(featured in Masala Lite Magazine in November 2012, Thailand)
[For original click on the link below]
After a 15-year hiatus, mega-star of yesteryears Sridevi returns to films in Gauri Shinde’s English Vinglish. The so-called comeback of the year began with a standing ovation at the Toronto International Film Festival and a raking-in of Rs.270 million worldwide in its first week—to say nothing of all the applause and murmurs of approval at the film’s premiere in Bangkok. All in all, this subtle feminist flick has won over many hearts (thanks only in small part to an adorable cameo by Amitabh Bachchan), including ours, and we’re a hard bunch to please.
The story centres on Shashi, a doting wife and loving mother who is unappreciated by her family due to her inability to speak English. She’s constantly ridiculed by her teenage daughter for being an embarrassment and often essentialised by her husband as little more than a great cook. Low in confidence and silently wounded, she makes her way to New York to attend her niece’s wedding, minus the ball-and-chain family. There, she musters the courage to enrol in a four-week English course. It is here that she is recognised as being a small business entrepreneur by her teacher and as a lovely, hot mama, by Laurent (Mehdi Nebbou), a painfully handsome and sweet French classmate in whom she confides despite the language barrier. Things get complicated, though, when her family arrives for the wedding, and Shashi gets into all kinds of dilemmas, including what to do about her final exam and about her would-be suitor.
Even though serious (and moderate) feminists will decry the convenient ending—and we, too, were left kind of sceptical—it’s an elegant film that deals with domestic issues without much histrionics, even if it does end with a fundamental issue too-easily resolved. Shashi is portrayed subtly by Sridevi. (Renowned designer Sabyasachi dresses her in traditional khadi saris, keeping with her very Desi mom-type character, while showing off her svelte figure.) New York
visitors or faraway admirers will of course enjoy the city scenes, from the cafés to the rough crowd to the Empire State Building. Music director Amit Trivedi forgoes the cliché song-and-dance breakouts and presents several original songs for the soundtrack—including a funny, edgy, and ultimately romantic ode to the city.
Overall, English Vinglish is a memorable tribute to a certain kind of Indian woman who hasn’t always vocally participated in the liberation that many contemporaries enjoy. It’s based on the life of Gauri Shinde’s mother, and will have many of you going home to tell your own mothers how much you appreciate them.