She’s about to land the job of her mad dreams, but Sulochana Dubey (Vidya Balan) aka Sulu, tells Maria Sood (Neha Dhupia, radiating power and empathy effortlessly), head of Radio Wow, that she hasn’t cleared her 12th grade examinations. Sulu slides this information, much as you would tell a parent about your marks before heading out for a party with friends, hoping nothing derails your evening plans. Maria’s dismissive, smiling blink of her eyes relieves Sulu of a nagging underneath current of self-doubt that this academic disaster will put a kibosh on her latest flight to becoming a radio jockey. That’s a beautifully done scene, for Sulu discovers that she can actually fly and touch the periphery of the of her flares of ambition – nagged forever by her twin sisters (played in fun, irritating and roll-your-eyes-at-your-damned-relatives effectiveness by Sindhu Shekharan and Seema Taneja) and father (Uday Lagoo) at her lack of a formal education and her seemingly whimsical ideas at a career, this is her first, genuine shot at actually doing something that she enjoys, and get in some moolah at home.
Tumhari Sulu (Your Sulu), written and directed by Suresh Triveni, looks at the sheer daunting ceilings that home-makers have to break, and those are extremely low-level ceilings at that – ceilings that aren’t made by corporates or men, those are higher in the ladder, and they’ll inevitably encounter those later – but the ones that immediate families and loved ones construct, sometimes due to misplaced intentions, sometimes out of sheer jealousy, and sometimes because being dismissive is the best guidance they’re capable of. Fortunately for the most part, Triveni keeps the pace a comic slice-of-life, packing in a zest and sparkle in his writing that’s matched word-for-word, frame-by-frame, by the marvelous Vidya Balan. The actor packs in such chutzpah in her performance, such a believable and likeable glint of optimism, you root for her all the way.
In Vidya Balan do you find a carefully studied, thoughtful portrayal of a wife and a mother packed away amongst millions of others like her in the far-flung city suburbs, rushing through the morning routine to pack off her husband, Ashok (Manav Kaul) and son Pranav (Abhishek Sharrma, portraying all the angst and fun so naturally), adrenaline pumping, high steam pressure stewing to ensure they get their breakfast on time, and everything else ready for them to scoot out the house. In her act do you find the sudden listlessness of a mid-morning, the heartbeat quieter, the pace languid, the clew of her life sliding into a routine that could turn foggy with despair. Sulu, thankfully, is made of stronger stuff, and spends her day participating in dial-in radio contests, and actually winning along the way, an assortment of household items that may be useful or back-up as giveaway presents.
It is one such contest that she wins that lands up Sulu at the offices of Radio Wow, and she bumps into her favorite RJ Albeli Anjali (real-life RJ Malishka, who proves she can have a ball in front of the camera as much as behind a mike), Maria, and a poet, in-house cynic, and outhouse revolutionary, Pankaj (Vijay Maurya, deadpanning a superbly frustrated turn, his outburst a highlight). One thing leads to another and Sulu finds herself auditioning to become an RJ at the station. Director Triveni makes what is possibly one of the funniest scenes in the movie, a completely natural and crackling roll-out of guffaws, as Pankaj trains Sulu to roll out lines that sound more a sex-chat and less of a late-night RJ-talk. Balan, Maurya, Dhupia, and Malishka have an uproarious time, mostly at the expense of the hapless Maurya, but it’s an outstanding act by all of them. And when Balan repeats it outside, or when she tries it on Ashok and her unfriendly grocer, she gets in such impish sauciness, the fun’s infectious. It is to Vidya Balan’s credit that when she paused, leaned in to breathe out her husky “Hello”, several folks in the cinema hall cleared their throats reflexively – that’s the power of Ms. Balan’s beguiling act, making you invest in her dreams without you realizing it. She’s equally good when she’s lovingly appraising her first salary’s gifts set to the melodic Rafu (sung with Shreya Ghoshali-sh feelings by Ronkini Gupta.) Or later, when she makes you relive every harrowing moment that her character endures.
Meanwhile, there’s Ashok, Sulu’s hubby, who’s having a clothes-load of problems at his workplace, that snowball into a laundry-list of woes, making him want to throw it all away. Manav Kaul’s act is what makes Vidya Balan’s shine. He’s the reflector to her lead light, making her turn even more iridescent, supporting her and behind her, but not lagging ever. He thrums a quiet, desperately wannabe assertiveness to his act that’s misleadingly subdued, but powerful nonetheless.
Director Triveni gets in many sub-contexts to the story, some of them subtle, but very telling – especially when he shows Ashok’s conjugal assertion after he listens to his wife on air, laughing and flirting with a caller seductively – his ego and needs aroused just because he sees threat around the corner. And yet, when the director does mount the arc of his story’s closure, he does it on the back of some old-fashioned melodrama that’s long drawn out and manipulative. And this is the movie’s weakest fiber.
And also the most troubling. Never mind how murky the man’s job is, how hopeless the work place, he gets to stay put or change jobs, while the woman, obviously doing so well, has to asphyxiate her aspirations and head back home? When Sulu walks out of the radio station’s office, ostensibly having bid her job goodbye, Ashok is waiting for her. So, is this it? What if Ashok was doing swell at work, getting his promotions and dues and respect? Would he have even entertained Sulu’s job choices?
And even more troubling – despite the end seeming like a cop out, is it truly? Or a true mirror to what life’s like? Despite all the fun and powerful performances, is the movie’s message – however unintentional it may be – this? – dream your dream as much as you like, but…if you’re a woman, ensure you get in all requisite approvals before making it a reality.
Tumhari Sulu is rated rated U (Unrestricted Public Exhibition), but that doesn’t mean you get one-year olds to the cinema hall, and then play Baby TV videos on your cell to distract them.
Director Suresh Triveni Running Time 2h 20 min
Writer Suresh Triveni
Stars Vidya Balan, Manav Kaul, Neha Dhupia, Vijay Maurya
Genres Drama, Comedy
Watch the trailer of Tumhari Sulu here: