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Updated: May 12, 2022

Jalsa is a psychological thriller that centres around the story of a hit-and-run case involving a top journalist as the perpetrator.In addition to tackling complex moral dilemmas the film also explores certain concepts from mental-health and psychology.

Here are a few:

Internal conflicts:

Jalsa does a terrific job of portraying inner conflict and self-reflection. On the one hand there is the character of Maya (played by Vidya Balan) who is a top-notch journalist overcome with guilt, shame and fear after getting involved in a hit-and-run. On the other hand is the character of Rukshana (played by Shefali Shah), a devoted mother and housemaid who is overcome with the pain and anger she feels on behalf of her injured daughter.

Without being overly dramatic or having altercations between the characters, the movie shows us that often the primary forces we as individuals contend with aren’t outside but inside in our own minds. Both characters are forced to contend with their inner demons throughout the movie. In the therapy space, it is these inner conflicts that lie at the core of a client’s problems and processing and healing from them becomes the main work of therapy.

At the basis of the character’s guilt there is a concept that is widely studied in social psychology, viz. cognitive dissonance. It refers to the conflict that occurs when an individual’s beliefs or values don’t align with their behaviours. Multiple characters in the film: Maya, the junior journalist trying to investigate the case, the cop trying to cover it up, are dealing with cognitive dissonance. These are people who have lived their lives doing what’s right and are faced with a situation that forces them to make a decision between their values and beliefs and protecting what’s important to them in life.

Guilt and Shame:

Guilt and shame are central emotions in this film. They are part of the triad of ‘self-conscious’ emotions, which also includes embarrassment. These emotions are based self-evaluation. Guilt involves the evaluation of a behaviour (‘What I did was wrong’) and shame involves an evaluation of the self as a whole (‘I am wrong’). Both emotions determine our perceptions of self and sense of self-worth. When these emotions persist unresolved, they may become pathological contributing to depression, anxiety or even suicide.

Additionally, these emotions are closely tied to moral standards and moral behaviour. They act as feedback systems that guide us towards doing the morally right thing. In theory, there should be a direct correspondence between moral standards and behaviour. But in reality, human beings are imperfect, and our moral values and intentions often don’t align with behaviours. This is illustrated in the character of Maya, a fierce and ethical journalist who has built a career on standing by the truth no matter the cost. When she becomes the perpetrator of a hit and run case, she is plunged into a quandary where her most core values of honesty and ethicality are brought up for questioning.

Guilt and shame usually trigger different behaviours. Shame prompts individuals to hide or deny wrongdoing whereas guilt motivates individuals to making amends for it. This conflict between guilt and shame is the basis of Maya’s battle with herself and what ultimately is the core of the film. On the one hand she desires to escape social condemnation and fears losing her son and on the other hand she is pushed by a strong desire to do the right thing.