Director: Suresh Triveni
Cast: Vidya Balan, Manav Kaul, Neha Dhupia, Vijay Maurya
Above all, Tumhari Sulu is a masterclass in acting. It's a testament to the skill and smarts of Vidya Balan who lifts an underdeveloped screenplay by just acting the hell out of it. Vidya is Sulu, an enterprising, spirited woman drowning in the drudgery of domesticity – she's cooking, doing laundry, making tea for her brittle twin sisters who visit only to disapprove. But she longs to soar, to go out there and do something. This is a woman who relishes life, who juices every moment she gets to shine – including a lemon and spoon race in her son's school. She doesn't care if she comes in second. Her concern is that the lemon shouldn't fall.
Sulu is a singular character. She has, what the French call, joie de vivre. She is a force of nature and Vidya plays her to perfection. Vidya revels in Sulu's energy, her giddy effervescence and her aching vulnerability. By a fantastical turn of events, Sulu becomes a radio jockey – a sari-clad siren with a husky voice who talks at night to lonely men – of course they don't know she's also peeling peas simultaneously. Sulu loves her job and the freedom and opportunity it gives her. But her new-found clout has consequences for her family.
It's a lovely idea but this is where debutant director Suresh Triveni falters. He has created a full-bodied character but her circumstances seem more convenient than organic. Sulu is someone we could know. However, the other characters – her loving husband Ashok, played by Manav Kaul, her boss Maria, played by Neha Dhupia, and her producer Pankaj, played by Vijay Maurya – are just types. They are superficial signifiers rather than flesh and blood people.
What happens when a middle-class housewife starts to talk dirty to strangers at night? What are the thorny conversations a husband and wife have before this becomes routine? Ashok's anger and hurt is shown but not probed. Tumhari Sulu is designed to be good-natured and endearing so even the late-night, heavy breathing conversations never get too risqué – in fact Sulu seems to be a version of Munna Bhai from Lage Raho Munna Bhai – helping people in need. Incidentally Vidya also played a radio jockey in that film. Ashok's troubles at his factory job seem imposed just to move the plot. And their son's track, which brings matters to a head, is especially clumsy.
Suresh creates a wonderfully lived-in texture – Sulu and Ashok's home, their hopes, their conversations – are finely etched. But the film is slow in the first half and seems to be forcefully rushing to a climax in the second. There are also a few unnecessary songs – including a remix of Hawa Hawai, which is designed to be charming but does little. May I put in a personal request here to filmmakers – please, just let the legends be.
But through these bumps, Vidya doesn't falter. She is a bulldozer flattening out the flaws with her blazing performance. At the end, when Sulu articulates what this job meant to her and weeps, I cried with her. There's also a stellar moment in which Sulu acknowledges her lack of credentials – she is after all a 12th standard fail.
See this film for Vidya. Her unfettered joy will make you smile.