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Tumhari Sulu Movie Review: Sluggish Movie Is Lifted By Vidya’s Empathetic Performance!

Subhash K . Jha

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Tumhari Sulu

Movie: Tumhari Sulu
Starring: Vidya Balan, Manav Kaul, Neha Dhupia, Vijay Mourya
Directed by: Suresh Triveni
Rating: *** ½

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-limbedin consistent  film achieves as it tries  to put together Sulu’s scattered life intoa 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  Ms 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 cabbie….The world of BasuChatterjee’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.

Really!

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 life…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.

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