Sunday, February 11, 2018

Devdas—Of Radha, Krishna, and Meera

It is strange to me that I find it harder to write on the films that I love. Perhaps, it has something to do with the attachment that one forms with the film, and it is difficult to put down in words the feelings of that bond. Sanjay Leela Bhansali's Devdas remains my favorite film of his, and in the last few weeks, I have watched it again so many times, and continue to remain dazzled by its opulence, not just visual, but also emotional. Set in the early 1900s, Devdas is the story of Devdas Mukherjee (Shah Rukh Khan). His wealthy family prohibits him from marrying his childhood love Paro (Aishwarya Rai) because of her lower caste and class. An embittered Devdas embraces alcoholism and meets a courtesan Chandramukhi (Madhuri Dixit) who falls for him. The film is the story of these three characters, and is based on Sarat Chandra Chattopadhyay's novel Devdas
In the oeuvre of Mr. Bhansali, there is a devotional aspect associated with love and the same is portrayed in Devdas as well. As per him, love is the purest form of emotion, and it is equivalent to worshipping God. Chandramukhi defines love as, "Pyaar aatma ki parchhai hai, ishq ishwar ki ibadat, aur mohabbat zindagi ka maksad." Love is the shadow of the soul. Love is the devotion to God. Love is the purpose of life. The Arabic word ibadat—the plural form of ibadah—is translated as worship and refers to obedience, submission, and devotion to God. Ibadat is the one word that perfectly describes Mr. Bhansali's definition of love, and this is why ibadat keeps reappearing in his repertoire.
The film compares the love between Dev and Paro to be similar to the one between Krishna and Radha. Krishna and Radha were childhood lovers. They married different people but all their life, they loved each other. Just before Paro's wedding, Dev wounds her and metaphorically marries her. All their life they loved each other. Dev and Paro were, thus, like Krishna and Radha. This is also evident in the song Morey Piya where Dev and Paro are shown to be doing Raas Leela, like Krishna and Radha. The lyrics say, "Dhumak dhumak kar naach rahi thi meri Radha pyaari, jaane kahan se Raas rachaane aaya chhaila girdhaari.Thumping, my lovely Radha was dancing. Who knows from where this Krishna has come to play Raas. 
Chandramukhi is Meera, the mystic poet who gave up her royal life to become a devotee of Krishna. At some point, Paro comes to Chandramukhi's place to inquire about Dev's whereabouts. Chandramukhi touches Paro's feet, and introduces herself as Devdasi—a devotee of Devdas. She tells Paro that she has not seen Dev for nearly six months. Paro believes it to be a lie, and storms inside Chandramukhi's room. Instead of Dev, she only finds an idol of Krishna. Chandramukhi tells her, "Hamari nazar se dekhogi, toh chaaro taraf paogi unko. Aaj bhi mahakta hai yeh kamra unki khushboo se. Main toh sirf unki pooja karti hun." If she sees from her perspective, she will find Dev everywhere. His fragrance still lingers in the room. She only worships him. In this aspect, Dev is Krishna to Chandramukhi's Meera. Like God, he is omnipresent to her. She has not even removed the spilled chalice from which Dev used to drink. On seeing Chandramukhi's devotion, Paro remarks, "Ek tawaif jogan ban gayi." A courtesan has become a devotee. In this scene, Chandramukhi is dressed entirely in saffron, the same color often associated with jogans, such as Meera. Later, in the song, Chalak Chalak, Chandramukhi is again compared to Meera and the lyrics say, "Hey naache Meera, jogan banke, O mere Ghanshaam. Naache Meera leherake balkhaake, O mere Ghanshaam." Meera dances like she is dancing for her Krishna. 
Paro is more like Radha, and Chandramukhi is more like Meera, but they have been shown to also have the traits of the other. Paro's devotion for Dev by lighting a diya (a lamp) for him is like Meera's devotion for Krishna. Amitava Nag in his essay From Devdas to Dev writes, "Parvati’s wait for Devdas attains mythical heights analogous to Radha’s love for Krishna, or Meera Bai’s selfless sacrifice and devotion to Sri Krishna. In Parvati’s submission to Devdas she inherits the traits of both Radha and Meera Baia rare incarnation which obviates her treatment as a mere human character." In Kaahe Chhed Mode, Chandramukhi dances on the song where Radha is complaining that Krishna kissed her. Dhaai shaam rok lai, rok lai, rok lai. Dhaai shaam rok lai, aur chakmaka mukh choom lai. Krishna stopped me, stopped me. Krishna stopped me, and he suddenly kissed me on my face. Thus, she has also been given something related to Radha. Paro and Chandramukhi are both Radha and Meera and this becomes more clear when the film treats the two of them as equal lovers of Dev.
Chandramukhi might be a courtesan, with a bad reputation in the society, but the film treats her love for Dev almost as important as Paro's love for Dev, and here in the lies the film's subversiveness. There is a point in the film where Dev tells Chandramukhi that for him, Paro and Chandramukhi are like his two eyes. Paro is sentimental and vivacious. Chandramukhi is delicate and demure. Paro is fickle, like a doe, gushing like a river. She is the liar, the butterfly, and the moon. Chandramukhi is a poem, and a ballad. Everyone loves Paro, but Chandramukhi is unloved by all except Dev. But at the end of it, they are Dev's eyes through which he sees the world. They might be different from each other in person, but, they share the love for the same man. Paro's face is compared with the moon; Chandramukhi's name itself means who has a face like the moon. They both worship Dev. In Hamesha Tumko Chaha, Paro sings, "Tumhe dil ne hai pooja, pooja, pooja. Aur pooja kuch bhi nahin." My heart worshipped only you, and worshipped no one else. Later, Chandramukhi also tells Paro that she worships Dev. Main toh sirf unki pooja karti hun. When they are taking leave from Dev, they both go and touch his feet. At some point, Dev gives Paro the kangan (the bangle) that his grandmother kept for Dev's future wife. When Paro meets Chandramukhi, she gives the same bangle to her, because as Dev's other worshipper, she should have also the right to wear it. In this way, she gives Chandramukhi something that was meant for Dev's wife. The film treats Chandramukhi with immense grace, and gives her a stature equal to Dev's wife, just like Paro's.
There are quite other scenes that depict the underlying similarity of Paro and Chandramukhi. The two of them, Paro and Chandramukhi, waited for Dev in their life. Paro waited ten years for him to come and lit a diya for him. Chandramukhi does not dance and waits for Dev to come to her courthouse because jab tak aap nahi ayenge, mehfil nahi sajegi. Dev catches an insect in his hand when he sees it hovering around Paro because he cannot bear the thought of anyone touching her. Later, when Dev is at Chandramukhi's place, he again catches an insect hovering around her, but says, that it is trying to touch a paper flower instead of a lotus. Both Paro and Chandramukhi preserve Dev's memories. Paro puts the three rupees that she stole from Dev in her saree's pallu all the time. Tumhari yaadein mere daaman se hai. Every memory of Dev is precious to her. Likewise, Chandramukhi preserved the room the way Dev left it. She has not even removed the spilled chalice from which Dev used to drink alcohol. Like Paro, Chandramukhi finds Dev in the flame of the lamp. 
The film further reiterates their similar stature of the two in the song Dola Re Dola. There is no mention of any meeting taking place between Paro and Chandramukhi in Sarat Chandra's work. However, Devdas not only has a meeting between the two, but it extends this meeting to a full-fledged celebratory dance on the occasion of Durga Puja. Before the song, Paro visits Chandramukhi and asks for mitti (soil) from her place for creating Durga's idol. It is believed that those who visit prostitutes leave their purity and virtues outside the house of the prostitutes, thereby, making the soil outside the prostitute's house pure and virtuous. This soil is used for creating Durga's idol. There was a similar scene in Shakti Samanta's Amar Prem, where a sculptor takes some mud from Pushpa's place for making an idol of Durga. In Devdas, Paro invites Chandramukhi to her place for Durga Puja. When Chandramukhi arrives, she introduces Chandramukhi as her friend in front of her mother-in-law. Paro convinces Chandramukhi to dance with her so that they can forget their heartache for some time.
In the song, Paro and Chandramukhi are dressed identically together in a red-and-white saree, and adorn a lot of jewelry. This uniformity in their dressing reflected the shared love they have for the same man i.e. Devdas. The two women dance together not in private, but in front of the society, underscoring their equal standing. Paro is married to a zamindar, and is the thakurain, a feudal term derived from Thakur which means a master, and represented the upper class of people. Chandramukhi is the tawaif, a courtesan who was shunned by all, and has no respect in the eyes of the society. They sing, "Lag jaane do najariya, gir jaane do bijuriya." Let everyone stare at them, let the lightning fall. Paro and Chandramukhi are well aware of what they are doing. They know that they are disrupting societal norms. Even if the heavens strike, they do not care, because they want to dance for the man they love, and love sees no class barriers. 
A few moments later, Chandramukhi says, "Baandh ke main ghungroo," and Paro continues, "Pehen ke main payal." It is here again the film brings out the difference and the similarity in Paro and Chandramukhi by the kind of jewelry they wear. Chandramukhi sits on the floor, and shows her ghungroo, while Paro remains standing and bends to show her payal. A payal is usually associated with a woman's beauty and grace. Ghunghroo has been traditionally worn by classical dancers for centuries; however, it gained the reputation of adorning the feet of courtesans through Indian cinema, in movies, such as Umrao Jaan, Pakeezah, and Mughal-E-Azam. Here, Paro, the upper-class woman, wears a payal, and Chandramukhi, the courtesan, wears a ghunghroo. Thus, in Dola Re Dola, the two women sing about the jewelry they wear, based on their societal status, and despite these differences, the jewelry they wear is for the same purpose of dancing for the man they madly love.
Moments before Paro's wedding to an aristocrat, Dev comes to meet her and tries to convince her to marry him. Paro is angry at his indecisiveness, and tells him to go away. Dev's father had insulted her because of her family's lower stature in society. After her marriage, she would have a stature equivalent to Dev's family. She would have everythingthe virtues, the beauty, and the richesDev cannot bear Paro's guroor (vanity), and tells her even the beauteous moon is not as vain as her. Paro replies it's because the moon has dark spots and is scarred, while she is pure. Hurt by Paro's stinging words, Dev takes a pearl necklace and hits Paro on her head, giving her a scar. She starts bleeding, and Dev uses her blood as vermilion and spreads it over the mid-part of her head, symbolically marrying her in the process. They might be officially married to different people, but in their heart, they are married to each other. She is given a life-long scar as well on her forehead, and become just like the moon. As the lyrics of Hamesha Tumko Chaaha say, "Jo daag tumne mujhko diya us daag se mera chehra khila, rakhungi isko nishaani banakar maathe pey isko hamesha sajakar." The scar that Dev has given adds to Paro's beauty and it will always serve as a reminder of him. The scar is Dev and the film adds life to this scar as well. There is a stage when Dev starts vomiting blood as he is dying, and at the same time, Paro falls down from the stairs, and the scar from head oozes out blood, again, a symbolic reminder of Dev being the scar. It is remarkable that Mr. Bhansali uses these inexplicable connections between Dev and Paro. The scar is another of Mr. Bhansali's trademarks which continues to reappear as a motif in his other films, too. 
In the opening credits of the film, when the title Devdas appears on screen, there is a thunderstorm that is heard and the screen turns grey for a few seconds, mimicking the lightning. Kaushalya, Devdas' mother, calls him toofan—a storm. When she gets the news of his homecoming, she says, "Mera toofan aa raha hai." Her tempest is coming home. In anticipation, Devdas' family members sing, "Dhaak bajao, dhol bajao re," where again a tempest is mentioned. A joyous tempest stirs my heartstrings. Drum up the cheer. When he finally comes back, his mother says, "Gaya tha chhota toofan banke, aur laut raha hai bada vakil banke." He went as a small tempest, but returns as a top lawyer. Tempest is one of the many symbolisms with which Dev is compared to in the film. When Dev storms out in anger from his house, he says the tempest must pass, else it will cause a lot of damage. Later, Dev compares himself to a toofan (storm) and his father to a chhadi (whip) when he is lying drunk on a boat. Hum unke liye toofan, aur woh hamare liye chhadi. A tempest brings with it destruction and damage. Dev loses all his relationships and goes on to the path of self-destruction. His inability to make up his own mind brought about his annihilation. It is, then, only fitting to compare Dev to a tempest. This also finds resonance in Satyajit Ray's Charulata where Amal's arrival coincided with the coming of a storm, as if giving a premonition of the storm that will change the life of Charulata.
After Devdas goes to London for his studies, Paro lights a diya (a lamp) in Dev's memory. For ten years, she lights a lamp, and not even for a moment, she let it extinguish, protecting it from everything. The lamp symbolized Dev. Paro takes the diya with her even after her wedding, because her love for Dev does not end with her marriage. She made sure to keep it burning till the end, and it only gets extinguished when Dev dies. There is no mention of the lamp in the Sarat Chandra's story, and, this is a touch by Mr. Bhansali. When Dev gets to know about the lamp, he tells Paro, "Diya tum jalati thi, par jalta toh main hi tha.In the flame of the lamp that you lit, it was I who burned. At some other point, Paro's mother Sumitra tells her, "Maine tujhe diye ke saath saath Devdas ke liye jalte hue dekha hai.With the lamp, I saw you burn for Devdas. The lamp, again, symbolizes the burning desire for the lover. The representation of desire using fire is another leitmotif in the work of Mr. Bhansali. In another comparison, Chandramukhi calls Devdas as her paras mani, the one whose touch turns iron into gold.
If Dev is compared to the storm and the lamp, Paro is also compared to some symbols. She is the moon. When she first meets Dev, she does not show her face and tells him that she is like the moon, and she fears that when he will see her, he will become breathless. Dev tells her that even the moon does not have as much guroor (vanity) about its beauty as she is. She replies to him that it is because the moon has scars, and she is flawless. He goes away from her room informing her that he will see her face at moonrise. In the night, when the moon is out, Dev goes to Paro's place, where she is sleeping in the courtyard. In a spectacular scene, Dev is stunned to see Paro's face juxtaposed with the full moon, leaving no doubt that Paro is indeed as celestial as the moon. He smiles to himself after he finally gets to see that luminous face. He takes some soot from the burning diya next to her, and puts it on her lips, giving her a nazar ka teeka to prevent her from any evil eye. At some later stage, Dev compares Paro with alcohol. He calls himself a chalice that is filled with Paro's name. He is intoxicated by the love of Paro. 
If there are Radha Krishna references from the Mahabharata, the film also brings in some from the Ramayana as well. Devdas' mother is named Kaushalya, while Parvati's mother is named Sumitra. Kaushalya and Sumitra were the names of the two (out of the three) wives of Lord Ram's father Dashratha. While Kaushalya was the birth mother of Ram, Dashratha's other wives treated him as their own son. Kaikai, the much-reviled mother, is not present here, but Kumud, Devdas' sister-in-law, makes up not only for Kaikai, but Manthra as well. It is important to mention this because these names of the mothers of Devdas and Parvati mentioned in Sarat Chandra Chattopadhyay's novels are different.
It can also be inferred that Chandramukhi has some shades of Sahibjaan from Pakeezah. There is a particular sequence in the film where Chandramukhi puts her hair into the water, which is reminiscent of the way Sahibjaan used to do it when she lay down near the little water fountain and put her tresses in it. The mujra in green dress also gives another shade of similarity between the two.
The other aspect of love in Mr. Bhansali's work is its doomed nature. His characters keep pining for each other, and often end up not getting together. When Paro goes to meet Dev at his house in the middle of the night, she tells him, "Khona toh har haal me hai, Dev. Ya tumhare saath, ya tumhare bagair.I'm doomed, in any case. Be it with you, or without you. They are either way doomed, even if they stay together, or, if they do not stay together. In the song Bairi Piya, the film actually told us the Paro will marry an old man and Dev will remain unmarried. It is this foreshadowing, which is also present in his other films, that gave us an indication of the doomed story of Dev and Paro. There is also a line in the same song Bairi Piya, "Tu door jo tha to paas hi tha. Ab paas hai to door hai kyun. Na jaane na jaane na jaane na jaane jaane." When you were away, you were nearer. When you are now near, you feel far. The lovers feel closer in distance. In every second of time, they are reminded of love. When Dev comes back from London, Paro tells him that she read his letter his five letters, five times every day for ten years. She remembered him every second of the day. Dev tells her that he remembered her only in one instance, and that was whenever he took a breath. Later, when he asks Chandramukhi if she loves him, she says he could have just asked if she breathes
In King of Bollywood: Shah Rukh Khan and the Seductive World of Indian Cinema, film critic Anupama Chopra writes, "Paro's house which shimmered with 157,000 pieces of stained glass, a metaphor for her fragile beauty, cost 30 million rupees ($65,000)." When Paro is married, there is a distinct change in her appearance as well as demeanor. She has become a thakurain from a fragile beauty. She wears large-sized jewelry, and even larger bindi. All this reflects her changed stature, but at the same time, it gives out a feeling of claustrophobia. She appears to be suffocated in the palatial house. She might be married to an aristocrat, but in her heart, she is still the Paro who loves Devdas. But this new stature also instills in her a confidence. She is not afraid to tell her husband that if he cannot forget his first wife, then, Dev is also her first love and she cannot forget him. In fact, the women in the film are much stronger than the men. Chandramukhi confronts and slaps Kalibabu in front of everybody, and tells him that it is because of men like him that courtesans exist. On the other hand, the men in the film are too weak. Devdas does not even have the courage to make up his own mind.
Devdas is the third film of Mr. Bhansali, after Khamoshi and Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam. I am not entirely sure if it is acceptable to compare the film of a director with his other films that released after the said film. But for the sake of completeness, I am still mentioning some of the themes (in addition to the above) and motifs in Devdas that would go on to become signature tropes in Mr. Bhansali's later films. There are lush fountains in Devdas' house and Chandramukhi's courthouse. There are the huge chandeliers. There is a scene related to payal (anklet). There is the burning of hand scene. There is the repeated mention of the word guroor (vanity). Dev tells Paro that even the moon does have that guroor about its beauty as much as she has. Paro describes Dev to her husband by saying, "Jaise woh shareer, aur hum parchhai. Woh hamara pyaar bhi hai aur guroor bhi." He was the body, I was the soul. He is my love and he is my vanity. There is the mirror scene. In the first meeting between Dev and Chandramukhi, the mirror in the background shatters into pieces. All these would go on to have a presence in his other films as well.
For me, the most stunning aspect of the film is its gorgeous climax that is exhilarating and moving at the same time. Devdas manages to reach Manikpur where Paro stays. He had promised Paro that he will visit her at least once before he dies. He is at her doorstep, lying beneath a tree, and is dying. Paro sees the commotion outside her house and gets to know that a man is lying outside. One of her family members tells her, "Pichle janam me yahan se koi mitti le gaya hoga." He must have come to return something that he owed in his last lifetime. Paro could sense something is wrong. There is always a sense of intuition in the characters of Mr. Bhansali. Paro eventually finds out that the man is none other than her Deva, and, then, she runs to meet him. However, her husband orders his servants to stop her, and close the gates. The cries of a young Paro calling her friend can be heard again. Arey, O Deva. All through the film, Paro was running after Dev. When a young Dev left for his studies, Paro ran after him. When Dev comes back from London, Paro runs to meet him. When Dev leaves his house, Paro runs after him to make him stop. When he comes to meet in her in his last days, she again runs after him. 

The final moments of the film are full of red color. Paro is wearing a red-and-white saree. The huge curtains in her house are red. The floor and the walls of her house are red. While running, Paro spills the aalta, the red color pigment. She walks over it and her footsteps leave the red mark when she runs. The gate of her house is red. Devdas is lying on a bed of red flowers. A tragic moment looks utterly gorgeous. There is no other color that depicts the passion of love as red does. Red represented love, red represented Dev. In Silsila Yeh Chahat Ka, Paro plays with the red color when she gets to know that her Dev was coming back. When Dev came to meet her at her place, she was putting her feet in aalta. Like a new bride that leaves her footsteps in aalta, Paro had done the same earlier, when Dev came back from London. In Dola Re Dola, Paro and Chandramukhi dance in a palatial room that is again red, symbolic of their love for Dev. In the film's title, there is sindoor present in Dev's name and the background is red. It is only fitting that death comes to Dev on a bed of red flowers. The lamp, representing Dev, is finally extinguished. And, as Paro sang earlier, "Tu door jo tha to paas hi tha, ab paas hai to door hai kyun," they are so close yet they seem so distant. Perhaps, only in heaven, they will have the opportunity to meet again.
Books In Movies:
 
Direct Taxes
Cases and Materials on Code of Civil Procedure, Pleadings and Practise With Model Forms,
and Co-operative Tribunal Journal
A book by Charles Dickens
Other Reading:
1. On the Moon in the films of Sanjay Leela Bhansali—Link
2. On Bajirao MastaniLink
3. On BlackLink
4. On the weaving motif in the films of Sanjay Leela Bhansali—Link
5. On Goliyon Ki Raasleea Ram-LeelaLink

Dialogue of the Day:
"Nadi sagar se milne kyun jaati hai, surajmukhi hamesha suraj ki taraf hi kyun dekhta hai."
—Paro, Devdas

Saturday, February 3, 2018

Directors Who Have A Cameo Appearance In Their Own Films

List of directors who have a cameo appearance in the films directed by them:-
  

1. Ayan Mukerji in Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani
2. Shaad Ali in Bunty Aur Babli and Kill Dill
3. Karan Johar in Kabhi Alvida Naa Kehna
4. Jugal Hansraj in Pyaar Impossible!
5. Madhur Bhandarkar in Fashion
6. Raj Nidimoru in Happy Ending
7. Yash Chopra in Dil To Pagal Hai
8. Abhishek Kapoor in Rock On!!
9. SS Rajamouli in Baahubali: The Beginning
10. Rakesh Roshan in Koi... Mil Gaya
11. Shekhar Kapur in Bandit Queen
12. David Dhawan in Yaarana, Saajan Chale Sasural, and Bade Miyan Chote Miyan
13. Vipul Amrutlal Shah in Namastey London
14. Hrishikesh Mukherjhee in Biwi Aur Makan
15. Anurag Kashyap in Black Friday, No Smoking, Dev D, and Gulaal
16. Farah Khan in Om Shanti Om, and Main Hoon Na [and others]
17. Prabhu Deva in R... Rajkumar [and others]
18. Vikram Bhatt in 1921 [and others]
19. Raj Kumar Gupta in No One Killed Jessica, and Ghanchakkar
20. Subhash Ghai in Taal, and Khalnayak [and others]
21. Prakash Jha in Aarakshan, Rajneeti, and Satyagraha
22. Siddharth Anand in Salaam Namaste
23. Remo D'Souza in ABCD 2
24. Vidhu Vinod Chopra in Parinda
25. Sai Paranjpye in Katha
26. Lawrence D'Souza in Saajan
27. Tigmanshu Dhulia in Shagird
28. Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra in Bhaag Milkha Bhaag
29. Raj Kumar Santoshi in Ajab Prem Ki Ghazab Kahani
30. Kaizad Gustad in Boom 
31. Nagesh Kukunoor in Dor [and others]
32. Ravi Udyawar in MOM
33. Sudhir Mishra in Hazaaron Khwaishein Aisi
34. Sachin Pilgaonkar in Prem Deewane 
35. Arjun Sablok in Na Tum Jaano Na Hum 
36. Bumpy in Luv Ka The End
37. Mahesh Manjrekar in Vaastav

Notes:
Excluded full-fledged roles, and assistant directors

Contributions, suggestions, and corrections by the following Twitter users:

@phanishankar, @abhisek_s, @rmanish1, @mad_scientist94, @peswani_, @pankajtalkies, @Suhel, @Diptakirti, @filmyshilmey_, @IamKnightWriter, @FiteyaaL, @mpmainka, @mannkapoor24, @sanjaydesai93, @prajaktajoshi13, @VaishnaviOgale,  @pessimystiqueM,  @singh_dr,  @BakwasRadio, @ojha_riddhish, @moiMayurKashyap, @ZeeZooMeeMoo1 

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, 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.
Trivia:
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