Casting Vidhya Balan in the titular role is as big a shoo-in for a memorable film as any in all of Bollywood. What, however, is not as predictable about Tumhari Sulu, especially with regards to the cast, is the fact that there could be anyone else in such a setting that might match the sheer acting brilliant that one takes for granted with Vidya Balan.
Tumhari Sulu merges two progressive trends in Bollywood: depiction of middleclass life and underscoring the fight for gender parity. But it does so in a way that is easy on the eye, perfectly relatable and would not scare away those of us that take to the cinema to steer clear of the political-laden crises around us – or loud campaigning for even pertinent causes.
If Vidya Balan is the master of underscoring the power of simplicity, Tumhari Sulu is its archetypal example. Sulu is in many of us, with us, and most definitely around every one of us.
Sulochana (Sulu) is a full-of-life housewife, who is being encouraged to take up a job as the movie starts. The fact that she has failed in 12th grade thrice means that she has to look at out-of-the-box options, quite literally.
Her husband Ashok Dubey (Manav Kaul) works in a garment sweatshop where, as the movie unravels, things become unstable for his INR 40,000-a-month job, making Sulu’s earning capacity all the more critical.
Sulu and Ashok have an 11-year-old son Pranav (Abhishek Sharma), who is treading a fine disciplinary line in school, which the parents aren’t aware of, amidst their respective career struggles.
Sulu who says she’s a ‘winner’ – which includes triumphs at local sack races, dance contests, lemon-and-spoon races– is someone who says ‘Yes’ every time life throws lemons at her. And so, when one of her many wins in a radio contests brings her to the brink of a Radio Jockey opening, she says Yes – and surprisingly, or so it would appear initially, so does ‘Radio Wow’.
The only problem? It’s a late night shift and the programme seeking ratings caters primarily to lonely men seeking company at those hours.
How Sulu manages to balance her determination in proving to herself that she is a winner and her responsibilities as an erstwhile housewife – if at all – is what the film is about.
Where Vidya Balan expectedly aces the title character, Manav Kaul manages her brilliance almost frame to frame. His depiction of the open-minded yet insecure man, and the yo-yoing of the two facets, is masterful. In fact, the chemistry that the two share as a refreshingly happy couple is among the highlights of the movie.
But as the storyline and the trailers showcase, Tumhari Sulu echoes in the Radio channel, where Vidya Balan is ably supported by Vijay Maurya, the poet and creator of her show at the radio station, and Neha Dhupia, Sulu’s employer at Radio Wow.
Both manage to amplify Sulu’s impact by ensuring that all other aspects converge to fall perfectly into place such that the unconventional RJ’s ‘hello’ – both metaphorical and actual – strikes exactly where it is intended to.
Manav Kaul’s depiction of the open-minded yet insecure man, and the yo-yoing of the two facets, is masterful
But like in all middleclass families, Sulu has to deal with inertial forces in elder twin sisters Aradhana (Sindhu Shekharan)and Kalpana (Seema Taneja) along with the father (Ugay Lagoo), all of whom are there to put the spanners into the works at the most inopportune moments and yet remain Sulu’s go-to people because, as she aptly puts it herself: ‘they’re family’.
This is not to suggest that Tumhari Sulu is a flawless piece of work. When viewed as a whole, there are obvious sliding patches in the storyline and/or its depiction.
But where the film absolutely nails everything is the personification of the middleclass life and the challenges a married woman faces. There are scenes, and often a strung together array of them, that are breathless cinematic experiences, mostly because of the acting on display and the sheer attention to detail.
Tumhari Suluis a must-watch for anyone that falls in the economic bracket narrated in the film, and especially for housewives who know at heart that main sarsaktihai.