I went in to see this film with very moderate expectations. Firstly I am not a big Sridevi fan (inspite of films like Sadma, where her work has been quite fantastic). Secondly I had seen the trailers, and Sridevi’s character in them seemed to be the kind of nauseatingly ultra-naive, over-sweet, over-moralistic person that Bollywood is so good at creating. Thirdly, she has slimmed and aged over her hiatus of 15 years (that’s one more than Ramji’s vanwas) and I’m wondering whether her role will be age appropriate, or will she morph midway into some disco-loving aunty in figure-hugging hoptpants – this is Bollywood after all, you never know! I’m here then to tell you, O good readers, that none of my above fears came true. This is a fabulous film, even if it did have some flaws.
Sridevi plays Shashi Godbole, married to Satish (Adil Hussain), and mother of two beautiful kids. Satish has a good corporate job and provides well for the family, and Shashi keep the household running smoothly taking care of the kids and her mother-in-law (Sulabha Despande). Homely Shashi’s one passion is cooking and she indulges in this via her hobby/business of making boondi laddoos and supplying them to homes. Essentially Shashi is the typical housewife who values her family over all else. All should be hunky-dory for her.
When Shashi is invited to New York to attend her sister’s daughter’s wedding, Satish decides she must go by herself to help out, with himself and the kids following at a later date. A sheltered Shashi is hesitant, but goes anyway. In New York, surrounded by unfamiliar people speaking a language she does not know (English), Shashi’s tamped down insecurities come rushing to the fore – she can either face them or be the Shashi she has always been, docile and unquestioning.
Sridevi, in this film, appeared to be more South-Indian than Maharashtrian, which is what Shashi is supposed to be. Still she does well, appearing to be the loving mom and the patient, doting wife and daughter-in-law. She still has that beauty; it is tinged with a restrained maturity now, but that makes her all the more graceful. The role is graceful as well; Shashi is a very, very nice person, so much so that you feel for her when her daughter delivers one of her rude barbs, or her husband ignores her quiet pleas for attention.
Good acting, a decent cast, apt music and a reasonable pace make this a good film. The film is written and directed strongly – so kudos to Gauri Shinde. The characters are developed well enough – Shashi is a little too patient and good, but I liked her anyway. A lot of screen time is devoted to the English class and those scenes appeared to be right out of the “Mind your Language” television series with cliched stereotypical personalities – a Chinese beauty-salon worker, the gay teacher, the idli-loving South Indian and the Hispanic nanny. There are also the finer touches, the well-crafted scenes between her and French classmate Laurent (Mehdi Nebbou) where understanding transcends language barriers. In one such moment she wonders aloud to Laurent, that anything in the world can be taught, but how can one be taught to respect another’s feelings ? Good question indeed, and a sort of theme for this film.
Besides all this though, the reason I really liked English-Vinglish is because I identified with Shashi, as a woman juggling home and work and kids and a little me-time. I’m nowhere near as patient and good or as sedate as Shashi appears to be (and thank goodness for that!), but I do sympathize when she wrings herself out for her kids and all she gets is thankless disparagement in return. I’m not the only one feeling Shashi’s pain; many women friends feel the same, and it is a common story for home-makers who seem to get taken for granted by their families, not to mention a culture and society that touts a sacrificing, selfless Bhartiya nari as the epitome of woman-hood. When Shashi weeps, and berates herself for being selfish, for thinking about herself, I longed to reach in and comfort her and tell her that it was OK; she was important too.
This is Shashi’s story, so it is definitely a woman’s point of view. It is also a story of empowerment, from Shashi’s clear-thinking ma-in-law, who urges Shashi to enjoy her time in New York, free from the demands of her household, to her supportive niece (lovely Priya Anand) to Shashi’s hesitantly made decisions to stand up for herself. This is a must-see film, and a required watch for families.
Kidwise : Clean, this one is made for families.