Sunday, January 21, 2018

Tumhari Sulu—Main Kar Sakti Hai

Suresh Triveni's Tumhari Sulu is a delightful film about Sulochana, affectionately known as Sulu (Vidya Balan). She is a housewife and is married to Ashok (Manav Kaul). Sulu wants to do something in life, and has many different ideas. Sulu likes to do everything and does not let her lack of academic qualifications deter her. She loves to participate in contests and competitions of all kinds. A win in one such contest lands her a job as a radio jockey (RJ) at Radio Wow. She becomes the host of a late-night show where she becomes the Saree-vali Bhabhi, like Savita Bhabhi, and talks to people (mainly men), giving solutions to their problems.
The consistently repeating theme that we see throughout Tumhari Sulu is that of women, especially, working women. These women are shown everywhere in the film. Initially, in the first few scenes of the film, Sulu watches a woman driving an Ola cab, and gets an idea that she should start her own cab company. Sulu's neighbors are two women, working as air hostesses, whom she often greets when they come back from work. When Sulu is looking for a job, she goes to a gym where the caretaker is a pregnant woman. After Sulu starts working at Radio Wow, the driver assigned to pick-and-drop Sulu from her place is a married woman, who tells Sulu that her husband left her after she started working. At another point in the film, Sulu visits her sisters and one of her sisters tells the maid Kamla to stop cleaning the floor. Her small presence is also mentioned in the film. In another scene in the film, a policewoman is seen driving a two-wheeler, taking her son to school and telling him to not forget to eat his lunch. When Sulu's son Pranav goes missing, the inspector who comes at Sulu's house is again a woman. Sulu's twin sisters are also working women, who are employed at a bank. Radio Wow is led and run primarily by women—there is Maria, Albeli Anjali, and the 'convent-educated' receptionist. The film itself is about Sulu's desire to do something. It also has the grace to include transgender women, another underrepresented community of women. In a lovely scene, a transgender woman stands next to Sulu in a bus and seems a little hesitant to sit on the seat, as it is reserved for women. Sulu sees her and gestures her to sit next to her. It is in these moments the film tries to acknowledge women from all walks of life.
The film's song Farrata is a lovely tribute to not just Sulu, but to all the common women, whom we don't see often. We see that Sulu is called a champion quite a few times in the film. When she participates in the lemon-and-spoon race, Ashok calls her a champion. Sulu's sisters Haina-Didi, Haan-Didi also call her a champion all the time. When Sulu visits Maria at her office, the nameplate in her office states that she is a champion. In the end, when Sulu is thinking of quitting, she again tells Maria that she is truly a champion. It is this sense of championship of common women, who are managing their household and professional duties, that the film celebrates. It is no coincidence that the office of Radio Wow is shown to be located at Inspire BKC building. It is these women, inspirational in their own way, who are acknowledged and recognized in the film.
Tumhari Sulu opens with the sequence where Sulu is shown to be participating in a lemon-and-spoon race. When the timer begins, all the women run past her, but Sulu waits to balance the lemon on the spoon. Many other women subsequently drop out as their lemon falls; however, Sulu manages to complete the race without dropping out, even though she does not win the race. In the end, when Sulu is talking to Maria about resigning, she tells her that she never bothered about winning or losing the lemon-and-spoon race as her only focus was that the lemon should not fall. Sulu felt that it was her work that caused a 'daandi gol' in her household responsibilities; hence, she wanted to stop working. The lemon remaining intact symbolized the balance that many married and working women have to maintain between their professional and their household work. This lemon-and-spoon race was pointing to this sense of delicate equilibrium. 
We see a different form of balance at another stage in the film. At one point, Ashok is repairing a bulb, and Sulu is stabilizing the stool on which he stands. Sulu jokingly moves away from the stool causing Ashok to lose his balance, again, highlighting that Sulu is the stabilizing force in her house. The life of her husband and her son falls in disarray when she starts working. Ashok can't even make a cup of tea without Sulu.

The other trope that is present in the film is that of flying. A pigeon, whom Sulu jokingly calls Bhagyashree ki bachchi (because of the pigeon in Maine Pyar Kiya), keeps visiting her house. The pigeon is, actually, present at many other stages in the film. The film's posters also show a pigeon in them. The sound of birds, especially, that of a crow and that of a pigeon, can be heard all through the film. Sulu's ringtone is Koyal Si Teri Boli from Beta, again, quite fitting not just to her voice but also to her desire to fly. The film shows Sulu dancing on Hawa Hawai from Mr. India. She is also shown as superwoman with a red cape, who is trying to fly. After Sulu agrees to do the show, Maria tells her, "So we are ready to fly?" The song Manwa Likes To Fly yet again underscores Sulu's soaring desire to fly and to fulfill her many ideas. Manva pankh phaila ke likes to fly. 
One of my most favorite scenes in Zoya Akhtar's Luck By Chance is the one where Sona (Konkona Sensharma) comes back to her house and finds out that she has won a refrigerator in a competition. After the refrigerator is kept inside her house, she takes a chair and keeps looking at it with its door open. There is no dialogue in the scene, yet, I find those ten seconds so devastating in what it is trying to say. She remembers the time when she did not even want to fill the form for the participating in the competition. She had dismissed the very idea of it, but it was Vikram (Farhan Akhtar) who filled the competition form for her, telling her that if she filled the form, there is at least some chance of her winning, but if she did not participate, then, there was absolutely no chance of her winning. At a later point, he tells Sona that he does not believe in the concept of luck and destiny as these words are for those who do not have the capability in them to make their own life. Vikram was selfish and manipulative, but he had the hunger and the passion to get he wanted, unlike his friend Abhimanyu (Arjun Mathur), who was content in doing small roles. Woh aag nahi hai usme. In the end, Vikram manages to become a big film star. Sona gets the refrigerator as Vikram's slogan, "No Frost, No Cost," was declared the winner, and she realizes that, perhaps, Vikram was right all along. It is futile to blame your misfortunes on kismat, instead one should focus on making chances to fulfill one's dreams. When Sulu wins a pressure cooker in Prestige 'Sawaal Batao Seeti Bajao' contest, I got reminded of the refrigerator scene from Luck By Chance. At some other point in Tumhari Sulu, Sulu is listening to a show on the radio while grating carrots and the voice on the radio tells her, "Aap ki kismat aapke haath main. Heere ko chamakne me waqt lagta hai. Ghiste ghiste hi woh heera chamakta hai. Aapne me bhi hai woh baat toh sochna kya." Your destiny is in your hands. Diamonds don't shine in a day. But on constant polishing, it starts shining. You have the talent, so, don't think twice. It is to note that the scenes in the two films are, essentially, talking about the same message that one needs to make their own destiny. Sulu participated in all kinds of competitions and managed to win some of those. And, it was her participation in one of the contests that eventually paved the way for her to get a chance to be an RJ. She used to always say, "Main kar sakti hai." I can do it. She was persistent. Maria, in fact, tells Pankaj that Sulu had the hunger in her (like Vikram had) to do something. While Sona gets the refrigerator due to Vikram, Sulu wins a pressure cooker (and many other things), but the larger point that the two films are trying to make using the competitions is the same, that one makes his own destiny. In addition, the two films also share the trope of flying.
I am not entirely sure about the purpose but it must be mentioned that Tumhari Sulu is making some kind of a point by showing the environment of Sulu's son and her husband as all-male spaces. Pranav's school is an all-boys school where the teacher and the principal are men. Ashok's office is also an all-male workplace, that is in the business of making school uniforms, where the kids are replaced with older men. At many points, the film juxtaposes the scenes of boys fighting in the school with the men fighting at Ashok's office. This juxtaposition of scenes was also seen at Sulu's house, where in the morning, Sulu wakes up Pranav, and immediately the next shot cuts to Ashok waking up. Maybe it has to with the influence that women bring to workspaces, as we also see the difference in the behavior of female bosses and male bosses in the film. Ashok's manager displays abhorrent behavior towards him and puts the blame for his own faults on Ashok. He calls Ashok a nincompoop when he did nothing wrong. He tells Ashok to put his eyes down while talking to him. In contrast, we see Maria encourages Sulu to work. She tells Sulu, "Upar chadhte waqt neeche mat dekh." Don't look down while climbing up. One is saying to look down, and the other is saying to not look down.
The film beautifully depicts the marital relationship of Ashok and Sulu, something which we don't see often in films. They sing S.P. Balasubrahmanyam's Batata Wada (from Hifazat) together in bed. She asks him, "Ashok, mere pair daba do," when she feels tired. She lovingly calls him as meek as a cow. In the initial moments of the film, we see him holding her bag while she participates in the race. He is worried about losing his hair due to aging. We see their conversation ends with shots of apartment buildings, perhaps, a signal that this could be a couple in any of these apartments. The song Ban Ja Rani shows them, dancing, flirting, and engaging in foreplay. When Sulu's show becomes a hit, and Ashok is having problems at his job, it felt that the film was going into Abhimaan territory, but it does not completely venture down that path. Ashok was not jealous of Sulu. He started feeling that Sulu was neglecting her household responsibilities.
I was a little confused in the end as I thought that Sulu left her job to start a food delivery business with Ashok. The whole climactic sequence felt rushed. It was only when she goes back to the radio office that I fully got it. Also, like we see it in R.Balki's films, there is a focus on promoting certain brands in the film, such as Boroline, Cheeselings, and Panasonic. The gift card scene also became another opportunity to showcase a jewelry brand. Since Suresh Triveni has been an advertising professional, maybe, it is hard to let go of an opportunity to advertise.
The film will not be what it is if Sulu was played by someone else other than Vidya Balan. She is simply outstanding as Sulu. Tumhari Sulu is her second role where she plays an RJ. Her first role where she played one was in Rajkumar Hirani's Lage Raho Munna Bhai. There is not one false note in her performance. And, her laughter is infectious. She is a gift to all of us. There is a point where Ayushmann Khurrana asks for her autograph. Vidya is so brilliant as Sulu that even I want an autograph of her. Manav Kaul as Ashok is equally fantastic. Neha Dhupia seems to have perfected the role of an urban sophisticated woman. I found her to be very graceful in the film.
My favorite scene in the film was when Sulu talks to an older man, Sudhakar Reddy, whose wife has passed away. His wife's name was also Sulochana, and he used to affectionately call her Sulu. He is reminded of his wife when he hears Sulu's voice on the radio. He lives alone these days, and we see him eating all alone. Sulu sings his favorite song Dil Hai Ki Manta Nahi with him, and calls him Sudha, the same way his wife used to call him. When he hears this, he smiles, as if his own wife is talking to him. It is such a heartwarming scene to see how a voice can act as an elixir of life to someone. It is hard to remain unmoved by watching this old lonely man get unbridled joy for a few seconds. Eliza Cook once said, "How cruelly sweet are the echoes that start, when memory plays an old tune on the heart." An old tune on the heart. Truly.
List of contests in which Sulu has participated:
1. Sawaal Batao Seeti Bajao contest
2. Asli Mummy contest
3. Saree fastest tying competition
4. Lata Mangekshar sad song singing contest
5. Main Radio ki fan hun, mere fan me hai radio contest
6. Fastest vegetable cutter contest
7. Mummy dance contest
8. Antakshari contest

Is Tumhari Sulu (possibly) the first Hindi film to show a fidget spinner?
R. K. Laxman's Common Man
Ashok's cell phone ringtone is the Gayatri Mantra, while Sulu's cell phone ringtone is Koyal Si Teri Boli from Beta. Sulu and Ashok sing Batata Wada from Hifazat. Sulu sings Dheere Dheere Se from Aashiqui. Zindagi Ki Talaash Mein from Saathi can be heard on the radio.

Dialogue of the Day:
"Main kar sakti hai."
—Sulu, Tumhari Sulu

Sunday, January 14, 2018

Omkara—Swinging Between Two Faces

The fact that Vishal Bhardwaj has a special relationship with Shakespeare is well known. He has made three films based on the plays written by Shakespeare—Maqbool (based on Macbeth), Omkara (based on Othello), and Haider (based on Hamlet). The strong leading women characters in the three films, namely Nimmi (Tabu), Dolly (Kareena Kapoor), and Ghazala (Tabu), are uniquely compelling in their own way. There is a kind of perceived duality in his female characters, and Bhardwaj uses certain symbolic elements, particularly in Omkara and Haider, to accentuate their mysticism and enigma. 
In the early moments of Omkara, there is a scene where Omkara (Ajay Devgn) is walking towards Dolly. Raghunath Mishra (Kamal Tiwari), Dolly's father, comes in his way, and tells him, "Bahubali, aurat ke tariya charitra ko mat bhulna. Jo ladki apne baap ko thag sakti hai, woh kisi aur ki sagi kya hogi." The film's script as well as the subtitles translate this as, "May you never forget the two-faced monster a woman is. She who can dupe her own father will never be anyone’s to claim." It is noteworthy that 'two-faced monster' is used to describe Dolly. When Raghunath says this, he is looking at Dolly, who is seen standing behind the tinted glass of his car. Just like Raghunath comes in the way of Dolly and Omkara in the scene, the same words would later come in the way of Omkara's ability to trust Dolly. Dolly's father germinated the idea of her untrustworthiness in Omkara's mind at that moment. Omkara will later look at Dolly through the tinted views of her father. He would see two faces of Dolly, and is not sure which one is her true one—the one that loves him, or the one that is having an affair with Kesu (Vivek Oberoi) behind his back. In fact, at a later point in the film, Omkara jokes about the two faces of Dolly when he tells her, "Ya toh tu bahut badi lool hai ya bahut badi chudail." Whenever he looks at her, there is a thought that crosses his mind that either she is a fool to fall in love with a man like him, or she is a witch who does black magic beneath the veneer of her beauty. When Omkara kills Dolly, he says the same words, "Tariya charitra."
In addition, we see that Dolly's father uses the word thag to describe her. Thag means to deceive or to dupe someone. This thagna is also used in the song Naina Thag Lenge where the lyrics say that one must never trust his eyes, as they will eventually con him. Looks are often deceptive, and what appears to be true is quite different from what is actually true. At a later stage in the film, Omkara questions Langda (Saif Ali Khan) on the verisimilitude of his account of Dolly's relationship with Kesu. He is suspicious that whatever Langda tells him about the stories of Kesu and Dolly, there is never any third person present to validate Langda's words. He feels doubtful of Langda because whenever he looks into Dolly’s eyes, he only sees the love for him and Langda's account of Dolly and Kesu's affair sounds crooked to him. Teri saari Ramayan kapat lage hai mujhe. Langda plays his cards and manipulates people to convince Omkara of Dolly's infidelity. Omkara was, thus, unable trust the love that he saw for him in Dolly's eyes, and kills her because one must never trust the eyes as naina thag lenge.
Vishal Bhardwaj effectively uses a swing as the symbolic representation of the two faces of Dolly, or more aptly, the two shifting faces of Dolly in Omkara's mind. There is many a scene in the film where Dolly is often found sitting on a swing. After Omkara is angry with Kesu for his violent outburst after getting drunk at a party, Kesu asks Dolly to talk to Omkara for his forgiveness. In the particular scene, Dolly, dressed in pure white, is seen on the swing outside, with Indu on one side and Kesu on the other side. She is happily enjoying herself on the swing, and tells Kesu that she will talk to Omkara so that he can forgive Kesu. In the song Lakad Jal Ke, we see that Dolly, dressed in white, is sitting on a swing again and Omkara is standing beside and watching her. The camera pans the entire view when Dolly is circling on the swing. The lyrics of the song imply Omkara's jealousy and suspicion. Lakad jalke koyla hoye jaaye, koyla hoye jaaye khaak. Jiya jale toh kuch na hoye re. Wood burns and turns into coal, the coal turns into ashes. When the heart burns, nothing happens. The burning of Omkara's heart led to killing the very person he dearly loved.
At a later point, we again see Dolly and Omkara lying next to each other on the swing inside Omkara's house after a night of passionate lovemaking. Dolly is dressed in black and white, while Omkara has his black shawl with the red border draped over his body, and the swing is red. Omkara caresses her and sings a lullaby to her, whose words say that he makes an unbreakable promise, like King Dashratha's, if she wakes up. Dolly opens her eyes, and asks for Kesu's forgiveness. Hearing this, Omkara storms out of the room. The same scene is repeated in the last moments of the film where it takes a much sinister turn, making it one of the most hauntingly memorable endings in films. It is the night after the wedding of Dolly and Omkara. They are again lying on the same swing as before. Dolly is dressed in her bridal red saree and makeup, while Omkara is wearing white. Now convinced of Dolly's infidelity, Omkara puts a cushion on Dolly's face and suffocates her to death. However, only minutes later, he gets to know the truth from Indu (Konkona Sensharma). Realizing his monumental crime, he starts singing the same lullaby, which he sang earlier, to wake her up, but this time, his Misri Ki Pudia will never wake up again. Consumed by guilt, he shoots himself and dies. Dolly's dead body remains swinging on the swing, and Omkara's dead body is seen below her on the floor. The film ends with the shot of the two dead bodies and the unforgettable sound of the creaking swing, in a way, signifying that Omkara's emotional upheaval, swinging and seesawing between trusting and doubting Dolly, eventually, led to the end of their story. The swing, where Omkara sang a lullaby for Dolly's innocence, like that of a little child, becomes the deathbed for Dolly's lies and manipulation, like that of a shrewd woman.
There is another swing-related scene in the film where Dolly and Omkara of them are lying in the swing, and he tells her his life story, and the reason as to why he is known as a half-caste in the village. She replies that even if the crescent moon is half, it is still called as the moon. The swing is their area, and shifts from being a place of trust to being a place of suspicion. It must also be said that the color palette of the above-mentioned swing scenes. Dolly and Omkara are dressed in white, red, and black, the colors that represent emotions, such as love, purity, doubt, and manipulation, among others.
Many notable film scholars have elaborated on the motif of the swing in the film with other interesting interpretations. In Singing to Shakespeare in Omkara, Poonam Trivedi writes, "With the dead lovers laid out on and below a swing, its visual underlines what the song hauntingly echoes—the tragic swings of fate." In Deconstructing the Stereotype: Reconsidering Indian Culture, Literature and Cinema, Kaustav Chakraborty writes, "The fact that the bed is depicted as a swing invokes the interchangeability of child-like vulnerability and sensuality, and the oscillating attitude that her lover shares toward her, as father-figure/protector and killer." In Constrained Women in Omkara: Marriage, Mythology, and Movies, Rebecca Dmello observes a caste subtext in the swing and opines, "In Omkara, however, there is a deliberate and intriguing physical disconnection of the two main characters. On some level, the spatial disorientation is enhanced by a swing in motion. The separation through the use of the swing also has a pronounced effect in representing the disparity between the castes of the two characters. Dolly, who is a Brahmin, is elevated even in death while her halfcaste husband languishes below her. Bringing the caste disparity to the fore in the last scene, Bhardwaj highlights the suppression experienced due to the insecurity that arises as a result of the caste system."
Vishal Bhardwaj makes a similar comparison of this perceived duality of the woman in Haider as well. Like the two faces of Dolly in Omkara, Ghazala was also shown to have two faces. At one point in the film, Ghazala walks into her old house that was destroyed by the Indian Army to meet her son Haider (Shahid Kapoor). When she enters the house, there is a broken mirror on the wall, and in that mirror, we can see two faces of her. On seeing her mother, Haider remarks, "Do chehre hain aapke. Yeh baayein vala masoom hai, ye daayein vala chor" She has two faces literally in the scene, and metaphorically in the film. There is something mysterious about Ghazala that throughout the film we are not sure whether she was complicit in the murder of her husband or was she only a victim. In the beginning of the film, she is teaching a poem on house—What is a home? It is brothers and sisters, and fathers and mothers, it is unselfishly acts (sic) and kindly sharing, and showing your loved ones you are always caring—perhaps, pointing to the unhappiness in her marriage because her husband was always busy and she said that had no wajood in his life, so, sometimes, we wonder if she was a victim as well. We also see that she is sleeping in the same bed with Khurram, and we wonder if she did something terrible, too. 

At an earlier stage in the film, Haider comes back from Aligarh and goes to his uncle's house and he stands behind a translucent purdah listening to the conversation between Ghazala and Khurram. The purdah was what defined Ghazala's mysticism, that we cannot see her clearly. There is something hidden and enigmatic about her, like the view from a purdah. There are quite a few scenes in Omkara as well where Dolly is seen behind the purdah, reflecting Omkara's cloudy vision. However, the difference between the two faces of Ghazala and Dolly is that the audience is well aware of Dolly's innocence all along and the viewer knows that it is Langda's manipulations that are pumping doubts in Omkara's mind (there is literally a hand pump scene in the film where Langda keeps instigating Omkara about Dolly while taking out water from a hand pump), while in the case of Ghazala, it is not only Haider, but even the audience is not able to fully make up its mind about her character till the end. As Ghazala says, "Kuch bhi kar lun, villain to main hi rehne vali hun." Whatever she does, she is going to be called the villain. 
Curtains in Omkara and Haider
We don't see an explicit mention of the two faces of Nimmi in Maqbool. But there are shades of duality in her character, too, as Baradwaj Rangan eloquently puts it here, "When Abbaji begins to shower attention on another coquette, when Nimmi realises her days as mistress are numbered, she garlands herself, like a sacrificial goat, and asks Maqbool to kill her—or kill Abbaji. At times like these, it’s difficult to discern if Nimmi truly loves Maqbool, or if he is, to her, merely a weak-willed instrument of redemption."
Even though Vishal Bhardwaj takes the material from the Bard, he adapts them to an Indian setting with a realism and a rootedness. It never feels fake. The combination of the elements of the Bard and B(h)ardwaj, Hindi cinema's Bard, make these three films as some of the finest films of all time in Hindi cinema, and its characters, especially, the women, as some of the most memorable ones.

Books In Movies:
Godaan by Munshi Premchand
Book Recommendation:
Shakespeare's Othello because a post on Shakespeare will be incomplete without mentioning his writing. 

Other Reading:
1. On HaiderLink
2. On Omkara's scriptLink
3. On the Sacred and the Profane in Omkara—Link
4. On the Constrained Women in Omkara: Marriage, Mythology, and MoviesLink

Dialogue of the Day:
"Chaand jab aadha ho jaave hai na, toh bhi chaand hi kehlave hai."
Dolly, Omkara