Juice short film review: Shefali Shah anchors Neeraj Ghaywan's story about patriarchy in Indian homes
Shefali Shah powers Neeraj Ghaywan's film about the gender politics of middle class Indian households with her words as well as her silence
Even though Juice speaks about a large issue at its core — internalised patriarchy and misogyny — Neeraj Ghaywan’s latest short film is best enjoyed in the little moments it offers you. A housewife cleaning up leftover bones of chicken from a table where drunk men are rambling about issues they know far less about than they think they do; the same housewife then filling water in an air cooler that services the men’s booze session; before she enters a steaming hot kitchen where the wives of the aforementioned men are helping her with, obviously, cooking.
The 14-minute short is a snapshot of what every middle class Indian home is like at some point or the other, particularly when it comes to the gender dynamic between spouses. It is in its ordinariness that we get a sense of what the film is truly trying to talk about, even though admittedly, subtlety isn’t a virtue this film boasts of too often. (Watch, for instance, the way film talks about caste through the way a character treats the domestic help.)
But towering above everything else is one of our most underrated actors, the magnificent Shefali Shah, who plays the housewife mentioned earlier. Shah has repeatedly given us stellar performances all the way, from Banegi Apni Baat on television, to films like Satya, Monsoon Wedding and most recently, Dil Dhadakne Do. Yet, somehow, she hasn’t gotten her due, and her filmography scarcely does justice to her talent. (If anything, this is commentary on the state of the industry itself.)
In Juice, Shefali Shah emotes primarily through her expressions. As I mentioned earlier, the film doesn’t particularly attempt to be subtle, so Shah makes light work of showing us her reluctant patience, her building frustration and eventual release, all while she attempts to be civil to her husband’s guests. It helps that her character is not shown to be all white, in any case. She has her own issues, her own prejudices and her own boundaries, and her primary intention is to abide by them. Yet, there are definitive moments in one’s life that forever change your equation with someone, and Juice is a film about one such moment for a middle class Indian woman; in this case, one who has reluctantly given up her career to take care of her family. It is a simple, engaging film, one that’s completely worth your time because Shefali Shah powers the film with her words as well as her silence.
Neeraj Ghaywan builds a whole world around Shefali Shah’s character. In the lived-in nature of the home, the thoughtful production design, the casting of some familiar faces despite no major billing, and the excellent Manish Chaudhari playing husband and counter-weight to Shah; Ghaywan gives Shah all the fuel she needs, and she burns up the screen. The final scene of the film, where Shefali Shah’s eyes do the talking and Manish Chaudhari’s eyes do the listening, reminds us just why great actors bring cinephiles such joy.
Watch Juice here:
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"Happy Birthday Mummyji is a sugarcoated version of Neeraj Ghaywan's Juice. While it is talking about similar issues, Suchi's way of dealing with it is completely different. So yes, it is Juice but in a much lighter way," says Shefali Shah on her new short film.