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You often come across unassuming things that astonish and delight you as you experience them, discover them. Suresh Triveni’s sure, poised, delicate and human debut, Tumhari Sulu is one of these.
First, Vidya Balan’s unabashed laughter, equally beautifully normal defiance in conforming to certain body expectations in showbiz are the little moments of reality that we crave for on the screen. And, she is a masterclass in acting. Transiting from a housewife craving to do something – resorting to collecting insignificant recognitions, seeking her identity, to finding it in her voice, and then being bruised by reality, Vidya Balan is mesmerizing. Her charm and earnestness makes you fall in love with her, one laugh, snort and giggle at a time.
The film traces varied complexities with beautiful maturity and ease. The relationship between Sulu and Ashok (Manav Kaul) is laced and wrapped in glorious equality, primarily while Sulu stays at home. Her ambitions are often glazed over, but when she does choose to negotiate them and act, there is support from him keeping his own insecurities low.
It is this controlled, measured performance by Manav Kaul, in a sensitively etched role, that helps you discover these details. His discomforts lie well beyond the realm of his wife being successful, but other everyday issues like lack of time, prioritization and roles. His work, his negotiation of his own emotions in a desperate world full of toxic masculinity, that to feel deeply, to articulate emotions, is not such a bad thing.
The film consistently negotiates patriarchy, up front, with a few characters succumbing to it, and a few consistently fighting it. The film also takes furtive but firm glances at set patterns we are forced to live in – cages of definitions that have pigeons flapping their wings in. Sulu believes that those definitions must be altered. The film shows us that patriarchy isn’t detrimental to women alone, and isn’t perpetuated by men alone – but finds the guilty in all genders. And it is this realization, and the stifling patriarchy that insists the women limit themselves just to certain kinds of roles, that the film takes head on, with the right mix of tears and laughter, in its unhurried 140 minutes.
What takes the film above most of its counterparts is the notion and need of desire. What does Sulu’s voice mean to that listener? What is this late night show? What does it do? Does it reduce loneliness, does it accentuate desire? What remains private between a man and a wife? What happens to that exclusivity? The film tackles all of these, and to ensure I spoil nothing for you, I won’t tell you!
I really do have a lot to say about this fabulous script, that shows through sensitive film making, what personal and political can mean. The need to chase a dream beyond the context of a gender, to understand desire, to create an egalitarian space where a gender doesn’t determine success, is critical. And Tumhari Sulu shows us that this can happen. Neha Dhupia as a station head, Trupti Kamkar as a woman cab driver- all show us women in roles, positions of power, literally in the driving seat- women we meet everyday and still fail to seek inspiration from, but it is the inherent reality of the film, the believability of its rooted characters that make you believe in the world that it creates. And after a while you too see people, beyond gender.
You learn the need to chase a dream, no matter how battered the reality, from Tumhari Sulu. From the gorgeously innocent Sulu, you learn, the power of being persistent, of asking for what you think you can do, for claiming and holding onto an opportunity and make it work for you. And how staying real, being real ensures a place in people’s lives for us. From Maria, you learn that with responsibility comes empathy. It is such a delight to have a film that isn’t apologetic of its roles, isn’t justifying sequences and feminism with cigarettes and alcohol, but by choices.
Vidya Balan. This heartbreakingly good actor, who shows us time and again that she doesn’t need a man to shoulder a film alone. That she is talented, unstoppable, untamed means nothing. But after Tumhari Sulu, it does mean, that adult stories, with mature outlooks will grace our screens, one more time.
Catch the film. It’ll do you good!
Image source: a screen grab from the movie Tumhari Sulu.
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Saumya Baijal, is a writer in both English and Hindi. Her stories, poems and articles
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