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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.

Primary and secondary emotions:

Emotions are like icebergs. There is more to them than what we are able to see on the surface. Primary emotions are immediate and authentic reactions to a situation. But what we often see, or the tip of the iceberg, is secondary emotions, which are reactions to primary emotions. In this regard, people often respond to deeper emotions like guilt or shame with emotions like anger or fear. This is illustrated in incidents like the anger outbursts Maya has towards her son and mother, or when Rukhsana tries to seek revenge on Maya for hurting her daughter.


Linked to these self-conscious emotions is moral pride which refers to a positive evaluation following morally correct behaviour. Moral pride can translate to hubris which refers to a self-focused pride associated with being morally correct, that can at times border on narcissism. Underlying hubris is often a deep sense of insecurity. This is portrayed in the apparently confident and self-assured Maya, whose arrogance in her own moral uprightness is proven to be weak when it is completely wiped out by her involvement in a crime.

Common Responses to Trauma:

An important theme in the film is the hit-and-run incident itself and the traumatic effects it has on those involved. The human nervous system has a unique way of responding to danger and trauma. Traumatic events activate our body’s stress-response system. These responses often become the basis of diagnosing various trauma and stress-related disorders, including PTSD (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder).

Maya, like most traumatised individuals, becomes anxious and hyper-vigilant, reacting strongly to sudden sounds or sights. She finds it difficult to stop thinking about the accident and finds herself reliving it in the form of flashbacks and nightmares, often triggered by cues in the environment that remind her of the accident. These re-experiencing symptoms are a common part of the trauma response.

Avoidance of reminders of the trauma is another common symptom which is seen in Maya’s constant avoidance of her maid Rukhsana who serves as a reminder of the accident. Guilt, anger outbursts, depression and feelings of hopelessness are all common in trauma and are conveyed excellently in the character of Maya.

One of the most adverse effects of trauma is the toll it takes on an individual’s self-image. In the film, Maya’s self-confidence is shattered after the accident as she begins to see herself as a despicable or ‘bad’ person.

Motherhood and Caregiver Stress:

One of the central points in the film is that both Maya and Rukhsana value their role as mothers. Both women are working moms. Maya, in particular, is a working mom who is single and has a son with Cerebral palsy. Both characters find themselves burdened with the demands of motherhood and caregiving.

Caregiver stress refers to the physical, mental and emotional exhaustion that may result from being a caregiver. Often this happens because the caregiver neglects their own mental and physical wellbeing because they are too focused on caring for their loved ones. Caregiver stress can have a long-term effect on health and wellness.

The constant demands and unrealistic expectations on caregivers to protect loved ones often leads to stress. The inability to meet these expectations from self can lead to feelings of inadequacy, guilt and anxiety. This is demonstrated in Rukhsana as she copes with what has happened to her daughter and in Maya as she worries about how her involvement in the accident will affect her son.

Caregiver stress can also be due to frustration from the overwhelming needs of the loved one such as the constant care and attention caregivers feel compelled to provide. Maya is highly protective of her son, constantly worrying about his welfare and health. This chronic worry can have an overall impact on an individual’s stress levels making them more prone to irritability and overwhelm as seen in Maya’s outbursts and reactive behaviours throughout the film.

Written By - Riea Enok (Psychotherapist at The Mood Space)

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