Many will know I have been following Bollywood films over the last few years with keen interest, with one of the prime reasons being, why not? We have dedicated halls and screens which are always showing the latest the industry has to offer, very often having same day premieres, and I cannot fathom having to close this option off for the lack of language ability. English subtitles is a boon, and my only option to understand what's being said on screen. English is of course the plot element here in this film, written and directed by Gauri Shinde, who has made a film that's strong in heart, and powerful in performance.
I'm talking about Sridevi's comeback to cinema, having retired some 15 years ago to raise her kids. And this leave of absence surely helped her in her protagonist role here, but more on that later. For those unaware, like I was previously, Sridevi is arguably the best actresss Indian Cinema has produced over the last few decades, and it is only today that I fully understood why. Her performance as Shashi, the traditional Indian housewife, is impeccable, and the littlest of nuances put into her role, reaped results in the manifold. As a line of dialogue described, her eyes are like coffee drops in a saucer of milk, and that in itself is an understatement.
Charisma is something that you have, or have not, and Sridevi's presence is something that arrests your attention immediately when she comes on screen. Carrying the entire movie, it's unbelievable to think that she's pushing 50 already, as her performance here will probably inspire many actresses of today's generation sit up and take note, to realize that they still have a long way to go to reach a fraction of her level. I'm sold, impressed, and very eager to catch up on her filmography to see what more she had to offer during the 80s and 90s when she was at the peak of her popularity then.
Her comeback in English Vinglish is a casting coup for its filmmakers, and let's not forget Shinde's story which was custom fit for her as well, playing the role of a mother, which probably made it quite an easy transition back to the industry. But it's an important role because one of the key takeaways from the narrative, is how we often take those who love us for granted, and as part of the process, inadvertently hurt them too. We may not realize it, or sometimes we do, but these hurt will likely be the worst possible. A callous word and a careless comment go a long way, and is difficult to, or sometimes cannot be taken back.
It's something many of us have been through and experienced, regardless which side of the equation one was on, where respect does not get accorded, and where words go out to make others feel small about themselves. In Shashi's case, this happens to be her lack of command in the English language, perceived to be an ability of social status, made quite unbearable when her children thinks it so, and when her husband (Adil Hussain) also gets in on a private joke with their daughter.
The film's story worked on many layers, and what I especially admired is how Sridevi becomes the spokesperson for lessons without being too overt about it, save for the ending speech that hammers in the emotion, and is sure to make your eyes well up. It deals with, on a macro level, how as humans we should be helpful and tolerant to those who don't speak our language or understand our culture, that one shouldn't be made to think one's superior just because, or make the other look small. And on the more micro level, the structure of the family and its importance. All these and more, told through a story about a woman finding her inner strength to stand out, stand up and be counted, building and reinforcing confidence that she's more than just a Laddoo machine.
But social factors aside, the more obvious ingredient that's put into the movie, is the Mind Your Language type scenes when Shashi enrolls herself into an English crash course to learn conversational English in four weeks. Instead of Mr Brown, there's Mr David (Cory Hibbs) the teacher (whose sexual orientation again highlights the differences in the human race and the need for tolerance and acceptance), and a motley crew of classmates from various parts of the world bonding together. From a woman who centered her life around family, building a network of friends became something of a lifeline of sorts, in keeping life interesting through the sharing of experiences, and of course, food.
English Vinglish has everything a typical Indian film contains, from comedy to romance - handled with such maturity - culture and language. What more, it has Sridevi's remarkable return, showing why she was, and still is, one of the iconic female actresses ever to grace the screens of Indian Cinema. A definite recommendation, and though formulaic at parts, is delivered with such slickness, that I'd shortlist it as one of the best this year. Look out for Amitabh Bachchan's cameo as well, on board a plane and watching Source Code with amusement!