Sulu side up: Vidya Balan dazzles with her voice & verve

She’s a bubble, a balloon, a blabberer, Sridevi’s shadow, Sheikh Chilli’s long lost twin, a Cloud 9 resident, crazy contest addict and (on the outskirts of Mumbai) Virar’s spirited sari-wali bhabhi whose winning streak is as unswerving as the spring in her step and the smile on her lips.

Sulochana aka Sulu is the sort of exuberant middle-class housewife who’d easily be reduced to a silly laugh track in most movies. But in Suresh Triveni’s witty, warm-hearted slice of life, she’s the nucleus and unsung everywoman whose success you desire more than anything else. 

There’s an effortless familiarity to the close-knit world Tumhari Sulu weaves in its 140 minutes running time.

Its inhabitants are simply human in all their flawed, fallible existence, taking comfort in monotony, finding purpose amidst conventionality yet dedicatedly endeavouring to move up in the world. 

And in Vidya Balan’s supple skin and expressive timbre, the ambitions of a determined dreamer are richly exemplified. 

A radiant blend of strong, sensitive and artless, her Sulu compensates for lack of savvy with spunk. It’s her unhesitating impulses — whether inquiring if she could get a TV in place of a pressure cooker at a recently won radio contest, cutting off a radio jockey mid-sentence to finish her Koyal si teri boli rendition or turning a bedroom Batata vada moment into a public declaration — that lend Sulu’s zeal an instant likability. 

When Sulu secures second place in the neighbourhood lemon and spoon race, she promptly clambers on top of the winner’s podium to pose before her compliant husband Ashok’s (Manav Kaul) phone camera.

Balancing ambition and reality is not quite that simple though — a realisation Sulu eventually grapples with, after taking up hosting duties for a midnight radio show.

As the husky-voiced agony aunt applying her domestic knowledge to offer aloo mattar paneer analogies while resolving romantic complications, Sulu’s new role is a piece of cake. 

While she exults in her newfound financial independence and professional progress, the men in her life are having a hard time.

Sulu’s son is bullied at school and Ashok’s new boss makes life hell for him.

Tumhari Sulu skilfully compares the duo’s status quo to underscore what a delightful and dreadful job can do to the psyche of the employee. 

Despite its love for feel-good, Tumhari Sulu isn’t stuck in a fool’s paradise and confronts the conflicts thrown in its path.

Triveni looks sympathetically at the woes of a working woman and the constant guilt she’s compelled to deal with even as he acknowledges the frustration engulfing Ashok’s pushover temperament.

Things never get overly dramatic but the film sharply notes the problematic dynamics of bourgeois homes, where even a seemingly supportive spouse cannot suppress his insecurity and suggests having another kid just when his wife’s career is starting to take off or imply a kid’s misconduct is the mother’s fault.

Manav conveys these intense hues with mellow grace and tremendous control. His marriage to Vidya feels lived-in and fine-tuned.

Like him, every single actor in Tumhari Sulu is a natural fit for his or her part. 

Be it Neha Dhupia’s glamorous, easy-going radio head, Vijay Maurya’s comically proud poet, Sulu’s disapproving twin sisters, the Punjabi receptionist, the ‘conjuncti-virus’ struck tiffin service, the listener who is reminded of his wife in Sulu’s hearty laugh, the well-meaning lady cabbie, every significant and secondary character strikes a chord in Tumhari Sulu with its inherent ‘humarapan.’

And so it’s a bit of bummer when Tumhari Sulu takes a mawkish turn towards the climax to overemphasise its sentiment and almost overstay its welcome.

Except, who dare resist that sexy laugh or smouldering Hellooo…?

Rating: 3.5

This review was first published on rediff.com.

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