Sleepy Simla is the setting for most of this fable-like story of two school girls, their fascination with a reclusive woman and a prank with far-reaching consequences.
Maya Devi (Manisha Koirala) lives in a large, dusty house next door to Anna (Madiha Imam). Anna and her best friend Ira (Shreya Chaudhary) revel in the make believe world of romantic novels.
Their active imagination and the story of a heartbroken Maya Devi, who has been confined to her home for 20 years, combine when the girls come up with the idea of writing fake love letters to Maya.
Anna has quite a talent for conjuring up romantic prose and crafts evocative missives that have a life-changing impact on Maya. Bhatnagar captures this transformation in both and obvious ways.
Manisha Koirala’s performance in Dear Maya is wonderful as she changes from a caged and lonely woman to someone willing to take a chance on life. She throws open dusty curtains, frees her caged pet birds, brings colour into her monochrome wardrobe.
At first Anna and Ira are delighted that their innocent prank has had a positive impact, until one day Maya disappears.
Six years later, now a college student in Delhi, Anna is obsessed with finding Maya. Consumed with the guilt of having shown her hope where none existed, Anna roams around Delhi with ‘Missing’ posters with Maya Devi’s image.
Having left Simla six years ago, banished to boarding school as a sort of punishment for her thoughtless actions, Anna has not looked back at her small town life.
When she does finally return home, she’s forced to confront her estranged friend Ira with whom she had an acrimonious falling out six years ago.
The plot is padded out too much. Several extra scenes and over-telling of the case take place. The point is repeated and repeated once more.
If not for this, the gentle handling of the three principal women characters – Anna, Ira and Maya – is heartwarming enough.
The message of hope and taking a chance is surely and guilelessly delivered. Manisha Koirala brings nuance to her part and conveys deep vulnerability and childlike awe as she tastes and feels freedom. It’s rather charming.
Madiha Imam and Shreya Chaudhary are extremely watchable and have a natural onscreen presence. Bhatnagar’s writing captures the cadence of small town youth perfectly.
In a scene when Ira and Anna are searching for Maya in Delhi, the girls get into a heated argument in a nightclub.
The scene captures their rite of passage into emotional maturity but also the fascination for big city experiences and a craving for anonymity.
Dear Maya is a surprisingly satisfactory watch, mainly for the winsome performances and Bhatnagar’s ability to deliver an immersive experience.