Irrfan Khan's Qarib Qarib Singlle And Vidya Balan's Tumhari Sulu Are Perfect Mood-Lifters During The Lockdown- PART 61

Irrfan Khan's Qarib Qarib Singlle And Vidya Balan's Tumhari Sulu are films that teach you to take life as it comes. When life gives you lemons, make lemonade.

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Irrfan Khan's Qarib Qarib Singlle And Vidya Balan's Tumhari Sulu Are Perfect Mood-Lifters During The Lockdown- PART 61
Qarib Qarib  Singlle (2017): Look, there are lots of problems  in  Qarib Qarib Singlle. As  there are in  life. But that’s what makes  life, and life in  the movies, worth  living.
Qarib Qarib Singlle (QQS) is  a delightful  ‘romp’-com  about two middle-aged strangers, one a  widow the other a vagabond, travelling together to meet his ex-girlfriends. Don’t giggle.  Nothing  new here. But then if  you want something new, please visit your nearest mall and buy yourself  a  fresh  coat of paint for your living room. Movies make sense only when they bring us characters we  know in ways that we never knew that we knew them. And  I can swear I have met Yogi and Jaya somewhere. The fact that  they are played by Irrfan and Parvathi(who is  a prized find for Bollywood)  is just so providential for director Tanuja Chandra. The  director gets  the best  possible actors for  the two principal parts. I can’t imagine what Yogi and Jaya would have been like had they been played by George Clooney and Meryl Streep. What  follows after the flawless casting  for  the flawed protagonists  is sheer serendipity, as Yogi and Jaya, so mismatched they make chalk and  cheese appear like long-lost twins, take off on  a  journey that they, and we,  can never forget.

More than  anything  else it is just so refreshing to meet protagonists who are  over-the-hill and not afraid  of  the  view  on  the  other side…. At least not afraid  to peep with brazen  curiosity to see what lies in store after middle age. So  I  was telling you about Jaya and Yogi. Jaya is a 35-year-old widow and Yogi is an obnoxious chipkoo,  a human leech  who just doesn’t know when to stop trying to get the other person’s attention. In  real life we avoid the Yogis, although we know they are helpful, kind generous, considerate and well-meaning. Irrfan pulls  out all stops to  play Yogi. He  redefines  the word ‘obnoxious’, and manages to make Yogi endearing, like a distant benign loud and crass cousin who  makes politically incorrect ambivalently  sexist comments sounds plausible and acceptable. I doubt any actor  except Irrfan could have played Yogi so  honestly. Irrfan has a terrific co-star in Parvathy, a well-known name from  Malayalam cinema, she plays Jaya with the right doses of  insecurity and swagger, pulling in her breath when tense, exhaling exuberantly when relaxed, making Jaya one of Bollywood’s  first post-30 heroines whose insecurities define rather than obstruct the  free flow of festivity. There are memorable cameos dotting the  devilishly flippant plot. Siddharth Menon  as Jaya’s brother  on  FaceTime, is a part that shines  for its writing. Navneet Nishan as a ditzy gossip-monger shows  up twice with lumbering  languor. And the wonderful Brajendra Kala  is terrific in a cameo as a hotel receptionist wondering  if he should allot a single or a double  room to Yogi and Jaya. Our thoughts, exactly. Though we know  how  this would end(movie hai na, baba) we  get sucked into Yogi and  Jaya’s crazy Bharat Darshan, probably because we have all been in such situations thrown together with people whom ideally we would avoid. Also, the journey is so strikingly captured.  

Cinematographer  Eeshit Narain makes Hardwar, Rishikesh, Gangtok and even Rajasthan  look inviting enough to make us want to leave everything behind and rush for a holiday. But not now, please! There is business yet to be finished between this…this…criminally unmatched couple who seem to share nothing in common except trains, planes and taxis. Speaking of taxis, there are two interesting cameos by chauffeurs whom Irrfan’s Yogi insists on calling  ‘Betaji’ and who, again, like  much else  in  the film  are people whom we’ve all met at some point in life. The film persistently strikes  up conversations we have had, or overheard somewhere  or the  other. Tanuja Chandra’s film doesn’t simply touch  your heart. It runs against the most sensitive portions  of  the heart,  tugs and pulls at your emotions in ways that are far from manipulative   or gratuitous. Yes, some  portions after the midpoint  get repetitive. The narrative tends to sag in parts.  But  nothing that Irrfan and Parvathi can’t swoop up in their arms and  revivify. QQS is a gloriously joyous journey into the heart and  the heartland. It is  refreshing to come across a film where the protagonists sound neither over-rehearsed  nor strenuously casual. The conversations are real. Mercifully when these protagonists talk or sing they are not afraid to make  mistakes. And  yes, get ready to fall in love with that vintage Amit Kumar –R D Burman number Bade achche  lagte hain all over again.

Tumhari Sulu (2017): One extra star in this flawed and often loosely structured  film for Vidya Balan’s extraordinarily empathetic performance as  a middle class housewife, okay home-maker,  with serious concentration issues. You see, our Sulochana , aka Sulu can’t focus on any one thing (but then  this film can’t focus on  the issue at hand  either) not even her growing son who , as  it turns out, becomes conveniently problematic as  the narrative  progresses. A scene later in the film in the principal’s office of  Sulu’s son’s school made me cringe in the way similar  sequences of reprimanded parents never made me  feel in  English Vinglish  or English Medium. The progress report of Sulu’s life runs in direct proportion to the storyteller’s(feeble)  ability to  keep the momentum  alive. Or perhaps ‘progress’ is not quite the process this  lengthy often baggy and loose-limbed inconsistent  film achieves as it tries  to put together Sulu’s scattered life into a semblance of cohesiveness. But then you can’t really pin down a middle class home-maker’s life, not when she wants to fly. Vidya Balan brings forward Sulu with all her inconsistencies  and flaws… The trouble is, the  narrative seems  even more inconsistent  and flawed. The editing(by Shivkumar Panicker) is languorous to the  extent  of seeming lazy and compromised. Many sequences  refuse to end just so that we can watch  Ms Balan perform. We  really don’t need any convincing on that score. So why  unnecessarily make  the show a  show reel  for  the  powerhouse actress? 

When  the narrative is not busy converting the converted , and when the camera can pull itself away  from gazing admiringly at  its leading lady’s infinitely immersive portrayal  of what  Glen Campbell sang about  ‘Dreams  Of  An Everyday Housewife’,  it  takes us through a cumbersome labyrinth  of  Mumbai’s  working class  lifestyle. You know, the  local trains,  the economical  eateries, the traffic snarls, the talkative cabbies…. The world of Basu Chatterjee’s  romance comes  into its own in a rush of surface-level nostalgia. Even  the songs used  for  creating nostalgia represent a world that  is scarcely in the past. Compound the  film’s shallow reading of nostalgia with a tendency to get over-cute , and you have an embarrassing sequence like the one  where a senior citizen calls up RJ Sulu and requests  for an  “old” song which turns out to  be ,ha ha, Dil Hai Ki Manta Nahin.

What works, and works like  charm , is Balan. She is incredibly poised in conveying  her character’s uncertainties. The quiver in the voice when hurt by her  husband, the  emotional outburst when  hurt by her son, the sob-filled laughter when hurt by life… Balan’s performance  treads on the shards of life without wounding the  character’s soul. She  is  gloriously charming. And then some  more. Other actors  also lend heft to Sulu’s towering  presence. Neha Dhupia as  Sulu’s boss , Vijay Mourya’s as her jealous  RJ rival and Manav Kaul as her husband are in one word, elevating. In two words, elevating and life-enforcing. But I often felt these well-written defly-performed  characters belonged to  a better more cohesive and  sharply written  film. Tumhari Sulu is  more remarkable for its central performance than  for actualizing the performance  into a state  of  durable renewability. Often, the  storytelling gets sluggish, and the narrative faces the  imminent danger of  losing the audience. But then, Vidya Balan takes charge over and over again. And as in life, so in the film, we realize all  is not lost.

Image source: IMDb