Its 10:30 in the morning at Cinemax Versova. I enter the theater and its abuzz with a group of Tamilian ladies, who just can't wait for English Vinglish to start. I smile as I hear them say Sridevi in every sentence. She has not been forgotten. No siree. They were also there because they felt this was somewhere their story too.
Sridevi. Let me say at the outset, I like her.
She has picked the perfect comeback vehicle. This movies is for all of us who have loved her from Sadma to Chalbaaz, Lamhe to Judai... The eternal Chandni. It is also for all the under-dog housewives who keep toiling their lives away in the kitchen, taking care of their house, husbands and kids... without getting a thank you. She has decided to return sans glamour and in a role that uses her age as an asset, intrinsic to the set up. Where Madhuri failed Sri succeeds.
The movie opens with detailed establishing shots of Mrs.Shashi Godbole (Sridevi). She is a regular middle class housewife, who has what her family and the society at large today terms as a handicap. She can not speak English. Apart from a broken sentence here and a word there. Her husband (Adil Hussain) fell in love with her at first sight and now they have 2 kids and life has settled in a routine... But every time, she is reminded by a very rude daughter that she is a matter of shame and not pride to her because of her failure to converse in English. She runs a successful Laddoo making business from home and is known for making the most delicious Laddoos. But even this is not seen as an achievement by anyone in her family.
Shashi bears with all the taunts about her bad English, and cries silent tears... till she reaches USA to attend her niece's wedding and decides after a belittling incident to join an English teaching class. Her journey from there... of exploring a new world, learning a new language and re-discovering herself.. that is what English Vinglish is all about.
A very easy to relate character is the strength of this film. Sridevi makes the perfect Shashi. She still has the tentative smile, beautiful expressive eyes and a figure that belies her age. Her performance is restrained, never going over-the-top. Its a sign of maturity from an actress who used to match steps with Jumping Jack Jeetendra. The film shows her "Michael Jacksoni" glimpse too. I wish they had not made her a Maharashtrian, when clearly she is still a South Indian in her demeanor and diction. There is no particular reason as to why she couldn't be Shashi Iyer. That would have added more to her performance. After all the film revolves around her character. Another jarring fact for me was why she waited all her life to learn English when India has its own English learning classes in every nukkad.
Adil Hussain is perfect in his character of a busy, settled in his routine and taking his wife for granted man.
The story is treated very simply and without any layers. It is largely predictable. Shashi's daughter played by Navika Kotia is relentlessly mean, and I hope its not how teenagers behave all the time with their moms. The foreigner and Shashi track is sweet, but could have been explored a little more.
English Vinglish is so slice of life that it sometimes forgets its a movie and needs to step up.
But the heart of this film is firmly in the right place, the casting is excellent, specially the characters in her English Class. Each one memorable. Special mention Mehdi Nebbou as Laurent. The cameo by Mr. Amitabh Bachchan is an icing on the cake. He is totally having a ball and his brief presence brings a big smile on your face.
A confident debut by Gauri Shinde. Power to women directors! But more depth needed to be created in situations and moments. It is rushing towards the end it seemed at times. At others, there were unnecessary stays on faces. But the film never gets stuck and passes like a breeze.
Another plus is the way New York has been shot. Lovely.
The music is very average, I liked the title track and Navrai Majhi.
I would say go watch it. It has a lot going for it as a film and for the kind of story its telling.
Oh and I spoke to one of the ladies watching it with me, Mrs Krishnan (she politely declined to share her first name). She was around 55 years old and had come with her daughter. Her own English was broken but she understood me well. She said she loved the film and Sridevi. Her only grouse was "Why they not made her into a Tamilian, that is only problem" She said she was going to tell all her friends to come and watch.
I am sure she will, after all there are millions of Shashis in India.
My Rating 3/5