The film English Vinglish proves to be an important one for Indian cinema, not just because it marks the return of Sridevi, the most graceful lady on the silver screen after a 15 year break; but because it celebrates the sari clad Indian housewife as a home-maker and an entrepreneur.
Films like Vidya Balan starrer Kahaani have worked on feminist themes by gaining sympathy for a pregnant woman because she is with child. In this spirit, English Vinglish presents Shahshi (Sridevi) — a typically desi housewife with all the socio-cultural shortcomings and handicaps that make a feminist plot; a woman coming to terms with her life and overcoming all the obstacles because she can. This makes the film all the more interesting and plausible.
She doesn’t get time to treat herself for coffee because she is busy making parathas for her family. Her husband Satish (Adil Hussain), who is a modern, office-going, well-to-do middle-aged man, discourages her from following her only passion: making and delivering laddus. Her daughter is embarrassed to take her to the parents-teacher meetings at school, because her mother can’t speak English. All these factors build up to the conflict of the film — the consequences of not knowing how to speak English. This struggle reaches its crescendo when she is invited to attend a wedding in New York; Shahshi decides at that point to steal away from time to time and enrol herself at an English language course.
Directed by the debutant Gauri Shinde and produced by R Balki, English Vinglish has been simultaneously released in Telugu and will also mark Srivdevi’s comeback to Tamil cinema after 26 years. Before its official release, the film was screened at the gala night of the Toronto Film Festival 2012 where it received a standing ovation for Sridevi’s performance and rightly so, because as one embarks upon Shahshi’s journey as a viewer, there is no coming back.
The simplicity with which Sridevi pulls off such a complex character is far too brilliant to be termed commendable or remarkable; it’s simply awe-inspiring. It certainly wouldn’t be an overstatement to say that with this comeback, Sridevi has resurrected her reel life by delivering a career best performance. In a number of scenes, her character stays on screen but can’t express much because of her inability to communicate, yet we all can relate to her dilemma simply because she is so compelling. For all those expecting her to be rusty after such a long hiatus, this film is a must watch because she has returned with even more seasoning in her craft along with a few well-disguised wrinkles. This is a new beginning for the stunning Sridevi; there can’t be a better re-launch.
Unfortunately, the film takes a nose dive in the second half as it starts to drag. The film also deviates from Shahshi’s initial conflict, which was with language, as United States has more cultural shocks to offer than lingual, which essentially becomes the reason for its pointless stretch. Shahshi’s English class is a mere re-enactment of the popular series “Mind Your Language” and apart from a few jokes and serious cultural shocks, it stays there longer than needed.
Although English Vinglish is primarily an actor’s film with very strong performances, but the director needs to be given credit for a smooth sailing first half and some smartly set up conflicts between Shahshi and her husband.
English Vinglish is an uplifting film and a must watch for all Sridevi fans. For others, the underlying themes of motherhood and lines like “kia angraizi bachon sae ziada important hai?” might have an emotional appeal.
To sum it up, English Vinglish may not be timeless, but Sridevi certainly is. The film has some entertaining aspects, especially a stellar performance by the child actor Shivansh Kotia as Sagar and a guest appearance by Amitabh Bachchan.
Published in The Express Tribune, October 8th, 2012.