Feminism is the radical notion that women are people said someone famous. That sums up feminism better than any long winded definitio...

Sunday, 31 December 2017

In Which Sulu Must Step Back

Movie Review : Tumhari Sulu

Let me state right away that I'm a fan of Vidya Balan's and I try not to miss any of her movies. I went to watch Tumhari Sulu with very little expectations, as the trailer promised it to be a light hearted comedy and I expected to come away with a few laughs. Anything but. 

The film turned out to be a good comedy specially in the first half, as happens with most Bollywood fare. The eponymous Sulu is played by Vidya. Manav Kaul, playing Sulu's husband, fits the bill of an average middle class man who slogs it out for a pittance of a salary, but by all appearances theirs is a happy family. (As an aside, who lives in that big a house in Mumbai, on that salary, with only one earning person in the family? A house with a balcony and that too with a swing in it!) Sulu and husband are happy, and there is a lot of affectionate banter between the couple. Vidya Balan is good with the funny and delivers her comic lines to perfection. 

Enter the weird extended family of Sulu, comprising her super achiever twin sisters and their father. This troika of father and sisters is out to humiliate Sulu, reminding her of her academic failures and bringing up her multiple misadventures in trying to launch various unsuccessful money-making schemes. This family takes being dysfunctional very seriously, with classism thrown in for good measure. 

Vidya taps into the cheerful housewife character well and we lap up the eternal optimist Sulu who charms her way into our hearts, with her pride in winning numerous small competitions. She pulls off just right pitch so that the cheerfulness doesn't get cloying neither does the humor turn cheesy.  

Sulu soon manages to land a job as a radio jockey with her "main kar sakti hai" spirit. Neha Dhupia as her employer and Vijay Maurya as her colleague, competitor-turned-friend put in efficient performances. However, it's a late night slot and Sulu is required and encouraged to tap into her sexuality as she talks to men in a sexy voice. Sulu anchors a talk show and is soon catering to men's fantasies. Her callers are often working class men who turn to the radio for a bit of easily available mush, and it's all fun and games, till it's not. Was the hint of sexuality in the role play the problem? We are never sure. 

With her new well-paying and satisfying job Sulu ends up neglecting her household chores and more importantly her duties as wife and mother. She tries hard to juggle both household chores and motherhood, but fails. The movie crash lands face down into pure melodrama territory, so out of character for it's protagonists. A loving, caring husband turns into a nasty monster just to satisfy the movie's need to create friction. 

It's not just the chores that she's required to do but also that she must care for her child and provide emotional support to her husband. Sulu ends up walking away from the job, because her family needs her. Even though she's earning the same salary as her husband, and he's almost on the verge of losing his job, yet it's important that the Indian woman be the mother and homemaker first. Why could she not hire a care giver or a creche for her child? Even more important, why did her workplace not help her on the home front so she could retain her job? 

Sulu joins the ranks of millions of Indian women leaving the workforce. Not only is there a decline in female work participation, but the total number of women in the workforce has shrunk. 67% of  women graduates in rural areas and 68.3% of urban women graduates don't have a paid job even as education levels among women are rising. Sociologists are figuring out it's partly due to lack of support with housework, partly a sense of lost honor if a daughter/wife works outside the home. Patriarchal attitudes more than anything else keep women away from paid work. What does it say about our culture when a medium as popular and accessible as cinema, supports this stigmatization of women joining the workforce? 

As many men happily pointed out, Sulu does launch yet another scheme. That portrayal is more a nod to the mandatory happy ending cos the film is comedy, methinks. It plays into the trope that Sulu is a fickle person. Her stint as a professional where she would stride into her office with confidence, is over. We go back to the non-threatening, bumbling good-for-a-few-laughs Sulu. 

The woman is back in the kitchen. You're safe, guys. Go home. 

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