Movie review: English Vinglish - mushy but marvelous

Published: October 14, 2012

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.

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Reader Comments (13)

  • Anon
    Oct 14, 2012 - 2:00PM

    A must watch movie.. A move that everyone can relate to, be you are a middle aged husband, or a housewife or an educated kid. Most of us would come to realize that at one point in time, thats its somehow our own story. Very touching…

    Recommend

  • SATYARTH NAYAK
    Oct 14, 2012 - 4:27PM

    Sridevi’s highly successful ENGLISH VINGLISH has entered the UK Top Ten list. The film’s overseas business is also rocking big time in US and UAE. What a comeback by the legend.

    Recommend

  • Oct 14, 2012 - 4:37PM

    This is a thoroughly enjoyable and heartfelt movie. The classroom scenes were shot in New York Language Center, an ESL school in New York that I founded and are quite representational of a typical ESL class. Students do bicker, bond and fall in love just like the movie.
    The acting is superb. The cinematography makes me, a native New Yorker fall in love with the city all over again.
    So, even if you know the ending, its the journey that counts. This film does an excellent job in allowing you to experience one woman’s journey to independence and self-realization. It is a journey we all understand.
    The film is really good. Although its release is limited, go out of you way not to miss it.

    Recommend

  • mr. righty rightist
    Oct 14, 2012 - 6:13PM

    @Barbara

    Why don’t you disclose yourself to be the director of the film instead of lousy promotion through an alias.

    Recommend

  • Oct 14, 2012 - 11:37PM

    Sorry, Mr. Righty, now you are Mr. Wrong. I am an ESL professional, not a movie director.
    This is my name, not an alias.

    Recommend

  • Prakash Lal
    Oct 15, 2012 - 5:15AM

    Excellent movie. This was First time that I found this Bollywood movie was all sold out in my small town in USA and I have to return back to home and I have reserve my ticket for next day.to see the movie.

    Recommend

  • Sidewinder
    Oct 15, 2012 - 11:00AM

    @mr. righty rightist
    and soon,when this movie grosses more than INR 1 bn,which it is sure to do you would blame the director to have purchased all the tickets to prove her movie a success.height of cynicism…..

    Recommend

  • mr. righty rightist
    Oct 15, 2012 - 1:35PM

    @Sidewinder who writes “and soon,when this movie grosses more than INR 1 bn,which it is sure to do you would blame the director to have purchased all the tickets to prove her movie a success.height of cynicism….”

    For that I blame the ignorance of South Asians, who are unfortunately (for them) and fortunately (for the uncreative Bollywood), are not exposed to good cinema.

    Recommend

  • Cherish
    Oct 15, 2012 - 4:37PM

    @mr. righty rightist:
    Marana Simhasanam was a film directed by Murali Nair and the movie won the Camera d’Or at the Cannes festival in 1999. No Indian movie has won anything at the Cannes since. Shaji. N. Karun had managed to win a special mention for his film Piravi at the 1988 Cannes festival. Adoor Gopalakrishnan had won the Sutherland Trophy at the London Film Festival 1982 for his film Elipathayam. All these filmmakers are from the south Indian state of Kerala. But, ironically all these auteurs struggle to get a commercial release for their movies in their home state. Shaji roped in Mamootty, a south Indian super star to play the lead role in and got Reliance Entertainment to finance his latest movie, Kutty Srank. The film went onto win the National Award for the Best Picture but could not manage a full fledged theatrical release. Bollywood is not to be blamed for the inferior taste of our masses. If the films of Shaji or Adoor or Murali Nair were appreciated by the mainstream Indian audience like those of Karan Johar or Aditya Chopra, Bollywood would have been vibrant and original. The latest tragedy is the film Chittagong. The movie was well appreciated by the critics when it was exhibited at different international festivals and to be fair to Bollywood, the film got a theatrical release but ended up a total washout at the box office. Until the taste of mainstream Indian audience develops I do not expect the quality of our movies to go north.Bollywood is just a vehicle

    Recommend

  • mr. righty rightist
    Oct 15, 2012 - 9:31PM

    @Cherish

    Half of your points are correct.

    The rest of it are not.

    Bollywood is responsible for the demise of great films in India in a huge way. It’s a co-ordinated attack by different media, influenced by big money of Bollywood, which is basically keeping Indians glued to utterly despicable cinema of Bollywood.

    We need antitrust laws in India to protect the financially weak, artistically strong films.

    On another note, who is going to develop the taste of mainstream Indian audience? First of all, I take object to the word taste. It’s not taste, it’s in fact, maturity. South asians and Indians especially are extremely immature when it comes to art. Art appreciation is not a strong point of Indians.

    This maturity comes when they are exposed to world cinema. The world of good cinema within India. How can this happen, when the studios, distributors, media, television, internet and pretty much everything is under the stranglehold of big money from Bollywood and Cricket?

    Recommend

  • Cherish
    Oct 16, 2012 - 2:12AM

    @mr. righty rightist:
    Art appreciation comes only with a sound education system which encourages people to think independently. It also requires the ability to understand subtleties. Bollywood movies are generally painted with broad brushstrokes ( the good or the evil, the honest cop or the dishonest politician) since it is easier for the filmaker to communicate with an audience poorly equipped to handle complex narratives. Bollywood is an industry built around bad films and the money it generates comes from the customer base who enjoys these bad films. Ek tha Tiger and Rowdy Rathore are huge hits not because of Bollywood or big money or Salman Khan. There are people out there to pay for these films and appreciate its content. Exhibition good films alone do not develop the ability to appreciate art; it should be backed by skills of comprehension which in turn is gained by an education system that is not based on rote memorization. Plus, South Asians are no different from other nationalities with poorly developed education systems when it comes to art appreciation. Consider the Iranian and Arab expatriates in the UAE who rarely watch Iranian and Arab art films in cinemas. The only films exhibited in the UAE are American and Indian. And you cannot blame Bollywood for that.

    Recommend

  • mr. righty rightist
    Oct 16, 2012 - 7:53AM

    @Cherish

    “Art appreciation comes only with a sound education system which encourages people to think independently.”

    Art appreciation does not come from an education system. It comes from one’s culture. Unfortunately, today (mind you this was not the case even 20 years ago) our culture is greatly influenced by our media, which is under the stranglehold of Bollywood. This cannot be denied. So, Bollywood is responsible for the demise of art appreciation among masses. The same filmmakers you mentioned, have released their films 20-30 years ago and have received appreciation from the general public. The public 20-30 years go were not better educated than the public today. Those days, they were not assaulted by the rich Bollywood with its senseless marketing chicanery.

    Iranians and Arab expatriates in UAE do not watch Iranian cinema (Arab art cinema is actually not art, also Arab films are substandard in terms of artistic qualities. But that’s a different debate.) because they have fewer opportunities as money spinning Bollywood grabs all their opportunities.

    And I will tell you one more thing about your Arab, Israeli, Russian friends who watch Bollywood films. They watch it to make fun of it. I have first hand experience. You sit with them for a serious conversation, if you ever get a chance, win their trust so they can open up, they will badmouth Bollywood films. They will openly tell you that Bollywood is a joke.

    And I agree with them. Bollywood is a joke.

    Recommend

  • choomantar
    Oct 16, 2012 - 12:33PM

    alright you two, that’s enough :P

    Recommend

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