Dear Maya review: Manisha Koirala's nuanced portrayal lifts this modern-day fairy tale

Release Date: 02 Jun 2017

Cinestaan Rating

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Suparna Thombare

Koirala shines in this slow-paced story of hope and giving life a second chance.

A ray of hope can slam open dusty windows to let in sunshine, give gloomy black dolls a red makeover, and set free the birds that were trapped in a cage for years. Dear Maya is a slow-burning tale of a desolate 40-something woman's journey towards finding a reason to live once more. It is a story that tells you how hope can transform one's life.

Maya Devi (Manisha Koirala), who seems to have aged beyond her years, has been living a life of solitude in Shimla for 20 years — trapped in her home, making dolls that look gloomy, afraid to step out into the world. A troubled childhood, an unstable family, and lack of love have led Maya into a deep dark space that she does not want to get out of. It is an extreme situation, unbelievable to a large extent, but what it stands for is more important for the story.

Two 16-year-olds — Anna (Madiha Imam) and Ira (Shreya Chaudhary) — who are still coming to terms with adolescence, wonder how lonely their neighbour Maya might be and decide to bring some colour and joy into her life by writing love letters in the name of an imaginary Ved, who professes to have been secretly in love with her for 20 years.

The letters have a positive effect on Maya, as the promise of love infuses her life with renewed hope and she begins to come out of her shell. But one day Maya decides to travel to Delhi in search of her secret lover and disappears, never to return. Anna and Ira spend the next six years ridden with the guilt of having perhaps destroyed Maya's life even as they come to terms with adult life and love. The two then set out to look for Maya. 

The second half drags once Maya disappears from the scene and Ira and Anna begin to navigate their relationships with men, each other and life. The film is definitely 15-20 minutes too long, and very slow-paced. At several points, you feel writer-director Sunaina Bhatnagar has lost her grip on the story, but it does come together finally as she manages to neatly tie up the ends.

Though in different situations, like Maya, Anna and Ira have also been depriving themselves of happiness. And it is as much about their journey as it is about Maya's. That resonates with you as a viewer too — never giving up on life as you never know what it has in store for you. It is when you face your fears and believe that life has a lot to offer that you will discover happiness.

Imam and Chaudhary, the actresses playing the young girls, are decent and sincere in their portrayal, thanks to the writer, who does great detailing of the two characters and gives them a good graph to work with.

Filmmaker Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra, who makes a special appearance, seems out of place. 

Dear Maya brings Koirala back on the big screen after years and she still has the same screen presence she did in her prime, making the most of her limited screen time. Koirala portrays the emptiness and loneliness of her character, and her slow transition towards hope, like the pro that she is. She is all heart. Her smile is disarming and her pain, palpable, despite the writing of her conflict being a little simplistic. This film feels like a precursor to all the amazing roles she should be getting a chance to play in the future.

Sayak Bhattacharya's cinematography is beautiful with some interesting camera angles and play of colour. Director Bhatnagar, who has assisted Imtiaz Ali on several films, including Rockstar (2011) and Jab We Met (2007), proves she is a good storyteller. The modern-day fairytale treatment works. But the pacing and a shoddy middle drag the film down a notch.

Dear Maya leaves you with a positive feeling of hope, even if it seems far-fetched at times. But then truth can be stranger than fiction, can it not?

In the end, the film is worth watching for the beautiful and talented Koirala's nuanced performance. Interestingly, and probably unknowingly, the film draws parallels to the actress's personal struggles, inspiring journey of hope, and her triumph over cancer to give herself a new lease of life. 

Interview: When Manisha Koirala felt she had wasted her life

Reviewed by Suparna Thombare