7 Oct 2012

Movie Review: English Vinglish: Smooth, Heartfelt Take on Self-esteem

Yippie, Sridevi is back and how! At 49, she finally gets a deserved space in a polished, purposeful screenplay. Here, she plays and represents the Indian housewife, conventional, traditional, food maker and mother.Then there is English, the language of social hipness, of love outside marriage -  the film highlights these aspects and more.

Story and trappings 
Shashi (Sridevi) is wife to her well-to-do working husband (Adil Hussain, sturdy), mother to her little son and adolescent daughter (Navika Kotia and Shivansh Kotia, naturals). She is also a great cook. Apart from her homemaker duties, she part-times as a caterer, distributing home made ladoos*. And yes, she doesn’t know English and is ridiculed in her attempts to speak the language, especially by her husband and daughter. Although the film doesn't escape the contrived self-pity pits of a Baghban (2003) and similar Hindi character-sidelined films to provide Shashi the catalyst to learn English, it stays true to her character.

As the script sets it up, Shashi is called to help her New York based elder sister, whose daughter is getting married in a month. Uncertain and nervous, she travels alone to New York, the rest of the family planning to join her later. Here, another traumatic experience leads Shashi to secretly enroll in a short-term English learning class. This gives a good excuse for the scriptwriters to fill the classroom with diverse characters from various geographical locations and sexual orientations. The setting for the humour, complete with Tamil accents, may again seem contrived here, but the laughs keep coming. 

A bow to convention
The climax speech has its emotional trappings. Convention is given a tap here, the concept of family; of faithfulness and monogamy in marriage is also spoken of. But as it comes from Shashi, a traditional, guileless, simple Indian wife, it holds true to her created persona. What rankles, yet comes off as a bitter truth to the Indian conventional wife mentality is her justification to not have an affair outside marriage. As she utters to the 'other' man, paraphrased here, "When you don't love yourself you get attracted to new things. When you love yourself even old things start looking new. Thank you for helping me love myself." The husband-wife reconciliation is also pushed off to safe and 'winding up the film' territory.

Yet, in totality
Debutant director Gauri Shinde impresses. Sridevi is clearly the star here, none of the sheen has worn off. Her diction could have been worked on though, which doesn't suit the Marathi character, it is noticeably her default natural delivery. This is but a small grumble in a performance of finesse. The harrowing experience at the coffee shop, her nervous breakdown at the immigration counter, the post-wedding speech and the Michael Jackson dance imitation, she makes it all seem effortless.

The supporting cast is great too and various misconceptions that this script could have created are well-dealt with. Nowhere does learning English come as thumbs down to Hindi. The unsaid, evident point is of self-development and individuality, and all one can say is hear, hear.

Word in for...
The beat perfect blend of the modern and traditional in Amit Trivedi’s soundtrack and background score. Impressive stuff, way to go. Kudos to lyricist Swanand Kirkire too. In a time of gimmicky vocabulary showcasing, Kirkire's lyrics in one song go - Gustakh dil, dil mein mushkil, mushkil mein dil, gustakh dil, thoda sangdil, thoda buzdil. Simple and spot-on.  

 (*Ladoo- Round Indian sweet dish, usually served as dessert)  

A justified excuse to fill an English learning class with diverse characters from various geographical locations

Adil Hussain plays Shashi's husband: A deft, understated performance

A pivotal moment in the film

An excuse for dance and Sridevi lets go!