There are only a few films that succeed at keeping audiences engaged till the very last shot despite being fairly predictable. English Vinglish does that masterfully.
The film, touted as the comeback cinematic appearance of former Bollywood superstar Sridevi, tells the story of a massively devoted yet utterly disrespected housewife who yearns for only one thing in life. Yep, you guessed that right: respect. Needless to say, this is neither an earth-shattering idea nor a completely out-of-the-box story. The concept of English Vinglish is exceedingly simple but that is exactly where the strength of the film lies. It remains within the realm of the familiar, which makes it believable, and hence is able to touch all the right chords with the audience.
First-time director Gauri Shinde has stated that Sridevi’s character in English Vinglish is based on her own mother. If that is the case, you’ll realise that Gauri has been unnecessarily harsh on herself, since Sridevi’s daughter’s character is the evilest of them all. So negative is her character that you find yourself secretly wishing something bad would happen to the little girl. At any rate, Gauri has turned out to be a first-rate director and her execution of the story is brilliant.
Sridevi, as Shashi the neglected housewife, is unbelievably amazing. She plays the character with such dexterity and grace that at times she reminds you of Meryl Streep (in The Bridges of Madison County) in a good way of course. With this performance, Sridevi has proved that her comeback was much needed. Adil Hussain, who plays Sridevi’s insensitive husband, is ironically very attractive in all his tall, dark handsomeness; a terrific discovery he is. Mehdi Nebbou, who we’ve seen in Hollywood films like Body of Lies and Munich is superb as Shashi’s French lover and classmate. Navika Kotia and Shivansh Kotia as the children are effective.
That’s not it, there are other positives too. Laxman Utekar’s skillful cinematography makes Shashi’s ordinary world look quite stunning. Amit Trivedi’s background score is exceptional. Remember, if you end up shedding a tear or two, this man is responsible.
On the negative, the scenes at the language center remind you a little too much of the famous British TV series “Mind Your Language” and its various knock-offs. Also, the characters shown in the language center are unfairly stereotypical, a Pakistani cabbie, a Mexican nanny, a Chinese hairstylist, a Maharashtrian housewife, a French chef and so on. The way the film ends is also overly Bollywoodised — it literally ends with an Indian wedding dance, I mean come on! Why does Gauri go all the way making feminist statements, taking anti-homophobic stances, challenging stereotypes and then end the film with a typical Bollywood wedding song and dance routine paired with the laddu eating and what not.
Finally, please be reminded, English Vinglish is not about learning English to gain love and respect. In fact it is only as much about English as it is about laddus. The film is about self-actualisation and discovering yourself as an individual. And, for that reason above all else, English Vinglish is highly recommended.
Published in The Express Tribune, Sunday Magazine, October 14th, 2012.