Tumhari Sulu

I’ve actually watched a bunch of movies and been reading/re-reading some books but nothing quite stirred up the spirit of contrariety within me as Vidya Balan’s new movie Tumhari Sulu.

Directed by Suresh Triveni the movie is funny, authentic- and in the tradition of Bollywood movies of the past 10 years – very visually appealing. The light falls well on everything and you never see a harsh image or an uninviting face. Even the Tweedledum like out-line of the dumpy shop-keeper (a character thrown in for some additional comic relief) seems to achieve aesthetic definition. His moronic assistant is a recognisable individual type, and not merely one of the interchangeable faces of poverty.

The entire cast really is perfect. Perfectly casted :). Vidya Balan has received well- deserved rave reviews for lending spirit and incredible charm to her character. She plays a house-wife named Sulu who failed high school, and currently lives a life of unbroken domesticity, ambling good-naturedly around the kitchen and dining-table, while tending to her husband and pre-teen son.

Balan’s capacity for portraying spirit, zest and bubbling good-humour, all harnessed by maternal and wifely concerns, without being too annoying to her female viewers is really commendable. Even more interesting is her portrayal of Sulu’s capacity for moderation in all things (quarreling with your extended family for instance) and her ability to handle confrontation (over the question of her new job). Balan got me very  invested in Sulu’s character-arc as she tumbles into an RJ-ing gig and figures out a new place for herself in the scheme of things. Manav Kaul, Neha Dhupia,and Vijay Maurya were lovely in their roles as husband,boss, and grudging,competitive,ego-maniacal colleague.

All this complimenting and I have forgotten what got me so annoyed to begin with. Oh yes, domesticity. It is a virtue, probably, but it can enervate. I understand that this is a nice family-friendly film where everyone between ages 7-70 may crowd in together. It’s just that I wish it wasn’t as family-friendly as that. This movie (or Suresh Triveni) doesn’t make mistakes-it isn’t coy or ridiculous-but its determination to maintain an atmosphere of superior good-nature around the way a wife and mother occasionally (if we’re counting, I think, once) hands out sex to her immature husband is a little unbelievable. I don’t mean that Balan should have to portray a ravening sex fiend house-wife, because that would have been a little unbelievable too (and smacks of a porn movie premise) it’s just that – what is it with the doling out of sex and housekeeping all with the air of good cheer and amity? She’s finally a little selfish when she wants to keep her job and the movie doesn’t crucify her for that, so that’s nice.

You know whats so effing unbelievable about actors who portray happy little helpers onscreen – “I can’t keep my job and miss this”- (kids and dusting the furniture), is that they’re all ACTORS. They don’t mind getting help in their own lives and they’re passionate about being successful, or at least happy. In real life they would be more like “Well I did want you, but I’ll only be home on weekends and evenings.”

Domesticity is important though for the portrayal of marital sex.Domesticity makes it okay. Domesticity contains it and even enshrines pleasure within Duty. Domesticity allows married women to have sex because they exhibit no untoward greed, selfish pleasure, or independent thinking. They go about the task with the calmness of a well regulated mind which knows it has behaved itself well and can rise to every (to other feeble minded souls) startling occasion with great composure. Is it wonderful to have nothing surprise you?

Vidya Balan’s character is permitted mild ego and plenty of imagination in the context of her occupation. We still need to domesticate such a character somewhere, because we’re still uncomfortable around her.

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