J Baby Movie Review: Suresh Mari’s ‘J.Baby’ is a solid drama about a family that has to deal with mental illness, among other things

Suresh Mari
The film stars Urvasi, Dinesh, and many others. Sure, the story could have been told better, less loud, but many portions work.
J Baby Movie Review

J Baby Movie Cast & Crew

Production : Aditi Anand,Saurash Gupta,Piiyush Singh,Abhayanand Singh,Pa Ranjith
Director : Suresh Mari
Music Director : Tony Britto

Here’s how Suresh Mari’s J.Baby begins. Senthil and Shankar are brothers, played by ‘Lollu Sabha’ Maaran and Dinesh. They are summoned to the police station, for reasons concerning their mother, named J.Baby (Urvashi). The policeman barks at the brothers: “How long is it since you spoke to her?” One of the brothers says it’s been four days, the other says it’s been a week. The policeman gives them the typical moral-science lecture we expect in our movies: take care of your mother, etc. But these are not your typically uncaring sons. They do care. They are fundamentally good people. But Senthil is a painter. Shankar drives a school van. At a later point, their mother terms their jobs as “kooli velai”, which means they don’t earn much. And now, with their meagre savings, the brothers have to travel to Kolkata… for reasons concerning their mother.

This is a solid start – a solid emotional hook – and the film keeps getting better. While we wait for the resolution of the mystery around the mother, we get flashbacks that lay out the many dysfunctions within this family. Why, for instance, would Shankar’s sister ask him to come to her daughter’s coming-of-age ceremony after Senthil has left? What is the reason these brothers are at war? Why does Senthil’s wife tell him not to speak to Shankar, while Shankar’s wife tells him to look after Senthil? The thing that Shankar did – has that got to do with why Senthil is a drunk, why Senthil says he feels like dying? After a long time, we have a family with very interesting, very different dynamics. The lines are casual and don’t seem “crafted”, and the dialogues often overlap. All of this keeps the drama real and convincing.

And then, we meet J.Baby And we realise that this mother is not an innocent victim of neglect, but someone who makes it hard for people to live with her. (Her five struggling, grown-up children come off like saints.) There is some mental illness involved, and the screenplay treats it a little too casually. And this is probably because of the actor playing J.Baby. Urvasi can play both comedy and drama, and both aspects are put to good use by the character-writing as well as the actor’s performance. But perhaps for commercial reasons, the comedy side comes through far better than the dramatic side. Yes, we do get scenes like the one where a son beats J.Baby, and we sense his utter frustration at that moment. But a subsequent scene, where she visits his home, tilts the balance back in her favour.

Maybe the casting should have taken care of that: with such a powerhouse performer at the centre, the others, though not bad, needed to measure up equally well. There is a pointed scene where Shankar is framed against a poster for mental-health awareness, which says how the general public can play a part. But I wish we had seen more of the other side, too – about what caregivers need to do in order to not lose their minds. When we first meet Shankar and Senthil, we look at them just as brothers who have an issue, but after the mother enters the narrative, we realise she, too, is a big part of the issues the family faces. “Naa enna pannren-nu enakke therila,” J.Baby says. It’s a line that makes you feel for her, and also for the family around her.

The film also talks about the life of a woman after the death of her husband. Your children are now grown-up and they are busy trying to make a living. Whom do you talk to? How do you transition from living in your own home to being dependent on your children? The needless songs could have been axed for more meat in addressing these points. Shankar could have been less of a saint, more of a mere human being. The repeated images of motherhood – from Ma Durga to suckling puppies to pregnant women – could have been toned down. But despite all this obviousness, all this loudness, J.Baby is that rare thing in Tamil cinema: an involving family drama that gives us a glimpse of everyone involved. Even Senthil’s wife, who gets two scenes, registers because of a small smile at the end. And yes. If male-oriented scripts can be made to over-showcase the hero, who can blame the director for wanting to over-showcase a heroine who’s every bit of a screen presence as a hero!

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Baradwaj Rangan

National Award-winning film critic Baradwaj Rangan, former deputy editor of The Hindu and senior editor of Film Companion, has carved a niche for himself over the years as a powerful voice in cinema, especially the Tamil film industry, with his reviews of films. While he was pursuing his chemical engineering degree, he was fascinated with the writing and analysis of world cinema by American critics. Baradwaj completed his Master’s degree in Advertising and Public Relations through scholarship. His first review was for the Hindi film Dum, published on January 30, 2003, in the Madras Plus supplement of The Economic Times. He then started critiquing Tamil films in 2014 and did a review on the film Subramaniapuram, while also debuting as a writer in the unreleased rom-com Kadhal 2 Kalyanam. Furthermore, Baradwaj has authored two books - Conversations with Mani Ratnam, 2012, and A Journey Through Indian Cinema, 2014. In 2017, he joined Film Companion South and continued to show his prowess in critiquing for the next five years garnering a wide viewership and a fan following of his own before announcing to be a part of Galatta Media in March 2022.