Warning: Spoilers ahead
Tumhari Sulu left me with mixed emotions. On one hand, Vidya Balan is loveable and radiant as she navigates towards her aspirations. On the other hand, her sweet husband Ashok portrayed by Manav Kaul, who in her words is a gai(cow) and manages to trigger unpleasant emotions.
A supportive husband is hard to come by in our patriarchal society, and Ashok is definitely above par when it comes to standing up for his life partner. But his patriarchal condition manages to claw through the sweet exterior anyway. When someone makes a sultry audio story about Sulu, he is passive aggressive and silent. His rage at Sulu rather than the perpetrator, indicates the victim blaming we regularly subject women to.
When he sees his domesticated wife slipping away and enjoying herself at her workplace, he comes up with the brilliant idea of nudging her to have another baby. This conversation is resolved with jokes and laughter, but it is in fact quite disturbing.
Coming from a character who’s supposed to be caring and supportive, this strategy to control Sulu and her sexuality seems almost innocent when it is actually quite sinister. Maybe I expected the movie to call out this unhealthy behaviour. Subtlety doesn’t go a long way with Indian audiences.
What the movie does get right, is women supporting each other at the workplace. We’ve had enough of ‘Aurat hi Aurat ki Dushman‘ trope and Neha Dhupia shines as the woman-in-charge who uplifts her women employees. The female cab driver was a show-stealer. Her simplicity and spirit won many hearts. Her story of achieving financial independence even at the cost of her marriage was poignantly delivered.
Sulu’s family was so real I could have sworn I have these exact characters in my own family. Indians cling to families and extended relatives quite tenaciously, always paying heed to the proverbial log kya kahenge? Sulu stands up to their bullying and uses it as fuel to move forward unapologetically.
Her undoing is her own ingrained glorification of motherhood. A mother who is always responsible for her child’s mistakes, a mother who is always present and perfect. When she perceives that she has failed these standards, her world collapses. As women, we internalize these unrealistic expectations and hold ourselves to the altar of sacrifice, even without realising it.
What the movie does get right, is women supporting each other at the workplace. We’ve had enough of ‘Aurat hi Aurat ki Dushman‘ trope.
The script leaves you wanting so much more. We do not see any story of harassment that a sultry, sexy RJ could have faced from late night callers. We watch Sulu walk into deserted office buildings and elevators, which would be a scary prospect for any woman, but Sulu thankfully never encounters any untoward situation.
Heartening as it was to have a happy ending, it comes at the cost of Sulu putting her husband’s needs ahead of hers anyway. She devises a business plan for him, ironically called “Ashok tiffin service” (while surely she is the one doing the cooking?).
The movie left me with a lot of unanswered questions. Is this movie feminist at all? Is it pandering too much to the idea of sanskari motherhood? Is Sulu capable of doing something for herself without putting her family first?
In the end, Sulu pleases everyone – her husband, her son, her boss- and stays optimistic through all her trials. Tumhari Sulu leaves you wishing you had more time with Sulu, so that maybe, one day, you could see Nobody’s Sulu.
Featured Image Credit: India TV