There’s a dialogue in Tumhari Sulu, often spoken by our spunky main character—‘Main kar sakti hai (I can do it). And with this philosophy within easy reach, Sulu (played masterfully with heart and mischief by Vidya Balan) is up for anything— especially new business ideas. She’s been contemplating a taxi business these days, and her husband sportingly plays along, hoping better sense prevails.
She also has a penchant for winning oddball competitions like the ‘Lata Mangeshkar Sad Song Competition’, ‘Fastest Vegetable Cutter contest’, even topping the ‘lemon-spoon’ race held in her housing colony.
She rattles off these achievements to impress the dazed boss at a radio station, hoping to nail a job, while morosely adding that she’s 12th standard fail. Sulu has been missing going out in the world and working, and looks at herself in the mirror play-acting going to an imaginary office with a bag on the shoulder.
The opportunity presents itself for real when Sulu wins a pressure cooker in a radio contest and goes to collect the prize. She sees an ad for an RJ at the office, and that’s that! Sulu, dressed in her sari-bindi-braid combo, announces she wants to audition for an RJ position.
Initially she gets laughed at and called “time-pass aunty”. But her spunk and hunger to do something strikes a chord with the boss (Neha Dhupia, excellent) who wants to give her a chance. Sulu then has to navigate her way from her middle-class home to the swankiness of her new office and colleagues, balancing home and job, late-nights and barbs from relatives.
In a way, this character finally blooms and comes-of-age in middle-age. Much like Sridevi’s Shashi in English Vinglish. Like in English Vinglish, the husband (Manav Kaul) is conditioned to be unsupportive of the wife and remains in awe of her success. The difference is that while in English Vinglish, the husband has always been insensitive, here, Sulu’s husband is caught between his love and adoration for his wife, and what society and relatives expect him to be (an authority who reigns in the wife). So while he happily presses Sulu’s tired feet after a long day, he also gets affected by his wife’s newfound independence and feels obligated to object to her odd work-timings.
Both films are about a woman coming-of-age by earning appreciation from the world outside. They take the first brave step of going out into uncharted territory, and the world rewards their brave move with applause and accolades.
Interestingly, both English Vinglish and Tumhari Sulu have an incident with the child as a crux point where the protagonist finds themselves at a crossroads. It’s almost like they are forced to choose between two aspects of life that can co-exist quite naturally, if only they accept that occasional imbalances are inevitable and that’s fine.
Kangana Ranaut’s Queen too had a woman, heartbroken yet determined, who defies everything she’s been conditioned to believe, especially about herself. And in doing so, she eventually finds herself.
From the effervescent Sulu, the hesitant Shashi, to the pushed-by- circumstances Rani, here’s to the female late-bloomers of Hindi films. Women who were made to believe they were ordinary, until they discovered their inner rock-star!