There has been resounding anticipation around Sridevi’s return to movies, and with English Vinglish she makes a fitting comeback.
From the first scene she is delightful – firmly in character as Shashi, the unappreciated but unquestioning middle class housewife who does not speak English but makes delicious snacks. Constantly disparaged by her family for her lack of English medium education, Shashi grins and bears it, stifling her hurt like the typical self-sacrificing Hindu women traditionally portrayed in our serials and stories.
But all that changes when she goes to America to attend her niece’s wedding. After a humiliating experience in a coffee shop, Shashi resolves to secretly learn English and surprise her family when they arrive a few weeks later. This sets up debutant director Gauri Shinde to create a classroom so unarguably reminiscent of the 70s and 80s comedy show ‘Mind Your Language’, although the overtly camp teacher in Shashi’s New York classroom is simply irritating.
It is only in this section that Shinde takes some jarring liberties with stereotypes and succumbs to comedic license – so there’s the Hispanic maid, the French smooth talking chef who has a crush on Shashi, the South Indian IT professional who misses his mother and idlis and so on. But you are willing to forgive Shinde this indulgence within an otherwise sincere, simple, touching tale brought alive by Sridevi’s onscreen magnetism and vulnerability.
It is in this classroom that Shashi feels empowered, independent, worthy, respected – all the things she misses in her family life.
Sridevi is perfect in the part of the small town girl whose life is dedicated to her family, embarrassed by her lack of fluency in English. And she wears the most gorgeous saris! A wonderful scene at her daughter’s school illustrates this poignantly. It also shows the cruelty of children so easily ashamed of their parents. Another touching scene is Shashi travelling alone to USA, memorizing sentences to answer questions posed by the immigration officer.
Amitabh Bachchan makes a short but impactful appearance as a co-passenger who comforts Shashi and guides her through her maiden foreign flight journey. Other noteworthy performances are by Adil Hussain as Shashi’s husband Satish, Mehdi Nebbou as the French classmate awed by Shashi and Priya Anand as Shashi’s niece. There are few surprises here. It’s quite formulaic. And that’s English Vinglish’s strength – that it works the formula well.
Shinde makes an assured debut and tells a story that is highly reflective of our times – where knowledge of English defines peoples’ intellect, class and progress.
On the flip-side, in scenes between Frenchman Laurent and Shashi, she shows that language is not the only method of communicating.
Sridevi’s fans can rejoice. Everyone else just enjoy the movie-shovie!