Tumhari Sulu movie cast: Vidya Balan, Manav Kaul, Neha Dhupia, Vijay Maurya
Tumhari Sulu movie director: Suresh Triveni
Tumhari Sulu movie rating: 3 stars
That killing ‘oh I’m just a housewife’ statement from a woman, hides, sometimes, a mountain of despair, and resentment, and uncomfortable questions: is that only what she is? A glorified maid plus the family’s minder and keeper? Or does there lurk within another woman altogether, with her own talent and spunk, which she can parlay in order to find herself?
This is where Sulu aka Sulochana (Balan) is when the film opens. She is the youngest sister of three. The other two are ‘respectably employed’ and ‘well settled’, and think nothing to berating her whenever they feel like it. Which is pretty much all the time. Sullu is ‘baranvi’ (12th class) fail, and never allowed to forget it, but more-or-less happily married and mother of a pubescent schoolboy, finding her mojo in on-air contests of the kind which entice ‘housewives’ like her to participate, holding up a household appliance as prize.
What’s good about ‘Tumhari Sulu’ is that despite her being a product of a certain kind of family and background, she is very much ‘Hamari Sullu’. Any woman, of a similar provenance, can identify with Sulu strongly: can she do something that will add to her own sense of self without her family and husband, encouraging as he may be, without guilt-tripping her all the way?
Balan is pitch-perfect as Sulu, a woman making peace with her situation, while always trying to find that silver lining. Can she get a TV instead of a pressure cooker, she asks the radio jockey on the other side of the line. And that innocent domestic query leads her into a glittering world, far removed from her own middle-class relentless ‘sabji-bhaaji-kapda-tiffin’ daily cycles, where she finds herself fielding breathless male calls on a late-night show.
Equally wonderful is Manav Kaul as her husband who is struggling with a boss from hell and a downswing in his workspace. He wants to be supportive but is conflicted: can a man be fine with his wife, she who possesses skills he had no idea about, becoming the object of fantasy of lonely men, and everything that goes with it?
Balan has played an RJ before, in Munnabhai, but that was like a showreel. Here, she channels her distinctive voice and full-bellied laughter to invest Sulu with real warmth. We see her tasting a space free of the restrictions she has lived with, and learning to spread her wings. We see her use her brains to talk to strange men, using a smart tightrope of being playful without lacing it with smut, which is far easier to do. The whole radio station set-up (the studio, the casual camaraderie) is spot-on, as are the people Sulu interacts with: boss woman Maria (Dhupia), and the slightly jealous producer (Maurya).
What I found problematic was the facile resolution, which veers towards a cop out. The husband’s insecurities are addressed in a too-quick, vague stroke: would Sulu have stayed with her new-found independence, regardless of what her spouse felt? Is Sulu too scared to fully embrace her inner Savita Bhabhi, that much more overtly sexual being, which today’s India has banished, even if that poor ‘bhabhi’ was a comic creature? But maybe that would have been a different film.
The songs, except for one lively riff off Hawa Hawaai (the Mr India ditty Sulu and her radio gang groove to), are superfluous. The film feels repetitive and stretched, making you impatient. And too often, it feels like two films rubbing against each other – a light-hearted comedy about a woman finding a voice, and a heavy family drama.
But the film makes up for these niggles by creating a leading lady who is cracklingly alive, dealing with difficulties, and finding a way around them. Sulu is a win.