Synopsis – A happy-go-lucky Mumbai housewife’s routine life changes when she unexpectedly lands herself with the exciting job of a night RJ (radio jockey) on a leading radio station.
My Take – This year, it seems like the Bollywood film industry is all about the middle-class milieu, with usually overlooked personalities in films rising to the occasion. But something separates advertising filmmaker Suresh Triveni’s sparkling directorial debut, mainly as it looks at the dreams of a house wife, isn’t it strange that even with millions of woman in India, very few films have been made on them, considering we can probably find them in almost every second household, living their lives with squashed dreams, flaws and quirks. While, a few years ago, director Gauri Shinde did manage to shed a light on an enterprising housewife in the delightful, English Vinglish, however here, director Triveni’s take on the subject is more on the light-hearted side with Vidya Balan’s textured voice and uninhibited chortle of being vivacious, spunky and courageous, put to proper use. The story follows Sulochana (Vidya Balan) aka Sullu, a happy go lucky housewife in Mumbai, who is also the housing colony overachiever (from lime-spoon races to antakshari and musical chairs, she’s the local champion), but an underachiever according to her family, due to being a 12th standard fail, and constantly remind her that she’s no match for her older twin sisters who are holding down bank jobs. Sulochana has a strong desire to do something in life and not waste her time just serving her family, resulting in her changing interest by the day of starting new businesses. While, her husband Ashok (Manav Kaul) encourages her whims and feeds her fancies it’s her teenage son Pranav (Abhishek Sharrma), who is just amused at his parents’ antics. However, things take a turn when she wins a pressure cooker on a radio show hosted by the popular RJ Albeli Anjali (Malishka Mendonsa) and happens to find out that the radio channel is looking for RJs.
She approaches Maria (Neha Dhupia) who runs the radio station for an opportunity, and is easily dismissed. But when Maria realizes that Sulu’s quirky personality and honesty could make for a good combination, she gives her a shot by letting her host a late night call-in show. How it leads to problems and madness in her life forms the rest of the film. For the best part of writer-director Suresh Triveni’s slice of life comedy-drama, I had a smile on my face. The film is a rare feminist tale in a middle-class setting, featuring empowering characters such as a housewife with dreams soaring higher than the sky, a woman cabbie, a lady constable, a boss lady heading a media organization, an encouraging RJ and airhostess neighbors who don’t demean others. This one is a slice of life film, but for the most part, it’s a slice of life comedy with women leading from the front. You don’t always need a strong, emotional tale to make a beautiful film, sometimes, all you need is a simple story told in the simplest manner and that’s more than enough to touch your heart and soul. Director Suresh Triveni‘s film is one of those films that give you a much-needed slice of real life. Here, Suresh Triveni‘s story is simple and extremely relatable, despite dragging in few sequences; the dialogues are realistic and witty at places. Although director Triveni opts for a more affirming option, his film is attuned to the sensitivities of the challenges faced by working women. Like any other common woman, Sulu also gives up sympathetic that her family needed her more, her son’s education needed her more, and her husband’s ego needed her more! She almost does so, and then again she turns the events with yet another, that I can do it idea. Right in the beginning a scene, wherein Sulu takes time to balance her lemon on a spoon before beginning the race and then sneakily poses for a photograph on the winner’s pedestal, says a lot about the person she is. She doesn’t have many achievements to boast of but is happy flaunting her little victories- like a colony contest or a lemon-spoon race or several radio contests, even a job interview per se; she is content within the comforting confines of her family. Sulu’s little joys are reflective of the little joys in the lives of housewives, and just like Sulu never loses sight of her family, director Triveni never loses the sharp gaze at her life. Her transformation from a bubbly housewife to a late night spunky RJ with a sexy voice is interesting, to say the least. She has remedies for a broken heart and a song for a lonely soul. Even as she shells peas, Sulu offers listeners (and the viewers) food for thought along with some mimicry and old tracks. At work, Sulu surprises her show producer with her behavior – peeling peas while chatting with a caller on her show. Both Pankaj (Vijay Maurya) and Ashok offer the male balance to a woman’s story and over time Sulu earns their respect. The easiest thing to take away from a woman is her work and the second easiest perhaps is to blame everything wrong in a family on a woman’s profession, this is another point that Triveni gets right in his simplistic film.
The film is neatly poised between dreams (up until the interval) and wakefulness (the post-interval section). Sulochana’s newfound freedom fundamentally alters her equation with Ashok. What makes the film so impactful is the fact that it gives you an insight into this relationship, where you understand the importance of small things in life and understand how a family works and, how for two people to live happily, it is important to accept each other’s idiosyncrasies wholeheartedly as well. A humorous film can lose its pace when entering emotional territory, but Triveni makes sure nothing is out of the place. Despite the amount of tears you’ll cry, you’ll fall for Sulu, Ashok and Pranav’s chemistry. A less sunny-tempered film would have made more of their tensions and acknowledged that the cuts and tears in the marital fabric cannot be mended so easily. But Sulochana’s infectious optimism drives the story towards a resolution that ensures that everybody goes home with a big smile and a warm feeling. It is this affection for characters that makes Suresh Triveni’s film such a winner. There is genuine warmth in the way he tells his story, capturing the little details that make up these people and their lives. From Sulu’s overbearing, meddling sisters to Ashok’s obnoxious boss, Triveni rises above the clichés that these peripheral characters often succumb to in Bollywood. The film is packed with perfectly pitched characters, which include Maria and the cynical producer Pankaj. Triveni and his writers have done a brilliant job on paper and the wonderful casting makes their job much easier. But his labor of love isn’t devoid of issues, some of them nearly fatal. While the manner in which Sulu balances her home as well as her job is nicely depicted, along with the way Sulu gets judged and taunted by her sisters, the pace of the film is very slow and that really affects the impact. Moreover the 150 minute long film should have been at least 15-20 minutes shorter, plus the climax is ambiguous and should have been a bit simpler. However the final scene makes up for it. Of course, there is no denying that Vidya Balan is the soul of the film and she takes the film to another level altogether. No one could have plated this character better or even closer to Balan. She charms her way through with alluring laughter and a voice quality that should’ve been tapped by Bollywood long back. She lets it flow and you can’t help but join in laughing. Here, she is expressive, loud, smooth, simple, engaging, in short a perfect match to that character. In every scene she lights it up with her sheer screen presence. This is an author-backed role, but she makes it so much more by adding layers of empathy and vulnerability to make Sulu a character that will stay with you long after you have left the theatre. Manav Kaul’s performance works wonderfully in tandem with Balan. He is pitch-perfect as the wounded husband who means well but whose middle-class conservatism cannot cope with the fact that his wife speaks to strange men about love on radio. Plus, the oven-fresh pairing of the two comes as a welcome move. Neha Dhupia looks glamorous and performs very well. Vijay Maurya is hilarious in the first hour, while, Abhishek Sharrma is decent and Malishka Mendonsa is confident in a cameo. Ayushmann Khurrana appears in a scene and is endearing. On the whole, ‘Tumhari Sulu’ is a funny and heart-warming tale which despite its slow pace is worth a watch for Vidya Balan.
Directed – Suresh Triveni
Rated – PG13
Run Time – 150 minutes