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Siraj Syed

Siraj Syed is the India Correspondent for and a member of FIPRESCI, the International Federation of Film Critics. He is a Film Festival Correspondent since 1976, Film-critic since 1969 and a Feature-writer since 1970. 



Tumhari Sulu, review: BALAN sing act

Tumhari Sulu, review: BALAN sing act

An aspiring film-maker was driving back from work one night in Mumbai and caught a late night phone-in show on local FM radio. That’s all it took. His launch feature had been shelved and he needed another project to make the million dollar move, from ad and promo films to the big screen. The writer in him got cracking, working backwards, from the sexy female voice on the speaker to a peppy house-wife alter ego of the self same. The man’s name is Suresh Triveni, and the actress who he cast in the role of the RJ is Vidya Balan. Triveni had been “in love” with Balan for years, and she was the heroine of the abandoned film. And boy, should he be glad that she agreed to play Tumhari Sulu!

Happy-go-lucky Sulochana (fondly known as Sulu), a suburban Mumbai housewife, lives with her husband, Ashok, a sales manager in a traditional company clothing manufacturing company that sells uniforms, and their 11-year-old son, Pranav. Sulu keeps herself entertained through the day, which includes listening to her favourite radio station and taking part in every possible contest, in the neighbourhood, at other localities in Mumbai, and even on the radio.

Sulu ends up winning a pressure cooker through a contest on Radio Wow, and when she goes to collect her prize, she meets her idol, Albeli Anjali, and the station’s owner, Maria. In an unexpected turn of events, she lands the job of an RJ (radio jockey) at the same station, where she is made to anchor a night show, which involves chatting with odd-ball callers, strangers and lonely souls. Quite simply, the programme is titled Tumhari Sulu. At first, they attempt to groom her into the nuances of the job, but ultimately even the cranky in-house script-writer/poet Pankaj gives us, and she crafts a style all her own. Obviously, this wreaks havoc with her family life. Ashok is secretly supportive of the idea but her two twin sisters, who have always put her down, and her father, find it disgusting and repulsive.

Debutant writer-director Suresh Triveni grew up in Ranchi, where he failed high school, but managed to become an engineer. After job hopping, he landed-up as a client servicing executive at an advertising agency, Chennai, and even worked for a music channel there. Mumbai followed. Here, he carved a name for himself with a series of promos for STAR Sports, the ‘Mauke Pe Chauka’ series. Some 70 other ad film assignments followed. Tumhari Sulu is a casting coup, of just one, and that proves almost enough: Vidya Balan. But more about her later.

On the surface, it is a cliché-ridden plot. A full-of-life housewife has a loving but brutally exploited at work husband, and an 11 year-old who is no saint in the making. More adversity is around in the shape of her twin older sisters and their husbands, whose idea of a respectable source of income is employment with a bank. And after an amazing set of co-incidences, here she is, on air every night, taking calls from largely love-starved and sex-starved callers. She put on the husky, sex-oozing “Hello”, but then gets down to using home truths to address issues that could be bordering on the off-colour. And yet, with a cliché at the core, Triveni weaves some interesting embroidery.

It is in the snippety insertions that Triveni truly scores: the tiffin supplier, the tailors at the sweat factory, the two senile old men in the bosses’ chairs, the fleeting glimpses of the two air-hostess neighbours, the prank Sulu plays on the local grocer, the cab-driver who is a feisty survivor. Also, the direction n which the son’s track moves is hardly what would have been expected. Sadly, he does get carried away with the son’s reaction on being discovered and in the characterisation of the ‘revolutionary’ poet. Moreover does little justice to Albeli Anjali. Dialogue is a mish-mash of regular Hindi and grammatically wrong phrases. Even if is done to bring out the ethnicity of the characters, it sticks out. Using the night silhouette of bulbs switching off along the Mumbai suburban skyline and of pigeons fluttering as a tool for effective editing points is done once too often. The way in which Sulu runs away after boarding the office car, which seems to be planted and ready, driven by the official driver, even as her bosses are in hot pursuit, is illogical.

Clunky, flat-footed, uninhibited alternately spunky and frustrated, Vidya Balan sings, mimics, shakes some thighs, teases, nags, plays the fool, pours motherly and conjugal love, indulges in childish mischief, carries her food and peas-to-peel to work, and simply works wonders. Tumhari Sulu has several pitfalls, but her Balan sing act gets the film past the line on a tight-rope walk. According to the director, Manav Kaul (Kai Po Che!, Haider, Jolly LL.B. 2)’s part was conceived as an actor in the late Sanjeev Kumar mould. That’s a far cry, and he is just passably dignified.

Vijay Maurya (Tees Maar Khan, Bhootnath Returns, Dhanak) plays Pankaj with multi-valency and confused, contrived looks, as well as quick, getaway exits. Neha Dhupia (Singh is Kinng, De Dana Dan, Hindi Medium) as Maria and her entire sub-plot with Pankaj needed better-writing. Malishka Mendonsa, the immensely popular Radio Jockey who stirred-up a hornet’s nest with her music video on the abject condition of Mumbai roads and water-logging in the monsoon, is perfectly cast as Albeli Anjali. But she deserved much, much better. Malishka, who had coached Vidya Balan when she plated the RJ in the big hit Lage Raho Munnabhai (2006), is shown as the person who discovers Sulu, but is given only two real scenes in the rest of the film. Also, possessing the Sulu “Hello” sensuality in real-life, why wasn’t she shown training Sulu?

Looking for a bad, mean, avaricious, detestable upstart? Here’s Santanu Ghatak, playing Sanjay. By the way, he has also penned one of the songs. Sindhu Shekharan as Aradhana and Seema Taneja as Kalpana, the twin trouble-makers, fit the bill. Abhishek Sharma as the 11 year-old Pranav is as cocky as they come. Uday Lagoo has pretty little to do as the father, while Trupti Khamkar as the driver puts in a nice little cameo.

Inclusion of old hit film song numbers like Hawa Hawaii and Zuby Zuby Zuby, and the mimicry of S.P. Balasubrahmanyam, some remixed, some just hummed, draws a few chuckles but these ploys are not germane to the story. Original track ‘Ban ja rani’ has a quiet lilt about it.

Rating: ** 1/2




About Siraj Syed

Syed Siraj
(Siraj Associates)

Siraj Syed is a film-critic since 1970 and a Former President of the Freelance Film Journalists' Combine of India.

He is the India Correspondent of and a member of FIPRESCI, the international Federation of Film Critics, Munich, Germany

Siraj Syed has contributed over 1,015 articles on cinema, international film festivals, conventions, exhibitions, etc., most recently, at IFFI (Goa), MIFF (Mumbai), MFF/MAMI (Mumbai) and CommunicAsia (Singapore). He often edits film festival daily bulletins.

He is also an actor and a dubbing artiste. Further, he has been teaching media, acting and dubbing at over 30 institutes in India and Singapore, since 1984.

Bandra West, Mumbai


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