Director: Sonal Joshi
Writers: Radhika Anand, Paulomi Datta, Rupinder Inderjit
Cast: Shilpa Shetty Kundra, Chaitannya Choudhry, Kusha Kapila, Dilnaz Irani, Pavleen Gujral, Maahi Jain, Vinod Nagpal
Duration: 144 mins
Available in: Theatres
One hundred and 44 minutes later, I still don’t know what Sukhee is. Don’t read the following questions in a superhero-intro tone. Read them as pure befuddlement. Is Sukhee yet another coming-of-age tale about a low-key glamorous homemaker who decides to stop being a doormat and defy her blatantly rude family? Is it a film about a middle-aged couple who’ve lost their mojo? Is it a feminist comedy about four old college friends who reignite their chemistry after 25 years? Or is it just an endless drama about a wife, mother and daughter learning to be a woman again? The strange part is that Sukhee fails as all of these stories, separately and together. The stranger part is that it plays out like a buy-one-get-three-free offer, with a title that has less to do with the protagonist’s name (Sukhpreet) and more with the sort of dialogue that rhymes sukhee (happy) with dukhee (sad).
The strangest part of the film, though, is its utter randomness. At one point, out of nowhere, a fed-up Sukhee (a miscast Shilpa Shetty Kundra) – who leaves her sexist husband and daughter to attend a high-school reunion in Delhi – becomes a professional jockey. The horse-riding metaphor (taking control and all that) is stretched to the point of no return: Sukhee actually competes in a prestigious derby and wins the race. The message is that a housewife can do anything. Never mind that this race – featuring some aesthetic bobbing on a horse (named Badal of course) – is at odds with the very idea of film-making. It looks less convincing than Kusha Kapila and Shilpa Shetty being paired as childhood pals. No amount of editing can link the unblemished close-ups of the actress’ non-sweaty face with wide shots of her body doubles. Surely, there are simpler allegories in this world. Like becoming a javelin thrower and breaking the fourth wall to pierce the chest of a viewer. The race also exists to create a forcibly meta moment, where a character quotes a Baazigar line to Sukhee (Context: Shetty debuted in the 1993 thriller). A better ode would have been a young (and awfully de-aged) Sukhee flirting on a terrace ledge during her meet-cute flashbacks. In a denim jacket, no less. But the film doesn’t know how to be cool.
At another point, the four friends go on a Delhi street-food tour. There is no reason to. They just do. Most of the film looks like a skin-product advertisement, but this part looks like a travel show. How else does a screenplay imply that Sukhee misses the girlhood she lost? It’s no surprise that this montage culminates in a scene at a public toilet with plenty of farting (dry and wet), loose motions, tears and an impassioned intervention, in no particular order. It’s also no surprise that Sukhee’s daughter delivers a Kuch Kuch Hota Hai-style speech about the importance of mothers during a debate contest only for the moderator to declare – amidst loud applause – that she got the topic wrong. Sukhee’s escape to Delhi also features a rugged school crush (Amit Sadh), estranged parents (Kiran Kumar doing what he’s always done), and sad-smiley scenes of her family struggling to cook, clean and bond without her.
It isn’t enough that the daughter misses Sukhee; she must befriend a motherless girl in school so that she realizes how lucky she is. It isn’t enough that the husband has an awakening; he must be reminded of Sukhee’s ‘worth’ while watching a couple lovingly nurse each other in a hospital. It isn’t enough that Sukhee is a supportive parent; she has to be seen hooting and whistling when her child wins a science prize. It isn’t enough that the teenager lashes out during this sudden separation phase; a female principal must scold her father and say, “This is a school, not a family court!”. It also isn’t enough for Sukhee to be secure with its own identity as a socially expressive movie; a male character must float the plan of watching the new Vidya Balan movie so that another can unironically dismiss “these women-empowerment stories” as a fad. The joke is on them, because Balan’s Tumhari Sulu (2017) remains one of the few high-points of the genre.
Which is to say that films like Sukhee suffer from a worrying lack of self-awareness. They set out to display the silent strength of homemakers, only to treat them as exotic creatures who can win horse races, eat like scavengers, curse like sailors and ride macho motorbikes. The urge to make a statement consumes the story. The writing isolates the housewife from the world she occupies, reducing her to a supernatural concept. The logic being: If she doesn’t smash the patriarchy or fly to the moon or learn a new language or run a marathon, is she really winning? If she doesn’t solve climate change, will her kids respect her? If Sukhee isn’t kooky, will she always be dukhee?