TUMHARI SULU makes a strong feminist statement, Here’s Why :

Poornima Mandpe

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A quintessential middle class housewife Sulochana from Virar becomes a star Radio Jockey after an ordinary competition leads her to discovering her talent to appeal with a voice that can set the listeners’ heart racing with dreams of amorous adventures.

The primary listeners of her night show are, needless to say lonely men (overworked or without work) seeking moments of respite and pleasure.

Her domestic struggles before the stardom are typical- a spouse with an ordinary and low paying job, a son taking steps towards adolescence, and relatives who leave no stone unturned to chide her for her failures, highlighting especially her failed attempts at higher education. Her husband Ashok however is a man with a difference. I don’t mean to say that he is extraordinary in his work or has this amazing personality. He is not even good looking as far as the social standards of beauty in men go. The difference stands out in the first scene itself, when he is seen to be holding his wife’s purse with easy comfort on his right shoulder as he cheers her to complete the chamcha limbu race. On a typically hard day at work, he comes home drunk, but does not vent out his frustration on his wife and child. Even when Sulu’s titillating words to her truck-wala & chowkidar male audience upsets him, he goes as far to sulk in the mornings or nudge her to reflect on her offensive language. He does not react violently or level cheap allegations, with other normal husbands in other normal films would “very justifiably” want to do.

In the scene in which Sulu announces her new job at the Radio station, he demands that she should have discussed it with him first. And what does Sulu do in this situation? She does not walk out giving him a dose of ‘my life, my choice’ (even when she is actually making a conscious and unconventional choice), but promptly takes him to her office. Star struck at the surroundings and convinced of the value the job holds for Sulu, he easily gives in. Negotiation and the belief that they would support each other’s decisions thus, lie at the core of their successful marriage, on which both draw strength.

Her older twin sisters on the other hand, in a series of “well meaning” advises throughout the film invariably berate her for her incomplete education which denies her financially stable banking like jobs (which both of them are into). I wonder if they are shown to be twins because of their identical ideas of respectability and propriety, identical to each other and identical to so many families. They not only admonish Sulu for losing respectability because of her stint at the radio, but also attempt to influence Ashok to take a stand and prevent her from going, to “be a man” in other words. Ashok unfortunately does succumb for a while and in a high end family drama, asks her to leave the job. This is when their son was punished at school for some naughty behaviour, which the family attributes as the consequences of her “odd job” at night.

But even here we understand and feel for Ashok more than ever. Trapped in the ‘man’s world’ like the rest of us, he falls short of showing decisiveness and control expected from him and becomes an easy prey to his boss at the office and his sisters in law at home, both of whom would want to humiliate him for his submissiveness.

Contrast the boss and the sisters with Sulu’s superior and colleague (both woman) at the Radio station, and here is a breath of fresh air. When Sulu tells them her intention to try out for the job of Radio Jockey they are sceptical and amused. They however, do not mock or belittle her for wanting to try this out, even as we think they would for her class, “unsophisticated manners” and lack of spoken English skills. Her boss Mariam is a cool, non competitive and yet successful young woman in a corporate world. She offers a fair chance to Sulu to give the radio audition and appreciates her talent and ambition. Urban, suave and in a position of power, she effectively break the stereotypes that media portrays women in her situations i.e. mean and disrespectful to their female colleagues. Mariam and Mallishka in fact are welcoming and warm and offer full support to her growth, re-creating a safe feminist working space in the minds of the audience.

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Sulu slips into the role of sexy Sulu every night, but at daytime she is her normal quirky self who loves her family and life, she does this with an ease of a seasoned actor removing her apparel and make up after the act is over. She does not take dictates from her colleague who urges her to speak to address the carnal lust of the callers. In a sense thus, she does not allow herself to be objectified. Combining her sharp wit and a dash of erotic playfulness, she beckons desire in her listeners with her silken drawl. She merely creates a fantasy, leaving it to each one’s own interpretations. And that is why when an old man calls up and tells her that her voice resembles the voice of his late wife also called Sulu, she is able to reply with the same warmth and alacrity with which she replies to her other callers.

The film while speaking of women empowerment retains a light hearted narration till the end. (A relief from Vidya Balan’s earlier film Begum Jaan, which in spite of having a potentially liberating female working place of a brothel disappointed the audience with bickering women and screaming and dominating Begum Jaan at the lead) It is simply a story of female protagonist not seen through a male gaze, and that what is giving it all the box office collections!

Poornima Mandpe

About our writer: A dreamer and a book worm, I believe in following the dictates of my heart. I intend to make a meaningful contribution to society in a small way through my writing! Currently a part of an NGO (Akshara) that works for women empowerment and gender justice.

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are independent views solely of the author(s) expressed in their private capacity and do not in any way represent or reflect the views of KrantiKālī.

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