As a kid, if you have participated in the lemon and spoon race competition, what has been your biggest fear? Dropping the lemon or being left behind? Sulu, i.e. Sulochana, belongs to the ilk that solely focuses on balancing the lemon, irrespective of winning or losing the race. The lemon (reminiscent of the saying, when life gives you lemon) here is a metaphor for the responsibilities of an Indian housewife.
Once during a theatre event, the ensemble of actors was being introduced on stage. While almost every actor was given a one-line description of being an engineer with a passion for music and theatre, an actress was merely mentioned as ‘housewife’. Far from the one-line descriptor, her entire identity was summed up in just one word, ‘housewife’.
This incident left an indelible impression on my mind, instantly recalling the tireless strives of a woman to ensure the entire household works smoothly, including cooking, laundry, cleaning, to the children’s education. If this ‘lemon’ ever happened to slip, she’s the only one to be blamed. In an interview, Vidya Balan stated that it irks her when women describe themselves as ‘I am just a housewife’. Tumhari Sulu is a 140-minute justification of her aversion.
The actress transforms herself into Sulu with a veteran’s glee, so much so that you’d end up calling her Sulu after watching this gem of a film. Any action by a good actor on camera is incomplete without reaction of an equally good actor.
Director Suresh Triveni, an ad filmmaker making debut with this film, understands this fact to the core, which is evident in the meticulously chosen casting, especially Manav Kaul. This chameleon of an actor continues to surprise his audience with his every film, with the role’s length notwithstanding. Fortunately, we get to see more of him in Tumhari Sulu, as Ashok Dubey (Strange, am not even ‘Googling’ names while writing this and am amazed at my ability to recall his character’s name written in bold on his CV).
Ashok’s role isn’t a cakewalk. It requires an immense measure of underplaying, yet convincing the audience that he is a potential threat towards the innocent dreams of Sulu. Revealing any scene here would be a crime because each nuanced performance and moment from this film’s screenplay deserves one to experience on a big screen rather than digital ink. Manav Kaul, as Ashok is easily one of the most memorable characters you’ll ever come across. Let me elaborate here, sans giving away anything.
To begin with, whenever a female-oriented film is made, the male character is either dumb, ruthless or both. Ashok is far from such stereotype. He is a typical middle-class man shouldering responsibilities of his wife and a school-going kid, enduring the extremities of a horrible boss (‘Are you on a half-day? He asks while Ashok leaves after a hectic day’s job – sounds familiar, isn’t it?), and the insecurities of being husband of a successful wife without charting the ‘Abhimaan’ route. And Manav Kaul balances all these aspects of his character as efficiently as Sulu balances the lemon on the spoon.
Among the ensemble of actors, Neha Dhupia is quite a revelation, especially for her last scene in the film that requires her to hold back her emotions and face the reality of a housewife’s fate, feigning a smile and an oft-repeated affirmation of ‘It’s cool’. Vijay Maurya, as the ‘aandolankaari writer’ is hilariously endearing, even with a silent stare with a deadpan expression and turning off his moving chair. Right from the ‘12th fail’ mouthing father, ‘job chhod dein’ chanting twin sisters, to the ‘I am sorry papa’ repeating kid, each actor is worth a mention in Tumhari Sulu.
Saurabh Goswami shoots with a distinct style wherein he establishes a place’s environ before going with the wide shots, a technique he uses while capturing the ambiance of a radio station and the song montage is amazingly cut by Shivkumar Panicker. Music, apart from Ban ja tu meri rani, is plain average and Hawa Hawai remake comes across as quite redundant in a film with such engaging story and screenplay written by Suresh Triveni.
To sum it up, Tumhari Sulu is one of those rare films of our times which make us care for its characters… In an age of brevity, here’s a slice-of-life film that takes its own time, allowing you to not only peek into the lives of a middle-class household, but also laugh at their impromptu jigs, hum their bedroom ditties, chuckle at their pipedreams, and hold back your tears during their loss. Now when was the last time you cared about a film’s character so much? Has a resignation been such painful before that you almost ended up uttering, ‘Don’t quit’ under your breath? Tumhari Sulu is that kind of film. Thanks, director Suresh Triveni for balancing the lemon of your story so well.
– Prakash Gowda