There’s a moment in Tumhari Sulu that takes one back to school, when teachers would prod students to talk about what their parents do. While the father’s job was told with pride, without a smidgen of self-doubt, the mother’s job usually never mattered. Almost always, it was assumed she’d be a homemaker and whenever the child was up to no good, the mother was hauled up for not doing her part. The father was always excused, as he actually had a real job.
Suresh Triveni in Tumhari Sulu explores this ridiculous bias with such deft and heart. While the recent spate of films show the homemaker getting bored and pursuing something outside their marriage, Triveni goes on to explore a similar trope but with something more grounded, more solid to keep Sulu floating.
Sulochana is a homemaker who takes care of her 11-year-old son and husband, Ashok, who works in a garment company. A typical middle class family in Virar, Mumbai, who takes delight in spending time with each other, going out on little drives, and participating in fun competitions. Sulochana, while she doesn’t mind the house work, longs to do something for herself. Her family eggs her on to continue doing what she’s doing, constantly pulling up her past, of how she is amounting to nothing because she flunked her Class 12 exams. It’s all in jest but one can see her feeling let down by her own family. Ashok, too, sometimes gives in but she reminds him that he ought to be on her team.
Having won several gifts such as pressure cooker, grinder, vase, through competitions such as ‘lemon on spoon race’ or the musical chairs organised by the society, Sulu takes much pride in winning these competitions. Sure, her family belittles her from time to time but she doesn’t let a shadow of doubt set in. A chance win at a radio contest sparks an unknown fire within – what if she were to become an RJ?
After a lot of hesitation, apprehensions, and pursuing, she becomes an RJ with a starting salary of Rs 30,000. For her, it’s about doing something that she knows she was meant to do.
Needless to say, she’s terrific at her job and does far better than expected. Her show ‘Tumhari Sulu’ is a late night one where she simply talks to people, albeit with a rather sexy voice. Make no mistake, it’s no sex hotline because anything inappropriate said to her, Sulu is quick enough to put them back in their place.
Oppositions from family begin, where even Ashok starts to lose faith. While the film focuses on Sulu and if she would become the RJ we need, there are vignettes of Ashok and his awful time at work, snippets of their son facing a hard time in school, and how as a family they have their own issues but Sulu, somehow, glues them back together.
There isn’t a moment when one would feel Vidya Balan is acting. Every little scene, every little word uttered is so organic, that one cannot help but get involved in Sulochana’s family. You laugh when she laughs, you bite your lips when there’s a moment of suspense, and you cry with her and her family. And while the whole idea of a bored homemaker doing something in life has been done far too many times, Vidya brings in a freshness, where there’s comedy, romance, and a lot of heart to it.
As RJ Sulu, she listens to people. Some call her for problems, others simply love to hear her talk. Used to calls from lonely young men, one night she gets a call from an old man. The producer of the show tells her to hang up because it wouldn’t be saucy like the others. But she does it anyway, and it turns out to be one of those scenes that last in the film. A lonely old man calls her to tell her that his late wife’s name was Sulochana and she was just like her.
She asks him about her, and he talks while having his dinner alone. It’s not a poignant scene but goes on to show that there’s a lot of loneliness that each caller comes with. And with RJ Sulu’s comforting voice and her hilarious analogies, it helps a lot of callers feel a little better, a little less lonely.
The details are also far too real. Ashok is a typical middle class man, the kind who believes switching on the air condition in the car would finish up the petrol fast, the kind who would not waste money on fixing the TV because it ought to be replaced, and someone who gets unnervingly suspicious about his hair fall when he starts getting messages from Dr Batra’s Clinic. He slogs at his job and wonders if he could be doing something else but believes his chance is over. Upon watching Sulu with a job she loves, he’s quickly seen updating his bio-data on Microsoft Word.
Triveni has an eye for detail of the little things in life, it might not be much but certainly gets the setting and sentiments right.
Sulu’s background is also carefully placed, with the characters giving more to what she was like and why she is the way she is. It’s rare to have that, especially a female lead with a solid background and not just someone who overnight became a totally different person. It’s as though Sulu were a real person. It wouldn’t be surprising though.
The film goes on to show that there are far too many Sulus out there who yearn to break out from their monotonous life, those who aren’t given the much-needed credit for raising a family all on her own while they take her for granted.
Tumhari Sulu is undoubtedly feminist, where we watch her break those shackles and grow, where she learns that it’s not just a woman’s responsibility to take care of the house, even helping her husband to realise this. If anything, it’s an ode to all the homemakers who get little time or credit for themselves. A heartfelt ode at that.
The Tumhari Sulu review is a Silverscreen original article. It was not paid for or commissioned by anyone associated with the movie. Silverscreen.in and its writers do not have any commercial relationship with movies that are reviewed on the site.