Sluggish Sulu is lifted by Vidya Balan’s empathetic performance
Tumhari Sulu, Starring Vidya Balan, Manav Kaul, Neha Dhupia, Vijay Mourya
Directed by Suresh Triveni
One extra star in this flawed and often loosely structured film for Vidya Balan’s extraordinarily empathetic performance as a middleclass housewife, okay homemaker, with serious concentration issues.
You see, our Sulochana, aka Sulu can’t focus on any one thing (but then this film can’t focus on the issue at hand either) not even her growing son who, as it turns out, becomes conveniently problematic as the narrative progresses.
A scene later in the film in the principal’s office of Sulu’s son’s school made me cringe in the way similar sequences of reprimanded parents never made me feel in English Vinglish or English Medium.
The progress report of Sulu’s life runs in direct proportion to the storyteller’s (feeble) ability to keep the momentum alive.
Or perhaps ‘progress’ is not quite the process this lengthy often baggy and loose-limbed inconsistent film achieves as it tries to put together Sulu’s scattered life into semblance of cohesiveness. But then you can’t really pin down a middleclass home maker’s life, not when she wants to fly.
Vidya Balan brings forward Sulu with all her inconsistencies and flaws. The trouble is the narrative seems even more inconsistent and flawed. The editing(by Shivkumar Panicker) is languorous to the extent of seeming lazy and compromised.
Many sequences refuse to end just so that we can watch Balan perform. We really don’t need any convincing on that score. So why unnecessarily make the show a showreel for the powerhouse actress?
When the narrative is not busy converting the converted, and when the camera can pull itself away from gazing admiringly at its leading lady’s infinitely immersive portrayal of what Glen Campbell sang about ‘Dreams Of An Everyday Housewife’, it takes us through a cumbersome labyrinth of Mumbai’s workingclass lifestyle.
You know, the local trains, the economical eateries, the traffic snarls, the talkative cabbiea.The world of Basu Chatterjee’s romance comes into its own in a rush of surface-level nostalgia.
Even the songs used for creating nostalgia represent a world that is scarcely in the past. Compound the film’s shallow reading of nostalgia with a tendency to get over-cute, and you have an embarrassing sequence like the one where a senior citizen calls up RJ Sulu and requests for an “old” song which turns out to be, ha ha,Dil Hai Ki Manta Nahin.
What works, and works like charm, is Balan. She is incredibly poised in conveying her character’s uncertainties. The quiver in the voice when hurt by her husband, the emotional outburst when hurt by her son, the sob-filled laughter when hurt by lifea Balan’s performance treads on the shards of life without wounding the character’s soul.
She is gloriously charming. And then some more.
Other actors also lend heft to Sulu’s towering presence. Neha Dhupia as Sulu’s boss, Vijay Mourya’s as her jealous RJ rival and Manav Kaul as her husband are in one word, elevating. In two words, elevating and life-enforcing.
But I often felt these well-written defly-performed characters belonged to a better more cohesive and sharply written film.
Tumhari Sulu is more remarkable for its central performance then for actualizing the performance into a state of durable renewability. Often, the storytelling gets sluggish, and the narrative faces the imminent danger of losing the audience.
But then, Vidya Balan takes charge over and over again. And as in life, so in the film, we realize all is not lost.