood, without dominating the narrative, although the songs are forgettable.
Dear Maya, in spite of falling short in emotions and impact, is a movie worth watching for it’s protagonist, Maya, and the actress who plays her with grace and aplomb. Look at Koirala roaming through the streets of Delhi, clutching on to her dupatta, petrified of the world. She is utmost convincing. Just look at her perch by the corner of her big, dimly lit room and read the love letters again and again, as if she is trying to search for the man’s face in between those lines. What a fine talent!
The Dear Maya review is a Silverscreen original article. It was not paid for or commissioned by anyone associated with the movie. Silverscreen.in and its writers do not have any commercial relationship with movies that are reviewed on the site.