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Siraj Syed

Siraj Syed is the India Correspondent for and a member of FIPRESCI, the International Federation of Film Critics. He is a Film Festival Correspondent since 1976, Film-critic since 1969 and a Feature-writer since 1970. He is also an acting and dialogue coach. 



Sukhee, Review: What’s so bad about feeling good?

Sukhee, Review: What’s so bad about feeling good?

If you are a woman, as typified by the protagonist in Sukhee, there’s plenty bad about feeling good. The Sukhee women want to be independent and do things that only men indulge in, at least most of them. But can they get away with such audacity? That’s a good platform for developing an attractive screenplay. Sadly, Sukhee, which means Happy, tries too many things and, in the process, dissipates the central idea. It also brings in too many characters, both male and female. Moreover, along the way, it also converts part of a film, that begins interestingly, into the mother-in-law vs daughter-in-law staple, that has dominated Indian television screens as marathon soap operas, since 1993. Made by a woman director, and written by three women and a man, Sukhee highlights too many of the problems women face in the India of 2022, but suggests no, or hardly any, solutions, to these trials and tribulations.

Punjabi housewife Sukhpreet ‘Sukhee’ Kalra, 38, who, lives in Anandkot, Punjab, is sick of her humdrum existence. Her husband, Gurcharan ‘Guru’ Kalra, can think of little else beyond his blankets business, and her teenaged daughter is under stress as her Board exams are approaching. The only person who has time for her, and who constantly consoles and cajoles her, is her father-in-law, who is ill and also suffers from incontinence. Soon, he passes away. In these circumstances, she is invited to a school reunion in Delhi. Sukhee feels that the best time of her life was in school, and wants to go for the reunion, but her husband will have none of it. Sukhee is almost reconciled to dropping the thought, but suddenly, a courier delivers her train tickets, to and fro Delhi. These had been booked by her father-in-law just before he passed away. The tickets re-ignite the desire to go to Delhi, and, against her husband’s wishes, she packs her bags and heads for the railway station.

She is received outside the station by a some of her school-time best friends. Soon, they start recalling memories and incidents. Sukhee was the leader of the brat pack and an accomplished horse-rider. Her three friends expected her to be in some top executive position, but are shocked to learn that she is a mere housewife. For their part, the three girls (now women) have had their shares of ups and downs too. One of them is hated by her mother-in-law for not producing a baby even after many years of marriage. She even saves the hapless daughter-in-law’s mobile phone number under ‘Baanjh’ (Barren). Another has a problem that is quite the opposite of the first woman: she is single and pregnant, not sure whether the man will marry her or agree to keeping the child. The third woman lives in London, works 20 hours a day, but is not appreciated or promoted by her male chauvinistic pig boss. And then appears on the scene a man who was a nerd at school but who had a massive crush on Sukhee, Vikram Varma. He is a millionaire now, and single, having lost his wife to cancer. And he is totally smitten by the woman standing before him.

Writing credits do not give complete information about the respective contributions. But nevertheless, they are listed as story by Radhika Anand, original screenplay by Paulomi Dutta, dialogue by Rupinder Inderjit, and director Sonal Joshi is part of the team too. Radhika Anand’s bio-data will take a whole page. Suffice to say that she is a veteran, having worked both in TV and on the big screen.  Paulomi Dutta is listed as a costume designer, with only a short film, Bicycle (2013) as her writing credit. All the twelve writing credits of Rupinder Inderjit are for Punjabi projects. More on Sonal Joshi in a moment. All the writers have their moments. The story has a couple of innovative twists, and yet is does not get into the meat of the tale, for a long time. Screenplay-wise, the characters and incidents are often introduced in an interesting manner, though the father-in-law segment is contrived. Dialogue rises above the mundane, but only occasionally. At times, it is banal. Problem is all this does not add-up to a coherent whole.

Some ten years after joining the film industry, Sonal Joshi gets her directorial break with Sukhee. There is a distinct female touch to the texture of the film, which is only to be expected. That should not mean that she should take-up the myriad female causes in succession. While the performances she has extracted are all above par, Sonal has let several bloopers slip through. As a result, the film cannot do justice to the laudable issues it espouses. Other than developing a male ego over the years, it is not rationally explained why does the husband behave the way he does? Sukhee mentions that he was as free-spirited and open-minded as her when they married. Perhaps that is why they married.

Why does Sukhee’s father take the extreme step of disowning her just because she chose a groom for herself? Be that as it may, it is very difficult to accept that father and daughter did not bother to even make a phone call, inquiring about each other’s health, in 16-18 years! The daughter, Jassi,’s behaviour is ambivalent, ranging from stressed-out to hateful, without there being compelling reasons for this fluctuation. Should Sukhee’s exploited friend, who works in London, not consider a change of job or a return to Delhi, instead of suffering in silence? If she does not conceive after concerted efforts, why does the other friend not insist on getting both her husband and herself checked, for sperm count and fertility? Only the single mother-to-be shows some guts and gumption.

Sukhee, who has not been near a horse for about 20 years, tames a wild horse, which has been horsing around, at jet speed, and before you can say DJ, dis jockey wins a horse race for the owner, who is none other than her secret, silent lover. It needs some explaining that the race-course has signs of Mumbai while the race was supposed to have been held in Delhi. Four middle-aged women occupy a public toilet for ages, and have it to themselves, as if they have reserved it. No other female interrupts their bantering and toilet humour. Sukhee’s schooldays are very confusing. Was she the head girl? Was she a bully? Did she get into fights? Was she great at horse-riding? Did she win at debates? Did she make vulgar, obscene, videos? Did she swear profusely? Did she rescue a fellow student who had been locked-up by baiters? Did she remain unaware about his idolising all through her school career? Did she, God forbid, start drinking while still at school? It appears that she had all these traits, which seem highly unlikely in one girl. Moreover, with the kind of parents she had (an army-man for a father), it would take a miracle for her to indulge in all of the above.

In her 30th year on the big screen, Ashwini Shetty, better known as Shilpa Shetty, and now as Shilpa Shetty Kundra, aged 48, plays a character ten years younger than her age, and fits the role like the proverbial glove. Having always maintained a figure to die for, and a karate black-belt to boot, she does not conform to the image of a Punjabi house-wife. When it comes to emoting, she is right up there. In the last ten years, she has featured in only a handful of films, with varying degrees of box-office success. If Sukhee will give a fillip to anybody’s career, it will be Sukhee, aka Shilpa,’s, not that she needs to prove anything after three decades since her debut, minus a marital hiatus. It might also help Amit Sadh, who is cast as the silent admirer and race-horse owner. Amit underplays the role to a fault, what with a beard and the trace of an introverted grin permanently pasted on his face. But the best part is that it goes with the character.

Playing her husband is Chaitannya Choudhry, and it is not his fault that he has been given a largely negative role. Contrasting with Shilpa, he does look, and behave, like a Punjabi and a businessman. Because of the back-story, his later change of heart is not entirely convincing. Two veterans add a quiet dignity to their characters: Vinod Nagpal, who has the meatier role (only by comparison) as Sukhee’s father-in-law, and Kiran Kumar as Sukhee’s father. The soft-spoken Kiran, in essence, is wasted. As three musketeers, Sukhee’s childhood gal pals, Kusha Kapila (Meher Chhibber), Dilnaz Irani (Mansi Parekh) and Pavleen Gujral (Tanvi Gaekwad), have a ball. Mahi Jain as Jassi, Sukhee’s daughter, is one to watch out for. Besides Sukhee, one could find her listed in the films Collar Bomb and Silence 2, and the web series, Fittrat and Hush. In a blink and miss role, we see Purnima Rathod as Sukhee’s mother. Lending support are Sejal Gupta, Komal Sachdeva, Anjali Sharma, Jyoti Kapoor, Sushma Prashant, Sandeep Kapoor and Mridula Oberoi.

Cinematography R. Dee, editing by Vini N Raj and music by Karan Kulkarni, and the three songs lasting 11 minutes in total, including an end credits tile song with Badshah and Shilpa, with major contributions from Badshah, do not stand out. Editing must have posed a few problems to Vini N Raj, because there is not much he could have trimmed from scenes, and the only way the length could be reduced would be to excise one of the many tracks. At 141 minutes, Sukhee gets a tad boring.

It is easy to get swayed by the laudable motives and motivations found in Sukhee. These, however, are never enough. It is in the execution that the film falls short. Moreover, it tries to bite much more than it can chew. It is a feel good film about (girls/women/house-wives) feeling good, living a foot-loose and fancy free existence, that might include swearing, drinking themselves silly, marrying against parents’ wishes and even getting pregnant outside marriage. Treated as a comedy, these issues get belittled. Treated in a serious, sombre manner, they get preachy. What was needed was a balancing act, a tight-rope-walk, and that is where Sukhee stumbles.

Rating: **



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About Siraj Syed

Syed Siraj
(Siraj Associates)

Siraj Syed is a film-critic since 1970 and a Former President of the Freelance Film Journalists' Combine of India.

He is the India Correspondent of and a member of FIPRESCI, the international Federation of Film Critics, Munich, Germany

Siraj Syed has contributed over 1,015 articles on cinema, international film festivals, conventions, exhibitions, etc., most recently, at IFFI (Goa), MIFF (Mumbai), MFF/MAMI (Mumbai) and CommunicAsia (Singapore). He often edits film festival daily bulletins.

He is also an actor and a dubbing artiste. Further, he has been teaching media, acting and dubbing at over 30 institutes in India and Singapore, since 1984.

Bandra West, Mumbai


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