It’s Not All About English Vinglish!

-Mrinalini Shinde

Okay, the song ‘Navrai Majhi Ladachi Ladachi ga‘ is stuck in my head; I just got back from watching English Vinglish. I need to get this out of the way,  I am so glad  that there’s finally a wedding song with strong Marathi intonations!  My evident bias aside, this film has a lovely and unassuming, appropriate soundtrack.

If you want to watch an honest,  feel-good  and  profoundly simple film, go watch English Vinglish.  The film has no complex storyline or plot. It’s a description of the course of events centred around the protagonist- Shashi Godbole, played by Sridevi, and the trials and joys she encounters in the face of her family, her interests, her exploration of New York City, and her  conquest of English. And this description makes for a delightful watch.

Shashi Godbole is a devoted wife and mother, who runs, a small snacks business out of her kitchen, and is regularly placed in a socially compromising position due to her lack of fluency in the English language, and her husband and daughter enjoy taking digs at her for the same. When her widowed sister,  invites the family to New York, for her daughter’s wedding, Shashi is faced with the gargantuan task of leaving her family behind, travel alone to New York, and help with the preparation, a month before everyone else is scheduled to arrive. The rest of the film traces her journey to New York, through New York, and her decision to join English classes, for a month, following a humiliating incident at a cafe, while simultaneously helping set the stage for her niece’s wedding. The film is about the the good feeling generated in he the viewers, by the confidence  instilled in the protagonist, by overcoming her weakness. And the film manages to convey  that feeling, without going over the top, and that’s saying something.

The simplicity of the plot lends a substantial amount of identifiability to  the situations and characters. And this identifiability, I think would extend to most viewers, although some (like yours truly) would gain special happiness from the quintessential Pune references in the beginning of the film, not least of which is the collection of  Poona cottton saris worn by Sridevi. The period in the film when Shashi is preparing for her trip, and her consequent journey, makes one aware of how much we take English for granted, and how severely daunting simple tasks can be for somebody out of his or her depth with the language. Her apprehension, and confusion have been picturised beautifully, set to the lovely song “Jiyara Dhak Dhuk Hoye” sung by Amit Trivedi.

There is also the issue of her classmate, a French chef, falling in love with Shashi. I loved how this angle was handled, with  the right amount of sexual tension and subtlety, ending up emphasizing a rather sublime bond between the two, without stirring in unnecessary dollops  if histrionics.

The film scores  immensely with its casting. The ensemble is brilliant. Although the set of students in Sridevi’s English class appear a tad bit too  stereotypical, (a Tamilian software engineer, a Pakistani cab driver, a French chef, a Mexican nanny, and a Chinese hairdesser),  the actors all manage to contribute to the characters in a great way.  The English tutor- David, although quite the caricature, is more than adequately affable. Priya Anand, who plays her niece- Radha, is extremely likable, fun and definitely a discovery.

Sridevi isbeing referred to as India’s Meryl Streep. I suppose this refers to their similar talents in being able to hold their own, single-handedly to drive commercial success for their films. English Vinglish is Sridevi’s comeback film. And what a comeback it is. As the focal point and well,  the ‘hero’ of the film, she executes the role to perfection. You wonder whether she had gone away at all. Welcome back Ms. Hawa Hawai. 🙂

The film could have been longer, I felt that it could have developed her struggle with English a bit more acutely. But then again,  that’s why this film is not all about English Vinglish. It’s about how ordinary people don’t always need to confront overcome social injustices, or crimes, to be heroes. It’a bout celebrating the simple  victories over shortcomings in a familiar setup. The sincerity of the words in

I think English Vinglish is a good directorial debut for Gauri Shinde, and I look forward to watching what she serves next. All said and done, there aren’t many risks taken here, so I’d really like to see her do something a lot more layered and adventurous next, especially in terms of storytelling, because, it is clear that she knows how to do what she she wants.

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