Movie Review: 'Tumhari Sulu'
Opened: 17 November 2017
Cast: Vidya Balan, Manav Kaul, Vijay Maurya, Neha Dhupia, Malishka Mendonsa
Director: Suresh Triveni
Producers: Bhushan Kumar, Tanuj Garg, Atul Kasbekar, Shanti Sivaram Maini
There’s a scene in the penultimate reels of Tumhari Sulu, where Vidya Balan’s character is pouring her heart out to the head of a radio station (Neha Dhupia), where she broaches topics about why she’s upset about letting the station down for the faith invested in her, and why she can’t shun her familial responsibilities, and you can’t help but marvel at the range and finesse she displays as an actor. Hitting you hook, line and sinker with lines and expressions, which are delivered with empathy and understanding, you'll be hard pressed to name an actress of her calibre, at least in any recent performance you may have come across.
Set in suburban Mumbai, Tumhari Sulu recounts the story of Sulochana aka Sulu, living a mostly humdrum, middle-class existence with husband Ashok (Manav Kaul) and her son Pranav. Despite flunking out of high school (which she’s constantly reminded of by her siblings, mind), Sulu never loses her spark, finding joy in life’s tiniest pleasures. She has a ‘can-do’ attitude, willing to give most things a go at least once and a list of hobbies that could span pages, and it's on the back of this, that a chance encounter lands her a job as a late night RJ with an out-of-hours radio show, where she’s mostly required to take calls and be a shoulder to cry on for men seeking companionship and yearning for fantasies effectively out of their reach. How a seemingly harmless career choice eats into her domestic life, forms the basis for this coming-of-age tale, which culminates in a climax which although predictable, keeps you engaged with its feel-good effervescence and charming performances.
There’s a freshness and innocence in Triveni’s script reminiscent of Hrishikesh Mukherji’s films of yore which we haven’t felt in a feature film in a while. Peppered with light touches, on point humour and wit (sometimes at the expense of drama), Tumhari Sulu hits many high notes, where several similar films (like Simran) have tried, but fallen short. Here, while he gives his central protagonist enough of an arc and depth to play with, not once is it at the detriment of any other actor, however big or small, each of whom get their respective moments to shine. Whether it’s the lady cabbie who becomes Sulu’s late night confidante, to Manav Kaul as the straight-laced husband, who ultimately loves his wife despite her obviously shady career choices, or Dhupia, who plays her no-nonsense career woman with restraint and poise or the young boy Pranav, they all get their ample moments in the film and pepper it with a rounded likability, despite fully knowing that it belongs ultimately to its cherubic and sprightly leading lady.
Meanwhile, technically, the film stays rooted in working class Mumbai, which may not be immediately relatable to some audiences but it’s to its benefit that it stays close to its source by not sugar coating its setting too much. Of course, you could argue that the film never really explores the depths of Ashok’s envy and never really addresses Pranav bullying at school, or why Sulu’s sisters are so one track, but that never really gets in the way of enjoying the film, which is made with the intention to solely make you feel good and deliver a social message at the same time. Perhaps, Sulu would have benefitted by being trimmed by at least fifteen minutes in its second half where it meanders and starts losing steam, but that may be the only quibble I have with this slice-of-life film that will resonate with many women, and restore their faith by reinstating the belief that if you apply yourself there’s nothing really you can’t achieve.
As such, this one warmed the cockles of my heart – it's a gem of a film with an earthiness and endearing performances particularly by Balan, who adds another winner to her already overstuffed repertoire and stays with you long after the credits have rolled.