Verdict: An interesting story backed by noteworthy performances.
After a break from films, Manisha Koirala is back as the titular character of Sunaina Bhatnagar's directorial debut, Dear Maya. The film is about rediscovering life, the dynamics of human relationships and the importance of hope.
Ira (Shreya Chaudhary) and Anna (Madiha Imam) are high school girls who also happen to be best friends. Like many teenagers, they spend their time secretly reading romantic novels and discussing boys. Amidst all of this, they get curious about Anna's reclusive neighbour, Maya Devi (Manisha Koirala), a lonely middle-aged woman who has confined herself to a deserted bungalow for over two decades. Her only companions, perhaps, are two dogs, cages filled with birds and a faithful helper.
When the two girls learn that Maya Devi's solitude is the result of tragic incidents in the past, Ira convinces Anna to write love letters to Maya Devi in the name of a non-existent ex-suitor, Ved. Reluctant at first, Anna finally gives in.
These letters have a positive effect on her. They gradually help her step out of her cocoon. Before the girls even know it, she falls for Ved, unaware of the fact that he only exists on paper. She decides to sell her house and set off in search of her 'lover'. Anna, who begins to develop a bond, wishes to stop Maya Devi. But before she does, Maya is gone.
A guilt-striken Anna confesses to her parents and that changes her life. She is sent to boarding school and her friendship with Ira breaks in the process. Six years later, the two reunite to find Maya.
What makes Dear Maya work is the fact that it does not tick the customary boxes of a quintessential Bollywood flick. In fact, it has a story that is rare and intriguing. While the film remains interesting for most parts, the writing falters in some scenes making a few elements seem forced. The film is slow-paced for most part and may not be everyone's cup of tea. However, this only serves in giving us an insight into the evolution of the characters.
The first half is slow-paced and focuses on the girls weaving fantasies through their writing, Maya Devi's departure from her home and the strained friendship between Ira and Anna. Unlike the first half, the second half is speedy. It focuses on the reunion of the girls and their quest.
Koirala, despite limited screentime, delivers a fine, heart winning performance without having to resort to words most of the time. Debutants Madiha Imam and Shreya Chaudhary put up a good act and are a sheer delight to watch. Iravati Harshe, who plays Anna's (Imam's) mother, is convincing in her role.
Why You Should Watch This Movie:
Dear Maya may be slow-paced, but it has a lot to offer. It has hummable songs, an interesting tale to tell, a nuanced performance by Manisha Koirala and a surprising cameo.