Film Review: Tumhari Sulu
You can hear Sulu’s, a.ka. Vidya Balan’s, full-bodied laughter echoing in your ears long after you’ve left the theatre. You can also hear her sultry, deep greeting on radio -- “Helllow”. For the best part of writer-director Suresh Triveni’s slice of life comedy-drama, I had a smile on my face. The story of Sulochana, her husband Ashok and their child Pranav, is the tableau through which Triveni presents middle class Mumbai life. Ashok is employed in a long-term dead-end job that pays the bills. Sulu is 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. A 12th standard fail, they constantly remind her she’s no match for her older twin sisters who are holding down bank jobs.
Sulu revels in her life as homemaker, but is patently aware of her diminished cool factor. This is nicely illustrated in her interaction with a local corner shop owner and her air-hostess neighbours. Sulu is socially awkward but not short of confidence. Her constant mantra is ‘kar sakti hai’ (I can do it). This is what propels her to grab an opportunity, roadroller the radio station chief (Neha Dhupia) and land a slot as a late night chat show host.
As Sulu’s radio show gains popularity, Ashok’s position in a tailoring unit is in jeopardy under younger management. With Sulu’s success and financial independence, Ashok begins to feel emasculated. It’s a classic case of the male ego being hurt in a ragingly patriarchal society. At the same time, Pranav gets into trouble at school. Between these issues, Sulu is criticised, blamed and forced to rethink her career.
While Triveni captures middle class problems and a slice of life with empathy -- family squabbles, in-house jokes, daily routine etc – the film begins to flag in the second half. The inflection point takes long to come and though it is believable, and rather ordinary – which is one of the achievements of Triveni’s writing and direction – the resolution conveniently slides into place. Guilt and sacrifice are the expected reactions of a mother who has broken out, and Tumhari Sulu sticks close to convention.
Being from the advertising world, Triveni is smoothly able to incorporate a trolley-full of product placements. He also gives the characters space to breathe and builds them up. The relationship between Sulu and her sisters has as much of a graph as her bond with the woman cab driver that ferries her to the radio station every night. The production design creates an authentic suburban 2-BHK housing colony world.
At work, Sulu surprises her show producer Pankaj (Vijay Maurya) with her behaviour – peeling peas while chatting with a caller on her show. Both Maurya and Kaul offer the male balance to a woman’s story, and over time Sulu earns their respect. Kaul in particular imbues Ashok with normalcy, flirtatiousness, frustration, pride, hurt and humour. Kaul’s performance works wonderfully in tandem with Balan. Her Sulochana is everywoman but with a dollop of infectious optimism and Balan leaves you wanting more.