It’s a role essayed to great effect by Sridevi in English Vinglish and Kangana Ranaut in Queen – that of the small-town, middle-class woman embarking on a journey of self-discovery. This time around, it’s the inimitable Vidya Balan who wears the costume of the ‘sanskari’ woman who finds her own path. How does she fare in this movie by a debutant director? Let’s find out!
Sulochana aka Sulu is introduced as she participates in a lemon and spoon race. She takes her time to balance the lemon on the spoon and manages to come in second. After the prize distribution ceremony, Sulu quickly hops to the first spot on the winners’ podium and signals her husband to take a picture. That really symbolises the spirit of Sulu—she has an adorably infectious belly laugh, warms up to everyone instantly, is canny and has a wicked sense of humour. Sulu is also an enterprising homemaker who takes part in every consumer goods contest. When a radio station calls to congratulate her on winning a pressure cooker, she wonders if she can get a television instead (“I already won a pressure cooker recently”). Sulu is also the queen in her home—her husband dotes on her and they have a lovely son.
Sulu’s world isn’t that pitch perfect though. She has two sisters who keep taunting her. To them, she is inconsequential—a 12th grade fail who spends her time at leisure and squanders money in silly little ventures, while they are salaried women with respectable jobs. But Sulu takes all that with a pinch of salt.
Debutant director Suresh Triveni drafts Sulu with a blend of realism and irreverence. Like this scene where she auditions for the post of an RJ. As she listens to the instructions of the overbearing programming head who is showing her how to sound sexy, Sulu can hardly hold her laughter. She breaks evenly into full-throated laughter and it’s infectious.
On her first day at work as a late-night RJ, her naiveté is endearing when she brings her dinner, studiously finishes it, dries the steel plate, and puts on the head phones.
The film chronicles the journey of a middle-class Virar homemaker who becomes an after-night RJ who fields calls from lonely hearts.
As Sulu’s ascent in her life begins, her husband goes through a breaking point at his workplace, where he is constantly humiliated by his boss’ son. True, at one point, Ashok (the fantastic Manav Kaul) does accede to the imagery of a chauvinistic husband, unable to come to terms with his wife’s unconventional job. He is uncomfortable, embarrassed, and even possessive about this side of her that he would rather be the only one listening to.
Sulu, for all her bravado, is a possessive mother and wife at heart. The first morning after her job, she isn’t too comfortable with the idea that she wasn’t there to take care of her family’s needs. The all-encompassing guilt that every married Indian woman carries like a seal of honour is embedded in Sulu as well.
When they are called to their son’s school and informed about his bad habits, Sulu’s immediate reaction like any mother is to beat him and to hold herself responsible, since that’s what every mother is conditioned to believe. So, when Ashok promises to take care of him, Sulu is offended.
Humour in the first few reels is well-placed—and directly mocks our sexually repressive society.
It is to Vidya Balan’s credit that she doesn’t turn Sulu’s late-night Radio jockey act smutty. Even in the middle of the most dicey conversations with random callers, Vidya retains a dignity and ingenuousness in her voice without losing the allure. The call from an old widower was a nice touch and her reaction was pure gold. And just like that she switches into the role of homemaker—her uncertainty about the nature of her job, unwillingness to forgo the fun and independence it’s giving her, anger at her sister’s disapproval, and that speech to her boss about quitting. Vidya simply owns Sulu in every breath.
It’s also interesting to see an actor like Manav Kaul being cast as her husband. We saw such a fresh casting in Simran, where Sohum Shah was like a breath of fresh air as her fiancée. Ashok starts on a light note, he is head-over-heels in love with Sulu, gets mercilessly teased by her, and the chemistry is bang on. But then he lets the frustrations at work affect his thought process and the chauvinist in him surfaces briefly only to quickly take charge of himself.
Neha Dhupia who plays the programming head looks like she has been doing it all her life. Snooty, yes, but also extremely warm.
Tumhari Sulu is a fantastic ode to every middle-class married woman who has let go of her dreams to take care of her family. She is constantly under pressure to behave and take decisions that never upsets the routine of her family. But here Sulu dares to think of herself and yet keeps her family lovingly within her clasp. When she breaks the glass ceiling, it doesn’t seem like a well-planned mission of empowerment, it just seems so organic. Well played, Sulu!
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