A simple Indian woman's complexes are explored with warmth and charm. Sridevi brings to us a home-maker's self-doubt with a wonderful performance despite the squeak in her voice and distracting accent.
The Indian mom gets her due from Hindi cinema. Finally. No this is not the educated, job-and-home juggler, modern 'aaj ki naari' (Today's woman). This is the one whose full-time job is to makes homes, the one who is so humble about her 'small' business on the side that the rest of the world is only willing to dismiss her achievements. The woman who has never found expression for her confidence, until one day a slight window of opportunity opens up. English Vinglish takes this opportunity and ever-so gradually talks to us, her family, about our responsibility to empower her. While doing so it keeps the atmosphere light and lets you spend 5 weeks with Shashi (Sridevi) and her gorgeous homeliness.
Yes, I saw my mom, my nani (grandmom), my aunt, my cousin and countless other enterprising women in Shashi - warm, modest, coy, technically uneducated but sharp women. She is underexposed to the world outside and yet has a mind so broad, and an attitude so simple and clear that it would make some of the urban seen-the-world, know-it-all snots ashamed of their chauvinism. She is put down by those closest to her and that affects her more than the deep love and support that others might offer. Her pride is hurt and you see her swallow her hurt and even take blame to keep harmony. She beats herself up, for not having stuck to her "should haves", before anyone else could get a chance. And yet given a chance, this meek, submissive lady can fly high if she somehow manages to find freedom.
If guys out there think this a women's film because it sounds all touchy-mushy. You might want to watch it so you can empower the women in your life and see your world from their eyes.
Sridevi brings out complexities within the life of a simple Indian woman with grace and elegance. Even if it were for a total of just 30 seconds, her dance is much more graceful than many of today's top actresses put together. Sure, her squeaky voice is distracting enough to make you wonder if Urmila Matondkar has dubbed for her in a not-so Marathi lilt in her Hindi. The constant stutter/hesitation and lack of confidence her character demands can seem a little repetitive. But her gorgeous eyes make up for that. And I just don't mean their shape or the way they are made up, but what they convey, the emotions they stir within. I don't know whether to thank her or be disappointed that she has made the typical housewife, larger than life.
I doubt she could achieve any of this if she weren't provided with material to play with. Quite a few parts of this simple story manage to convey a lot about the relationships and their dynamics even though only a few minutes are spent on them in terms of time. I especially enjoyed Shashi's relationship with her son and the character of her spirited mother-in-law.
On the other hand, the gay effeminate character is caricaturish and the charming, romantic French man is too good to be true. But, if that's what it takes to balance it off with a positive attitude towards sexual orientation and subtle, cross-border love, so be it. The other characters like say her husband and daughter were the stereotypical male chauvinist and ruthless teenager. However, we do have to realize that these stereotypes do find their place in every other household with some or the other variation. And some of them don't necessarily have an instant change of outlook within 5 minutes.
I loved the pace at which English Vinglish goes about it's business. No rush, no great strides to cover lots of ground. In fact, at half-time, all you've seen is whatever you know from the trailers in terms of plot. Shashi Godbole is being put down for not knowing English. And you wonder how they are going to close all the threads in just over an hour. Yet, you haven't gotten bored.
Even in it's entirety the plot has just the slightest curve in its arc. I'd have liked it better if I didn't know some of the punch lines from the trailers or they had a few more of them. Also, another slight sore point is that it does tend to get a little preachy, even as it gets masked under conversations and real-life speech situations. I also wonder how it'd have been to see Shashi do what she does while living in India, without using the American 'support' system as an anchor.
With that we come to the question of the importance given to the English language in English Vinglish. On the one hand, I could get distracted by the supposed moral of the story, and the overt emphasis on the language. Because, surely an Indian home-maker in Pune, can get by without HAVING to know English and she won't lose much face either. The exaggeration is made to make a point. But Shashi's need to learn English is my mom's want to learn driving is my grandmom's drive to learn how to play the harmonium at age 75! It's not about the English or the car or the musical instrument. It's about confidence, it's about independence, it's because they didn't get to do it then, it's about being proud of yourself and finding self-worth, it's about feeling good about yourself.
And for the rest of us, it's about giving them space to do so.
- meetu, a part of the audience
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