Monday, October 22, 2012

English Vinglish

Movie Review : English Vinglish
Director : Gauri Shinde
Genre : Family Drama
Starring : Sridevi, Adil Hussain, Sulabha Deshpande, Priya Anand
Released : October 2012
My Rating : 7 out of 10

I rarely write reviews of Indian movies. Firstly, I am not a professional reviewer. Mostly, I just want to note my reactions. Secondly I write a review, when I want to talk about a good movie that deserves to be watched and people around me seem to have missed it. For an Indian movie, everyone has seen it before me, because I don't go to theaters as often, and I refuse to watch pirated DVDs. So there is not much point writing the review - notable exceptions being Dharm and Khamosh Pani.

I watched "English Vinglish" becuase it seemed a rare family friendly Bollywood movie, and it is. It is a comeback movie for actress Sridevi, who ruled the Indian box office in her prime. That was a less of a reason for me, as I was one of those odd people who was totally apathetic to her star powers. I could never tolerate her dialogue delivery, and this movie reminded me that strongly. She did have the charisma and acting skills to carry an entire movie on her shoulders, and she does that with spades here.

Sridevi plays the central character of Shashi Godbole, a middle-aged housewife, with a good family - a successful and faithful husband, a typical teenaged daughter, an adorable son, and for a change, a supportive mother-in-law. Shashi is a great cook, and in spite of the daily struggles, manages to run a small operation of selling homemade sweets. It's a simple life. Simple, however does not mean, without sorrows. In spite of being totally devoted to her family, she is under-appreciated, and often a subject of mockery and put-downs. The reason - her lack of ability to fluently speak English. She has to travel to New York to help with her niece's wedding. While there, she enrolls herself in a crash course to learn English. This experience turns out to be a course in self-discovery as well.

The simplicity of this story is the strength, because it's told sincerely. This sincerity ensures that it doesn't become unrealistic. When Shashi completes her course, her English still sounds rough. She doesn't defeat anyone in the knowledge of the language - she just learns enough to get by.That same sincerity is also highlighted by a near lack of extremes. Shashi's family comes across not as some exceptional case, but one that we all can relate to. Their interactions are not contrived, but are those we all have experienced and/or seen in our lives. She is not being treated terribly by her family. She is not just being treated respectfully.

That's an important point the movie succeeds in making. As Shashi says in a scene, she doesn't need love, she has it, what she needs is respect. Hence there was never a scope for an affair or a love triangle. It's a movie whose characters are mature and composed in their behavior.

It's not a perfect movie. There were places where I cringed. The biggest problem is the constitution of the group of students. A Mexican nanny, a Pakistani cab driver in New York, a French cook, a South-Indian Software Engineer with problems with his English accent, an Asian lady who works in a hair salon ! If that's not stereotyping on steroids, then I don't know what is. Of course, the teacher is gay - filling the obligatory role of the nice person belonging to a minority group, which happens to be gays these days. Such formulaic treatment unnecessarily reduces the impact of the theme.

Fortunately, the director avoids other clich├ęs. The difficulties faced by a visitor in a foreign land are kept realistic, and not used to create unnaturally uncomfortable scenes. And thankfully, there is no preaching. No over-the-top emotional reunions at the end. The movie makes effort at every juncture to avoid being overly sentimental. It still is predictable. In a movie like this, that's what we want. Predictable happy ending.

Sridevi is being praised for her effort here, and it's well deserved. What should also be mentioned is, acting is really good across the board. Although her character is feeling neglected in the story, the movie revolves around Sridevi and kind of neglects almost everyone else. Not a huge minus, because whatever we need to learn about other characters, the director manages to convey that in brief scenes.

I have to tip my hat to director Gauri Shinde. It's a great debut. The first couple of opening minutes were my favorite. In just a few frames, without showing anyone's face, she built the foundation of the story - in Shashi's family everyone else's needs come before hers. Brilliantly done. This is as much Gauri Shinde's movie as it is Sridevi's.

I recommend this movie to even those who haven’t watched many Bollywood movies. It's slow. It's not great but it's very good, and quite safe for kids of these days.

(Trivia: The movie being shown in the flight that Sridevi's character watches is "Sourcecode").

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