“Sui Dhaaga”… A surprise-free drama that’s well-acted, sweet-natured, and quite satisfying

Posted on September 30, 2018

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Spoilers ahead…

Sab badhiya hai. All is well. That’s the optimist in Mauji (Varun Dhawan) talking. The reality is that the glass is half empty. He comes from a family of handloom weavers, but his father (Raghuvir Yadav) renounced the profession, and so he works like (and also as) a dog at the shop of a small-town retailer who sells sewing machines. (How this retailer gets those sewing machines is the kind of smart, flavourful nugget that’s strewn through this narrative.) His employers think it’s funny to make him act like a hungry puppy. Sit. Lie. Walk on your hind legs. Apart from what Mauji is paid to do, this is what he’s made to do. You may have seen the bit in the trailer where Mauji, at a wedding, is on all fours, all but begging for a bone. Mauji, at this point, has no self-respect. His father has drilled into his head the middle-class notion of keeping a job at all cost. But his wife Mamta (Anushka Sharma) is appalled. After his “dog show”, Mauji sees the disgust and sadness on her face. He’s appalled, too.

She’s made her peace with the other glass-half-empty aspects of her husband’s life. The fact that he rides a bicycle when his older brother drives a bike. The fact that her in-laws, who are not above emotional blackmail, have their way almost always. The fact that she hardly gets alone-time with her husband. He says, at the beginning, that before (the arranged) marriage, there wasn’t the opportunity to know his wife, and now, there isn’t the time. But after the dog show, something snaps. Mamta tells Mauji what she feels, and the next morning, he picks a fight with his employer’s son and quits his job. Later, after deciding to open a sewing business, Mauji wonders how he’ll be able to afford the overheads, say rent for the shop. Mamta points to a cobbler who happens to be right next to the place they just sat down, and says he can set up a roadside stall as well.

The way you react to convenient writing like this says a lot about how a film is working for you. In Sharat Katariya’s Sui Dhaaga, I didn’t mind. With a predictable storyline, the last thing you want is to linger on moments that add to the running time and delay the inevitable. As with this director’s earlier film, Dum Laga Ke Haisha, the charm is in the characters, whose wafer-thin outlines are fleshed out by the actors. Varun Dhawan recalibrates his internal dynamo just enough. He doesn’t slow down, exactly — pedalling his bicycle furiously, he appears to be an extension of the very machinery. But his pep is replaced by vulnerability, unsureness. Mauji doesn’t bounce like the rubber ball that Varun Dhawan often plays. He’s grounded by the gravity of life. And Anushka Sharma does a lot by doing very little. Just the economy in her range of motion, the smallness of her smile, suggests the woman Mamta is, someone who’s content to stay inside the circle she knows is hers.

The refreshing aspect of Sui Dhaaga is that it isn’t about Mauji’s liberation from his drone-like existence (as Mamta watches, egging him on), or Mamta’s liberation from hers (with Mauji’s support). It’s about both of them — their dreams, and what they do together to make these dreams real. They stand in line together to get a free sewing machine from the government, and when he injures his foot, she places her feet on the machine’s pedal, so he can focus on the stitching. The title (which means needle and thread) doesn’t just allude to Mauji’s line of work. Mauji and Mamta work together on the fabric of their marriage like… needle and thread. Mauji has the skill. Mamta has the drive. Without one, the other is useless.

Katariya writes family well. Like in Dum Laga Ke Haisha, Sui Dhaaga gives us recognisably warts-and-all people. He recognises that those who infuriate us the most are often the ones we love the most. If Mauji is exasperated by his father’s taunts, his decision to take up a soul-sucking factory job (under a soul-sucking boss) comes after he sees his father sharing with his bedridden mother a TV serial on a phone. “Le lete hain naukri,” are his next words, delivered with a fond smile. (Let’s take up the job.) The exasperation/affection is reciprocal. Mauji’s (adorable) parents, too, grumpily put up with what they see as his crackpot ideas, instead of issuing all-out ultimatums. There’s a genuine sense of coexistence between generations that we rarely see in films anymore. The scene where Mauji’s mother is admitted in a hospital is a scream, with Mamta’s hand caught in a jar of pickle. That’s family. When one person gets in trouble, everyone is trapped.

Seen one way, Sui Dhaaga is a less angsty, more inclusive Tamasha: a talented artist who’s a misfit in the corporate world does his own thing and succeeds. The climax revolves around a fashion show, filled with haute couture creations and hauteur-dripping creators. Will Mauji and Mamta and their ragtag team defeat the British in their game of cricket wow this crowd with their designer creations? Do I have to tell you? I was delighted to see “Indian-size” figures on the ramp in the midst of the Western-style stick figures. I didn’t tear up (the film is too lightweight for that), but I smiled . Sui Dhaaga is a very sweet film. In a song sequence where Mauji and Mamta are standing in a bus, the other (seated) passengers do a bit of choreography as though utterly unaware that they are in the middle of a song, as though swaying to an unheard rhythm is the most natural thing on earth. Kataria has a way of making artifice look real.

Copyright ©2018 Baradwaj Rangan. This article may not be reproduced in its entirety without permission. A link to this URL, instead, would be appreciated.

Posted in: Cinema: Hindi