“English Vinglish”… Okay Vokay

In Gauri Shinde’s English Vinglish, Sridevi plays a housewife named Shashi. (This is a movie that’s not afraid to be cute. The rest of the family comes with S-names too: husband Satish, and kids Sagar and Sapna.) Like many women in our country (and many men too), Shashi is a creature of routine. She wakes up, ties her hair in a knot, makes coffee for herself and chai for the others, barely gets to scan the Navbharat Times before having to whip up different kinds of breakfast (daliya for the mother-in-law, toast for the children, parathas for Satish). She’s a housewife on a treadmill without a STOP button, and as someone educated in Saraswati Vidhyalay, where no one spoke English, she is subject to constant ridicule from the others, especially Sapna. If this woman went to the US and enrolled herself in an English-language class and – in four weeks – learnt what takes the average child years to come to grips with, then we’d have on our hands a heartwarming empowerment saga, even if sounded like a fairy tale. (Besides, what are most fairy tales but templates for female empowerment sagas?) We may even be grateful that Shashi’s empowerment comes through in relatively subtle and sober ways, unlike say, Rekha’s transformation in Khoon Bhari Maang, where empowerment entailed supermodeldom enabled by bronze lipsticks and gold turbans

Hosted by imgur.com

But Shashi is a rare woman. She doesn’t just dream about how her life should be – she is already pursuing a passion. She’s a fantastic cook, and she makes laddoos which she stuffs in little patterned boxes and sells to a regular clientele, many of whom welcome her with the kind of smile we give only to those who make us immeasurably happy. If Shashi is a satellite at home, constantly revolving around the needs of others, she is the centre of this parallel universe. In her own little way, she’s a star. She lords over her helper, Ramu – when he says “gipt,” she corrects his pronunciation, the way her kids do with her English. She’s the boss, and as the film tells us later, she’s an entrepreneur. Another film would have this as Shashi’s trajectory, this transformation from unacknowledged housewife and mother to beloved vendor of sweets and distributor of joy in the neighbourhood. The very skills that are taken for granted in her home are the ones that make her a success outside. If this isn’t empowerment – digging deep within and learning to recognise what comes to us naturally, what we’re good at, and using that talent to succeed – then what is?

So when Shashi feels that this is not enough, and that she needs to learn English in order to feel like a success, it feels… not wrong, but weird. I don’t doubt for a minute that there are people like Shashi, who, despite being a success in some way, feel like failures and want to succeed in other ways. The story is what it is. But it feels strange to see a feel-good message movie where an innate talent is mocked constantly – Satish, played by the wonderfully understated Adil Hussain, is fond of announcing that his wife was born to make laddoos – and the acquisition of a new talent (if learning English can be called that) is celebrated from the rooftops. Wouldn’t a better way to go about it lie in showing that Shashi made a success of herself despite not knowing English? Shouldn’t her snooty, convent-educated daughter learn to love and respect her mother for what she is, a laddoo-making, Hindi-speaking housewife? (Instead, we’re shown that Sapna feels ashamed about mocking her mother only after Shashi makes a cautious, though very winning, speech in English in front of several Americans. Just what is the point here – that even a mother who speaks halting English is better, somehow, than a mother who speaks only Hindi?)

Shinde’s conception of Shashi is at once praiseworthy and a problem. We’re thankful to be spared the clichés of the dejected, repressed housewife crying herself to sleep at night. When Sagar says, “gussa aa rahi hai,” Shashi corrects him. It’s “aa raha hai,” she says. And as this scene comes after the one where he’s made fun of her English, we enjoy Shashi’s quiet victory. In another very good scene, Shashi goes to Sapna’s school for a parent-teacher meeting, and she tells the teacher that she cannot speak English, so could he please speak Hindi. A lovely role-reversal lies in wait. This teacher is from Kerala, and his Hindi is about as good as her English. They muddle along and manage, and once again we register Shashi’s victory, having gone to a convent and forced the English teacher to speak to her in the language she’s most comfortable in. Even Satish, as Shinde sees him, is not a cruel husband – merely an insensitive one who treats her with the casual contempt we often (and unknowingly) accord people around us who don’t fill out our outsized expectations of them.

There’s no hate here; it’s just that the love has dimmed – otherwise, we couldn’t be hearing a song that went Piya bin dil lage na as Shashi gets ready to go abroad all alone (for her niece’s wedding), with the rest of the family following her after a few weeks. Shashi doesn’t like it when Satish hugs a female co-worker. She complains that he doesn’t express these affections with her. But when he makes a motion to embrace her as he’s seeing her off at the airport, she moves away, embarrassed. These contradictions are lovely – they make these people human. In the US, we meet Shashi’s sister, who still misses her dead husband the way an amputee feels an itch in a toe. Shinde doesn’t pile on the melodrama – there are no tears, just an unsentimental expression of a sentimental thought. And in this gently nuanced world, the imposition of English feels like the fall of an axe. Wouldn’t Shashi be better served by a husband who wakes up to her for what she is than the fact that she tries to become someone he wants her to be? What next? Handcuffs and lingerie in the bedroom?

There is a lot to like in English Vinglish, which is the very definition of a gentle and urbane entertainment, but I couldn’t get past this manufactured premise, which makes all successive events seem manufactured. In the English class populated by broad gay and straight stereotypes dispensing broader comedy, Shashi befriends a Frenchman named Laurent (Mehdi Nebbou), who wants to be more than a friend. When he calls her beautiful, she walks away, but later she tells him that she reacted that way because she’s not used to compliments. But what about the praise showered on her culinary skills by her customers in India? Didn’t that give her a sense of the izzat, the respect, she so craves? Even the scene where Shashi is humiliated in a café by an aggressively unsympathetic African-American feels manufactured. (Though this scene does help us see, at the end, why she prevents her husband from punishing their son, who causes a similar accident with knocked-over plates.) After a while, it gets a little monotonous watching Shashi make wounded-puppy eyes every time she feels hurt by Satish or by Sapna. Scenes seem to exist simply to allow Shashi to make crisp little on-the-road-to-empowerment speeches, like the one about Laurent being appreciated as an artist (he’s a chef) while she’s just thought of as doing her duty in the kitchen, or the brilliant outburst about the cruelty of children.

But few actors can make wounded-puppy eyes like Sridevi, and her performance single-handedly keeps us watching. The trying-to-not-look-too-flustered look when her kids make fun of her during breakfast, the sly and knowing way she regards Satish while insinuating that if she weren’t such a good cook he wouldn’t come home at all (and to think that this man prizes an English-speaking wife over someone who makes the most delicious meals; what was that again about the way to a man’s heart being through his stomach?),the whimpering after the humiliation at the café, the subdued sense of achievement after finding her way to the language class with the help of strangers, the way she hangs around her husband when he picks up a call from the US and the way she reminds him about a name he’s forgotten, the way she sells her big speech at the end – Sridevi nails it all. This isn’t just a performance but some sort of greatest-hits collection of a certain style of performing that very few actors are capable of today, a slightly exaggerated style that has its roots in mime and our classical dance. It’s a refined form of silent-film acting, where the actor needs no words to push across an emotion, and it’s wonderful to be reminded, once again, of how well this style can work in a certain kind of film, even one that doesn’t quite deserve her.

Copyright ©2012 Baradwaj Rangan. This article may not be reproduced in its entirety without permission. A link to this URL, instead, would be appreciated.

73 thoughts on ““English Vinglish”… Okay Vokay

  1. Excellent review, BR. One thing that prevented me was completely enjoying the movie was how heavily botoxed and frail Sridevi was looking, whenever they showed close-ups of her face. It pained me that a beautiful woman like her is trying so hard to hold on to her youth. But maybe that is what the film industry does to you. The frail part works well for the character, but the botoxed part jars. I also felt the “insensitive American” stereotypes were unnecessary.

    That said, a warm, feel-good movie

    Like

  2. Loved the review BR. Haven’t seen the movie yet but didn’t completely agree with your PoV. I know several people whose 1st language isn’t English & consequently their self-worth & their estimation in the eyes of their loved ones has suffered as a consequence. IMHO, English in our country is a unifier as well as a divider. We very often unknowingly, slot somebody because of their failure to speak the Queen’s language. There. Lurker turned commenteer.

    Like

  3. I think the plot point that did not work for you, made the movie more nuanced for me. It just shows the hierarchy of empowerment , the other side of an underdog story. A housewife, who wants to speak English fluently , inherently looks down upon . not only herself, but other housewives who cant speak English . She wants to move up the totem pole- from a laddoo making housewife to a rummy playing one. It is like, when Gandhi was fighting for the rights of Indians in South Africa, he argued that they should not be treated at par with the black people. This is the politics of empowerment, you need someone to feel superior to. I don’t think this was a simple “feel-good message movie”, though it can be viewed like one.

    There is a scene where the kids choose a Hindi song and say that the Marathi song is old fashioned , thereby indicating that Hindi, the so called national language, is not always the oppressed, it is , quite often, the oppressor too,

    Though Sridevi has played Shashi with a wide eyed innocence, the defining flaw of her character, her vanity , is always there to see. She hides the fact that she is taking English classes from everyone, because learning English is not just a matter of convenience for her, it is about her ego, her self worth. She has enough vanity to feel hurt by her daughter’s taunts – but unlike Supriya Pathak in Wake up Sid, getting to communicate with her kid is not her reason for learning English, she wants to do it for herself, her own self image.

    In the final scene, when she gives us the final day of the classes to make the laddoos again,it is clear that though she does not want to fail at making laddoos, it is not something that gives her joy, it is something that she too takes for granted, along with other people.It also indicates the transitory nature of these self help goals, it is one today, another tomorrow.

    Among other things, I felt that this probably was the first Hindi movie where a french man was a real person , also ,I think the actor playing the Pakistani guy nailed the accent perfectly.The director knows her NYC.

    The scene in the cafe was important for me,because it shows how difficult it is for someone who has a linguistic impediment to accomplish as simple a thing as ordering a beverage.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Amrita/Rahul: As I said in my review. I wasn’t opposed to this plot point. Merely questioning it in what seems to be something of a message movie:

    “So when Shashi feels that this is not enough, and that she needs to learn English in order to feel like a success, it feels… not wrong, but weird.”

    And

    “I don’t doubt for a minute that there are people like Shashi, who, despite being a success in some way, feel like failures and want to succeed in other ways. The story is what it is. But it feels strange to see a feel-good message movie where an innate talent is mocked constantly… and the acquisition of a new talent (if learning English can be called that) is celebrated from the rooftops.”

    About her wanting to move up the totem pole to become a rummy-playing wife, I didn’t see her that way. And if that was the intention, the film should have made her acquiring English more than just a four-week thing, IMO. It’s too big a deal, and even given that this is a commercial film, it had enough nuance (in the character detailing) to make me expect that this aspect be treated more convincingly.

    “Though Sridevi has played Shashi with a wide eyed innocence, the defining flaw of her character, her vanity , is always there to see. She hides the fact that she is taking English classes from everyone…”

    This I don’t agree with. According to me, this isn’t about vanity but fear that she will be mocked here too.

    Like

  5. Is Shashi such a doormat that she cannot tell her family that mocking her English constantly is hurting her feelings? (No wonder her daughter was such an insufferable brat.) Then I am sorry, 4 weeks of learning English is not going to help her restore her self-worth. She needs to grow a spine.

    Like

  6. BR ; Very well written and i think you nailed this : “It’s a refined form of silent-film acting, where the actor needs no words to push across an emotion, and it’s wonderful to be reminded, once again, of how well this style can work in a certain kind of film, ” – Even in formulaic , crass commercial films of the past there are small scenes where she does that very very well. Its a pity we don’t get that anymore.

    BTW, “Khoon Bhari Maang, where empowerment entailed supermodeldom enabled by bronze lipsticks and gold turbans” : What have you got against Khoon Bhari Maang ? Rekha in tight outfits , money and time well spent.

    Like

  7. like your review. In mine, I had made a point that what is jarring for me is that she had to go to America to learn English, when India has these centers in every nukkad. Its a sweet film, and Sridevi keeps it from becoming a big bore. But if her daughter’s relentless taunts couldn’t effect her… a stranger’s making her run to a class… not convincing.

    Like

  8. Hi BR, thanks for the review. I am all on my knees to watch this movie. The reason is, the last paragraph of your review. Sridevi is one complete actress, who can deliver extreme performances(watch “”Moondram Pirai”, “Moondru Mudichu”, “Varumayin Niram Sivappu” and “Priya” if you don’t believe my words). It will be so exciting to see her on screen is a refreshing role, one which she has never taken up before. A case in point: have you seen the movie “Mitr, my friend”? It talks about a traditional woman(brilliantly played by Shobhana) grown up in India finding it difficult to cope with western culture.

    Like

  9. ” This isn’t just a performance but some sort of greatest-hits collection of a certain style of performing that very few actors are capable of today, a slightly exaggerated style that has its roots in mime and our classical dance. It’s a refined form of silent-film acting, where the actor needs no words to push across an emotion, and it’s wonderful to be reminded, once again, of how well this style can work in a certain kind of film, even one that doesn’t quite deserve her. ”

    bang on doc!
    you’ve summarised what the majority audience in india have always praised as the best (and unfortunately, perhaps, the only) kind of acting.

    Like

  10. BR : you accept that a woman would feel inferior about her lack of English skills, that her family could ridicule her, but you seem to have wanted a very different feel-good film, where people recognize her for her “real worth”, a Taare Zameen Par kind of movie where the message is “so what if he can’t read or do sums, boy can he paint well”. Why is that any more worthy a message? Maybe her culinary skills are, in fact, her attempt to master something so that she is seen as adding value. Why is it so weird for a husband to want an English speaking wife, and not just an amazing cook? For you to say that he should value her cooking more than her English seems to view marriage in a stereotypical manner – maybe he wants a greater partnership with his spouse which involves an appreciation of things where English is necessary – maybe he is an English movie buff, for example. I was reminded of Anpadh where Dharam is horrified that his wife, with whom he had hoped to share his love of romantic Hindi poetry, is illiterate. Sure she is pretty and sure she is a good homemaker, but that’s not the marriage he wanted. For you to say that Satish does not recognize the gem he has, is to assume that all men should want are good meals, conversation be damned. As for the contemptuous girl – of course it would be lovely if she appreciated her mom for what she is – but which teenager does that? It is par for the course for every kid to want his/her mom to be cool and to feel acute embarrasment at the dowdy mom who doesn’t speak English. That’s not nice, but it is realistic – it would be an odd kid who had the maturity to value a mother for innate strengths. You also object to the French guy’s compliment, saying surely she gets enough strokes for her cooking – good grief, man, this is really archaic thinking – a woman being told she is beautiful is hardly on par with her getting compliments for her business. Shashi doesn’t seem a pushover, so isn’t it likely that she wants to learn English for what it can do to her own sense of self-worth? Thumbing a nose at her family would be icing, but not the primary motivation. It seems to me that you have had taken a rather idealistic stance in your approach to the plot, with its assumption of husbands and cooking and that all change is motivated only by wanting to earn approval of spouses.

    Like

  11. @anuradha – the reason she decides to take on English when she goes to New York is quite evident. When she lived in India she was able to “get by” with not knowing English and had the confidence to get the other person switch to her language when required (portrayed beautifully in the PTA meeting scene). In New York she is out of her cocooned world and realizes the importance of this language (learning it is still secondary to her, but realizes the opportunity she has and decides to take charge of it).

    Like

  12. Pingback: External Reviews: English Vinglish | theW14.com

  13. Vish: I thought I saw a mostly well-maintained woman of a certain age, with a lined face and slightly loose skin. Did you really find her botoxed?

    madhulika: Thank you for that interesting comment. “Why is it so weird for a husband to want an English speaking wife, and not just an amazing cook?” As I said in the review (the crux of which is in Para 3), I don’t have a problem with the characters at all.

    What I find “weird” (not “wrong”) is that a sort-of “message movie” should applaud this notion that a quick-fix English makeover can somehow empower a woman and save a marriage and set her right in the eyes of her children. What I find “weird” is the enshrining of the notion that it’s not enough to go “digging deep within and learning to recognise hat comes to us naturally, what we’re good at, and using that talent to succeed.” CAN you make such a movie? Sure. But it makes me wonder what you’re really saying in the name of empowerment.

    You say “You also object to the French guy’s compliment, saying surely she gets enough strokes for her cooking…”

    I don’t say that. What I WONDER ABOUT is this: “But what about the praise showered on her culinary skills by her customers in India? Didn’t that give her a sense of the izzat, the respect, she so craves?”

    Of course, being praised for beauty is different. But why not connect Shashi’s feel-good moments to the most innate talent that she has? (IIRC, the only scene where that is done is when she’s called an entrepreneur in class.) Why should all her little victories come via her quest for this new acquisition? Is there no one in India who said a kind word to her? It’s these choices that I’m bringing up for debate in the review. We can argue back and forth about these things, but sometimes there are things in a film that don’t feel quite right, and that’s what I’ve pointed out from my POV. What stuck in my craw was mainly this. “… it feels strange to see a feel-good message movie where an innate talent is mocked constantly.” My contention is that if you want to do that sort of thing, you have to make the movie differently.

    And no, the last thing I want is a “Taare Zameen Par” — I had all kinds of problems with that film too, as I wrote in my review here :-)

    Like

  14. “This I don’t agree with. According to me, this isn’t about vanity but fear that she will be mocked here too.”
    I think we don’t have a substantive difference of opinion , at least regarding this point- the fear about self image is a by product of vanity , isn’t it? To me, making the protagonist flawed, makes her more human and endearing. I don’t really find it weird that she herself does not think too much about her cooking skills. She has internalized her cooking skills to such an extent, that compliments about it do not have an effect on her, unless it is from the person who finds her desirable as a woman – another indication for vanity, by the way. I think this would have been a far less interesting movie if it had been the message movie you wanted it to be.:)

    Like

  15. Just back from English Vinglish..and I haven’t been so completely charmed by a film in a long long time.

    Why do I like it so much? Let me think.

    Let me take some of my favourite writers and film makers like Chekhov or Ozu. What do they do? They take up an ordinary man or a woman , place their artistic microscope on their seemingly ordinary lives and reveal contours rich in intricate details , possessing as powerful a drama as you will find in the life of anyone much more exalted ,or degraded for that matter.

    At some level, all lives are same. And what are the big questions in anyone’s life boil down to? It is about making choices. You are the choices you make in life.

    “ Should I meet my family waiting for me at Empire State Building, or sit here with you on the footpath eating French fries?’ Shashi, the character played by Sridevi asks her French admirer from their English learning class. “Should I make it to the final exam of the English learning course , or make the laddoos again for the wedding guests after the first lot have gone waste?”

    The choices you make reveal character.
    The other thing about simple stories or simple films is they hint at so much more than what they say. Ail great works of art are about great metaphors. Like the postman Mario in Il Postino says to the poet Neruda, ‘ Maybe the whole world is a metaphor for something else.’ English Vinglish is a metaphor . Making laddoos is a metaphor. And anyone can figure out what else they can stand for. The story itself is of course a story about a woman finding her self-worth , and in the process regaining her love that was slipping away from her life.

    Long back I saw a film by Jabbar Patel called ‘ Musafir’, where Rekha is supposed to be an ugly woman, and Naseeruddin Shah makes her feel she is beautiful and she becomes beautiful. The French admirer of Shashi does the same here for Shashi and she thanks him for it. But it was not just him. It was really about going out into the world , finding that you had abilities, that you had charm, that you could engage with people and develop friendships. As I said before the English bit could be anything else…getting a job, reducing weight, having a baby.. a little something that opens the door to self-discovery.
    Where Gauri Shinde scores is her surefooted script and lightness of touch. She never belabours a point. The husband is insensitive to his wife – you can see it from a mile. It is obvious from the way he treats her, his desperation to get physical with her without showing any affection and his taking her for granted . But Shinde never makes it a feminist tirade. The relationship arc between Shashi and her French admire too is drawn with a gossamer thin line. And there are nice little balancing touches. The children are cute, but the daughter is inexcusably cruel to her mother. The students of the English class are individualistic and interesting without being grotesque caricature.

    ( just a sidelight here. People often question a film like this , “ can it happen in real life? Can anyone learn this much in 4 weeks. Etc Etc. Since I have mentioned Chekhiv and Ozu in the same page as English Vinglish, I think I owe an explanation. The thing to remember is the language this film is talking in is Bollywood. And It IS a language. Some people use it well, some use it badly ( mostly it is the later). But there is no denying the distinctive idiom. There is an element of exaggeration, and the narrative is not constrained by conventional logic. But in the n=best works if the genre, be it 3 Idiots, Lagaan, Barfi, Gangs of Wasseypur ( all of different sub-genres within the Bollywod school) , there is a core of reality and consistent internal logic.)

    The reason I have not mentioned Sridevi is because what can I say about her? I have be such a fan of her. Seen almost all her films – from Nagin, Justice Chaudhury and Mawali to Lamhe, Sadma and Mr India – just to see her light up the screen with her luminous presence. And here she owns the screen with her sheer acting talent. ( What a feast of feminine acting feats we have been served this year! Vidya in Kahaani, Deepika in Cocktail, Rich Chadda and Huma Qurshi in Gangs of Wasseypur, Priyank and Ileana in Barfi , and now this tour de force. I surely don’t envy the judges of Bollywood awards this year.) She is remarkable in the manner she makes transparent her inner world to us, letting us peep into her every little hurt, every whiff of confusion, every small triumph. Of course she is ably supported by the entire supporting cast, led by Adil Hussain as the everyman husband and the two adorable kids.

    These days I judge the language literacy of a director by the quality of lyrics used in the film . Here there are many little tasty bites floating about in the melodic soup of Amit Trivedi. If the Amit Trivedi- Amitabha Bhattacharyu combo offers one kind of delight in films like Dev D , Udaan and Ishaqjaade, the Amit Trivedi-Swanand Kirkire combo here serves up another kind of flavour . ( Eg Kabhi dil dhadke, baayin aankh phadke. Or Badla nazar yun yun yun, Saara ka saara new, new, new. Or Gustakh dil, Dil main mushkil, Mushkil main dil. Or To your left Prada, To your right Zara.) Of course Sri was born to dance to the Navrai Majhi song .

    Suddenly remembered a random quote from Spielberg. He said , “ My films like ET bring tears to people’s eyes. What makes them roll over is John William’s music.” Every scene in English Vinglish has the audience rooting for Sri and the film, but what makes them break into spontaneous clapping is her final speech. We know it’s coming. But can she make it special? Well she does and some more. I was shaking within trying to hold back tears. She was that good. The speech was that good. ‘ Sometimes you will be a little less. Sometimes he will be a little less. ‘ ( Sometimes ina marriage one does not notice what the other needs. What do you do then? You go out. Feel good about yourself. And return back”. “ In this big world, our family is our small world. A family is never ‘ judgmental”.” I wish I could remember the whole speech. You know there has been closing monologues in Hindi films…Amitabh in Main Azad Hoon, Nana in Karntiveer, Shahrukh doing ‘ Mai Qaidi No 786; in Veer Zaara and so on. This one trumps them all.

    Think of the rare climatic finales in Hindi films that don’t involve a fight between hero and the villain or two lovers getting / dying together : the cricket match in Lagaan, the painting competition in Taare Zameen Par – and now you can add this speech to the list.

    As I was coming out of the theater I saw a little girl of ten or so was holding her grandfather’s hand and muttering to herself ‘ judgmental’ … and I knew the film had

    Like

  16. After reading your review, I am wondering whether Sridevi will be the female Amitabh Bhachchan. She has the power to pull it off, and she is a good actress.

    Like

  17. Long back when I was attending coaching classes in college, I had an accountancy tutor who was good in his subject but a bit shaky in articulating his knowledge in English (not unlike Sosshi as Prof David says it). Once a student asked him a question and when he asked if he could repeat himself, the student switched to Hindi, and he felt very hurt and launched into a sort of an outburst. I remembered that tutor today while watching the film.

    Why should a Shashi-like woman need English if she is already a fabulous cook and runs a business from home, is a question Indians should ask themselves some more…and not a question I would want to ask Gauri Shinde, the director. If that premise might appear artificial, it is only to me a mirror image of our urban culture and the artificial pedestal on which we place the English language. I love English films, English and other Western music and English this and that but I am sick of the country’s obsession with English. Just because a person is not fluent in English doesn’t mean he is inadequate and yet I find many who are quick to jump to that conclusion and having done so mock him/her instead of helping him to overcome that hurdle.

    But fair enough that it didn’t work for you, we all look for and get something different from the same film. Loved the last para.

    Like

  18. “It’s a refined form of silent-film acting, where the actor needs no words to push across an emotion, and it’s wonderful to be reminded, once again, of how well this style can work in a certain kind of film, even one that doesn’t quite deserve her.”

    I think this is unfair to both Sridevi and the film. I think the knockout punch of her performance is the final speech and she delivers it to a nuanced perfection. And that was no silent film style acting.

    And if you lok at the films other actresses have got for their comeback vehicle ( Madhuri – ‘Aaja Nach Le” Hemamalini: ‘Baghban’, ) you can see that she could not have chosen a better film to showcase her talent.

    Like

  19. I haven’t watched the movie yet, though it looks quite promising. The one thing I noticed while watching the promos was Sridevi’s (quite apparent) South Indian accent. Why then, would the filmmaker choose to give her a Maharashtrian background? Wouldn’t it be more ‘authentic’ to make use of the existing accent itself?

    Like

  20. I thought the director did an excellent job and deserves loads of accolades. Because to me this was the only movie in like decades which was so coherent, entertaining, non-cringing, tightly scripted (not a single scene seemed like an excess), nuanced, original and well-handled (even philosophically; I loved how the scenes between the protagonist and this French admirer was handled; very mature), esp. in this genre (family drama). Barfi has recently been exposed as a collection of “inspirations”. And Kahaani had own logical plotholes. Last few reasonably well acted and directed movies were Peepli Live and Paan Singh Tomar (made in probably similar sort of budget range).

    The director seems like well-read person with sensibilities that can really make a difference to Bollywood cinema. I think she should be welcomed vociferously. Well, the movie is getting great reviews elsewhere but I would have thought that you would have pointed out the subtleties in the really brilliant scenes that the movie had and worded them nicely in your review. But disappointingly, the review got stuck on one note : the premise itself.
    But what I really felt sad about was the last line “….even one that doesn’t quite deserve her.”.
    I think this movie and this director doesn’t deserve that line in a review. Especially, when this movie really did make Sridevi’s comeback most wonderful.

    Like

  21. What a ‘male’ review! @Madhulika has addressed most of the irksome bits. Why isn’t anyone talking about Mehdi Nebbou? The current gang of 40+ male stars reigning over Bollywood should take notes from the man on how to look completely delectable while playing their age.

    Like

  22. And note…she already knows some English and nowhere is it implied that she has perfected it in just four weeks. Her instructor points out the mistakes she’s made right after that lovely speech! Seriously…what frame of mind were you in when watchiing the movies? Agree about her South Indian accent that someone mentioned. She wasn’t convincing as a Maharastrian woman. Wonder why no one got her to work on it. Possibly because they were intimidated by her ‘star’ status?

    Like

  23. Rangan,Medic’s input warranted here:The lady is definitely botoxed .Period . But that is what it is :you wouldn’t believe the types and numbers of people even in their 30s who undergo botox .
    Does it matter to me?Not one bit:it is HER face .But she IS starting to resemble Micheal Jackson …..

    Like

  24. “This isn’t just a performance but some sort of greatest-hits collection of a certain style of performing that very few actors are capable of today…”

    So true. I was surprised at how much pleasure and affection I felt at seeing Sridevi on the screen again. The little-girl voice is as annoying as ever, the face almost scary in it’s gauntness but still…these old masters really know how to connect emotionally.

    Like

  25. “Another film would have this as Shashi’s trajectory, this transformation from unacknowledged housewife and mother to beloved vendor of sweets and distributor of joy in the neighbourhood. ”

    Can’t imagine anything more boring. Politically correct, pedantic and predictable it would have been. It is the English Vinglish trajectory that makes the film quirky and light, endowing it with so much charm.

    Like

  26. Madan: “Why should a Shashi-like woman need English if she is already a fabulous cook and runs a business from …”

    I’m not questioning this aspect at all. As I said in the review, it’s completely understandable that some people look for something *else*. What I’m intrigued about (and made the focus of my review, therefore), is not the CHARACTER’S decision to pursue a different talent but the FILM’s decision to showcase this pursuit as somehow laudable. It really made me uncomfortable.

    To me, Sridevi’s not knowing English was a bit like her being fat or dark-complexioned and having a complex about that. (And both, in India, are very valid inducers of a complex.) And by the end of the film, she should learn that it’s okay to be fat (well, not medically, but you know what I mean) or to be dark — and that your family SHOULD love you, DESPITE these so-called “failings.” But instead, you’re telling me now that your family will begin to see you for what you are only after you join a four-week class and become thin or go to a parlour and become fair. This is the aspect that’s troubling me.

    About the film itself, I have said that it is “gently nuanced” and that it “is the very definition of a gentle and urbane entertainment” — I’m pointing this out because a lot of people have asked me how I could “hate” this film. I most certainly didn’t :-)

    The same thing that happened in the “Vazhakku Enn…” review seems to be happening here. Do such characters exist? Sure. But is the film showcasing them the “right” way? Not so sure. And this matters in these films because they’re not just anything-goes “entertainers,” and therefore they come with slightly different baggage and expectations (at least in my case).

    Pallavi Bhat: “Because to me this was the only movie in like decades which was so coherent, entertaining, non-cringing, tightly scripted (not a single scene seemed like an excess), nuanced, original…”

    Original? :-) Just for argument’s sake, I’m going to point out how the lifting of scenes from silent movies (but incorporated into an original script with original characters) in “Barfi”, is causing so much heartache, while the lifting of entire scenarios and stereotypes from “Mind Your Language” here is somehow not a problem at all :-)

    JPhilip: I thought that if you’re Botoxed then you don’t have lines/wrinkles. Thanks for the illumination :-)

    Shalini: “Pleasure and affection…” That’s pretty much what I felt too. What a pro! And what total control over the performance.

    Like

  27. Lurker to Commenter here –
    I agree with Rahul here. I felt the movie showcased what Shashi so nicely put together in her speech – sometimes when the other cannot help or will not help, you should help yourself. And bring back the relationship. Shashi was hurt by her daughter, by her husband. They were insensitive. However she is hurt not cowed. She goes to PTA and handles it. She goes to US and handles it. Her need to learn english was only partly driven by her family – it was more for herself. To find her own self worth over and above what she does well. And that she does so beautifully. You can see that in the way she works at her class, sees the DVDs, watches the movie – none of it she does for someone else. Her speech at the end is not for her husband or daughter. Its for herself. All the other is fringe benefit.

    I know many women who go through this – very capable, achievers who have somewhere inside them a seed of doubt/ a lessening of self worth. Sometimes exacerbated by surroundings like in this case but often exacerbated by their own thought processes. Some of them choose specific methods to overcome this lessening – learn something new, lose weight etc. Could they not find their self worth from what they are already achieving – yes, possible. But not always. This movie showcases the process very well. I felt both Gowri and Sridevi nailed it very well.

    Like

  28. Pingback: Y! Meta Review: English Vinglish | The Alief Post

  29. brangan: “What I’m intrigued about (and made the focus of my review, therefore), is not the CHARACTER’S decision to pursue a different talent but the FILM’s decision to showcase this pursuit as somehow laudable.”

    I don’t really understand what is the problem here. Her learning Englsih has not been shown as anything particularly laudable. If we love Shashi by the end of the film it is not because she has learnt to speak English. She hasn’t even learnt to speak it particularly well. What we love about her final speech, is not the English, but the substance of her speech and her feelings behind it. Similarly what we celebratory about her evolution is not that she has learnt English but that she has gone out into the world, discovered her own charm, her own worth.

    “And by the end of the film, she should learn that it’s okay to be fat (well, not medically, but you know what I mean) or to be dark — and that your family SHOULD love you, DESPITE these so-called “failings.”

    Why ever? If one can lose weight and become more presentable why should anyone grudge her that. , as long as it is done with some sense of proportion. ( Remember, she chose to forego the final exams for the shake of making the laddoos again.. she has her priorities right,)

    But it is a misplaced sense of aggressive individuality and that idealizes the idea of people loving you despite your ‘ failings’, even when these failings can be easily corrected and may even help you a little otherwise apart from making you more desirable to one. And what can a woman lose by learning a little English or dressing a little smartly or learning how to move on the dance floor if it makes her mate love her a little more, It is all stuff and nonsense to talk about someone loving you only for your ‘ reral self’.

    That is what I hated about ‘ Rab Ne Ban Di Jodi’…. Suri in his typical male chauvinistic . stubbornness insisting that Tani love her the way he is moustache and all. Of course the female chauvinists would recommend the same clinging on to one’s ego for the Deepika character in ‘Cocktail’. Who will tell these flag-bearer of individualism that love is about giving up a bit of one’s ego and being able to sing ‘ Mohe sham rang rang de, mora gora arang lai le”. It is about give and take. Look around. Happy and passionate marriages in real life would reveal couple who make some attempt at living up to the ideals of their spouses of them. Not giving up your core values. But things like learning how to wear Western clothes, learning how to dance on social occasions, losing weight, learning how to make a fvourite dish, geting a smart hair cut..none of these can hurt.

    But once gain, in the context of the film, it is not about learning English, it is about going out, discovering one’s self worth and feeling good about oneself, so that quite naturally, others will feel good about and respect you too.

    A liitle nuanced version of feminism here from Ms Gauri Shinde.

    Like

  30. But instead, you’re telling me now that your family will begin to see you for what you are only after you join a four-week class and become thin or go to a parlour and become fair. This is the aspect that’s troubling me. – Hmmm….somehow I didn’t think of it that way and I don’t think the three other people I watched the film with thought so either (of course, you are entitled to). More like she landed one swell slap on the complacent snobbery of her husband and daughter with her quiet grit and determination. Not that, in an ideal world, she needed to learn English to gain respect but that in the real world she could confront a weakness (a weakness because her daughter uses it to taunt her and her husband fails to back her up and instead laughs along) and overcome it without the help of those who repeatedly hammer this weakness. Speaking of discrimination, what is a black discriminated by whites supposed to? Shoot all of them to avenge their injustice or study well, become the President/Secretary of State/Michael Jordan etc and make them eat humble pie by forcing them to accept him in the mainstream? :) The fact that Shashi uses her newfound English skills to only ask for a Hindi newspaper in the return flight suggests that the film isn’t an advocacy of English but simply a celebration of the struggle of a shy but courageous woman.

    Like

  31. About Mind Your Language, I enjoyed it back then but looking back, there’s probably some benevolent making-fun-of-foreign-accents going on there. The initial classroom sessions in English Vinglish threatened to degenerate into that but the passages where Shashi and the Frenchman converse in their native languages thankfully changed the thrust. Overall, the film was like a celebration of our differences and in some ways a timely one for it given the thick smog of xenophobia in the air these days.

    Like

  32. BR – I don’t mind that you had issues with the film’s point of view but I have a major problem with being reductive about Sridevi’s acting abilities and putting them down to just mime + classical dance. Maybe you could say that for Vyjanthimala or Hema but not Sridevi. I could have watched her just walk around Greenwich Village for two more hours if that’s all the film had set out out do. This is a made-for-camera persona like no other. Yesterday, we had the kind of awful, cold, blustery day in NJ that just begs for a raincheck. Yet, I saw this sign outside the theater –
    “The 5.40 show for English Vinglish is sold out. Please come back at 9 p.m.” There were some discussions here on how a person could use a compliment or two on who they are, not just on what they do or how well they do something. I can’t help feel that all the families I saw at the theater were there not to see a thespian performance, but also just to savor those “drops of coffee in clouds of milk”, for old times’ sake.

    Like

  33. >>What I’m intrigued about (and made the focus of my review, therefore), is not the CHARACTER’S decision to pursue a different talent but the FILM’s decision to showcase this pursuit as somehow laudable. It really made me uncomfortable.

    BR : I am not sure I still get why this bothers you (and clearly, it does, going by the number of ALL-CAPS in your replies! If you are okay with the CHARACTER’s pursuit, then why do you cavil at the FILMMAKER”S portrayal of this pursuit? If we were all to celebrate the innate strengths and ignore the perceived weaknesses, then yes, we would all be very empowered. We might also be not so human. There would also not be any need for movie critics : ) – your role then would be to only showcase Gauri Shinde’s plus points as a movie maker, because to point out lacuae in her movies would be analogous to Shashi’s family pointing out her langague shortcomings. Because when you analyze a movie you have an inner view of how that movie could be much better for you, whether or not that view is shared by the rest of the world is (and should be) irrelevant. Similarly, Shashi and her family have a view of what would make her feel better about herself, and for us to stand back and say, this is not an important enough cause is bordering on some kind of inverted snobbery.

    Also : speaking English is hardly on par with being fat or dark – this is not a genetic quality, it is a question of learning. If she had been illiterate, would you still say that the pursuit of literacy is irrelevant? Or would that be considered a critical requirement to be functional in today’s world? For many in India, knowing English is tantamout to literacy because of the sheer infiltration of English in every aspect of our life, whether personal or professional.

    Like

  34. Sandhya: Why do so many people take “silent-film acting” to mean only the exagggeratedly bad and funny kind? There’s a lot of good silent-film acting too. Anyway, I’m writing more about this in a column this week.

    madhulika: “Similarly, Shashi and her family have a view of what would make her feel better about herself…”

    I didn’t see it this way at all. It’s not like the husband and the daughter behaved the way they did because that would drive her to take up a course of action that would make her feel better about herself. They were just mocking her inability to do something, WITHOUT (sorry for the caps!) suggesting what she could do, right then and there in India.

    Her change came about because SHE took the initiative.

    Even so, I get that there are people like this. I do get that. But this troubles me because their change of heart towards her happen after she “improves” herself, and this is like saying, “We love you after you changed yourself to become the kind of person we like.”

    I’m finding it difficult to get on board with an otherwise entertaining movie that showcases this (not just “portrays” this, but makes this the agency of change of their behaviour towards her). And I do think it’s the same as the fat/dark thing, because genetic or not, there are ways to change these aspects.

    I don’t see why this is proving so difficult to understand :-)

    Like

  35. Have any of you guys seen this show called “What not to wear – India!” I stumbled on it while flipping channels and watched in horror as this plump girl was hauled up to Soha Ali Khan by a couple of “well meaning friends” who thought that her wardrobe was crap. And Soha proceeded to tell this girl that she’d been filming her in secret to see how she wears clothes and how everything she was wearing was wrong for her. The girl gets a shopping card, shops for clothes that “Soha” thinks look best on her, and — voila! — the friends welcome the girl back with hugs and squeals.

    Just saying! :-)

    Like

  36. Rangan, I think you are nit-picking. I can see a husband really happy with his wife’s cooking abilities, *and* frustrated by her lack of knowledge of English. Shouldn’t she feel happy about her customers’ compliments about her cooking? Yes, she should, but why shouldn’t it make her happy to have someone call her beautiful? If all she has been appreciated for all the while is her cooking, then it is nice to have someone tell her she is beautiful too. We can be politically correct all we like, but looking good does do things for our self-esteem. Being told we look good also does our self-esteem good.

    Just what is the point here – that even a mother who speaks halting English is better, somehow, than a mother who speaks only Hindi?)

    No, the point is that the daughter realises that there is more to her mother than just being a good cook. That she could, if she put her mind to it, even learn English.

    Wouldn’t Shashi be better served by a husband who wakes up to her for what she is than the fact that she tries to become someone he wants her to be?

    She doesn’t do it for him; she does it for herself. And learning English proved to her, as much as it did to *him* that she could do anything she wanted to do. That is empowering. And that she goes back to making laddoos is just proof of her that self-empowerment. Now there is the added confidence.

    Like

  37. And I do think it’s the same as the fat/dark thing, because genetic or not, there are ways to change these aspects.

    – I completely agree with you on this point. Discriminating against a person for not being fluent in English is very offensive, imo, because, as I brought up earlier, such people may even be learned otherwise. Being the next Shakespeare is not a priority for Europeans in their own countries or Japanese; it is, sadly, in India.

    But as for the message, I don’t think the film actually has such a sweeping English-centric message. If it has any message, it is that do not hammer a person’s weakness and do not underestimate them. I think that is hammered home a few times by the director through the word ‘judgmental’. I can see why you got that from the film though because that’s how I reacted to Black and TZP. Maybe I didn’t feel that way with English Vinglish because it is more personal and introspective and free from the preachy, semi-docu tone of those two films. I was too clued into Shashi’s story to derive a larger import from the conclusion.

    Like

  38. “Even so, I get that there are people like this. I do get that. But this troubles me because their change of heart towards her happen after she “improves” herself, and this is like saying, “We love you after you changed yourself to become the kind of person we like.”

    I agree! Given that THE message of Shashi’s final speech was that one’s family is supposed to be a safe haven of people who love and respect you , *weaknesses and all*, the point is ironically undermined by having her deliver that speech in English! If Shashi had made her point in Hindi would her daughter and husband have felt ashamed of their mockery of her?

    Like

  39. Brannigan – I saw that one too! It’s the only one I saw and it’s a watered down version of the British show – I think the one I saw had SohaAK telling the plump thing that she wasn’t looking “youthful” and later, the transformed girl promptly parrots back the words “now I think I look youthful” – isn’t that the same one you saw? What made me giggle though was a recent article where SAK is asked what she will wear to her brother’s shaadi – and she says she hasn’t a clue, she will wear whatever her mother tells her to wear. Hahaha! So much for the gyangiver!

    Re the movie – I read an interview today in which Gauri Shinde says the movie is a tribute to her mother, who didn’t speak English, who ran her own pickle factory, and GS says she was quite nasty to her as a young girl – so now this is her regretting her past snottiness. I would like to find out if she now feels proud of her mum because she went and learnt English, or whether it is just the onset of age and maturity that has revealed her mother’s real worth to her. I suspect it is the latter, but that would not make such an entertaining movie, would it? It would need the story to be told from the POV of the daughter, the mother to be much older, some sort of crisis to indicate to the daughter how really wonderful the mother is, blahblahblah. So much easier to make the movie set in a reboot of the old “Mind your language” show and make it snappy and fun. The winning formula for most movies is about the “triumphant rise of the individual” – and the story allows Shinde to cast Shashi in that role. If she were to do it differently, she would not need Sridevi, she’d need, umm, Renuka Shahane, recognizing the true worth of, ummm, Sulbha Deshpande, heh. I think Balki has the same sort of crisis in story telling. CheeniKum began so promisingly, with an interesting conflict about what a wide age gap could mean for a romance – and then he completely muddied it up with that ghastly detour about that dying girl (who was called Sexy, for goodness’ sake, how inappropriate) and that revolting melodrama with Tabu’s father.

    Like

  40. Hello mr.Bharadwaj,

    I am a fan of your reviews but I also want to give my honest opinion. You can make your reviews little less complicated. You analyze things too much and after a while it loses the flavour and you seem to lose track actual subject of the movie and be picky about teeny tiny things. Its just my 2 cents.

    Like

  41. radhika: I think it’s the same episode. It was horrible to watch. At one point, this poor girl was in tears.

    Madan: “If it has any message, it is that do not hammer a person’s weakness and do not underestimate them.” Yes, but how does this message come about? Through that whole English thing, right? Which is why that proved a problem for me.

    Just for argument’s sake, consider this scenario. Shashi learns English and empowers herself. Fine. But at the last minute, she gets up to make a speech and starts with a bit of English, and then decides: “Fuck this shit. This handsome Frenchie is making chocolate pancakes for me without understanding a word of what I say. And this lout, after gorging on my food for years, is mocking my language skills.” She makes her speech in Hindi. Gets applause because — as it has been shown earlier — some things transcend language and are universally understood.

    So now we have the best of both worlds. She ends up empowered with English and love and being called beautiful. Plus she puts husband/daughter in place by showing them that this is who she is and this is who they have to accept. I keep wondering what this husband/daughter duo would have done in this scenario :-)

    sangavi: Ah, but sometimes it’s the “teeny tiny things” that keep gnawing away at you and become what you take home :-)

    Like

  42. Through that whole English thing, right? Which is why that proved a problem for me.

    – Well, the message has to be delivered in the language they understand, right? Ref the example I gave of a black choosing between fighting on in the ghetto and forcing the white mainstream to accept him. You have to meet halfway in such a situation. The content of Shashi’s speech was more important to me than the fact that she delivered it in English. She says partners in a marriage are equal and her husband immediately realised that he had forgotten this at times. The message remains the same; irrespective of her English skills, she should not have been grudged respect. Delivering it in English is at most a bit of filmi licence. ;) If she had gone on the lines of, “I learned English in 4 weeks, you can too, gee!” I would have found that an objectionable message given the rest of the film.

    Like

  43. There has been a lot of discussion on the topic, but adding my two cents here: maybe it is a man-woman thing (at least in India). A woman is comfortable with the idea of changing (or ‘improving’) herself for her man by becoming fairer/ thinner/ fluent in English, no matter how many years of marriage have passed. She still craves approval/ appreciation. But a man, especially after a few years comes with a love-me-as-I-am tag even if means he is unshaven/ paunchy/ sloppily dressed. I don’t know. Just thinking out loud.

    Like

  44. I saw the movie with my Mother. She can’t speak English. She understands not more than 20 words of English. And though she almost understood the film, half of the film’s dialogues were in English. Including Sridevi’s final monologue. My poor Mother was, naturally, blank through all those English-learning-and-speaking scenes. Sridevi stumbled. Her classmates spoke wrong English. The audience had all the fun. But even to understand ‘wrong English’, it’s imperative to ‘know English’ in the first place. Sridevi learnt it in four weeks. Isn’t it too much to expect from some people to do that in about two hours? A movie about the English language empowering a woman, which can be understood completely only by people who can speak English. Unfortunately ironical.

    Like

  45. Saw the movie today, and it made me think how I am going in the opposite direction.

    I grew up as a certified english “snob”. At the end of 1988 after watching Tezaab, I decided that Bollywood doesnt match up to Hollywood, and I did not see *any* bollywood for the next 22 years until Band Baaja Baraat in late 2010. That was still sort of a one-off and the fourth movie was when I began seeing bollywood again starting with Mausam one year back.

    Besides movies, its no surprise that I *only* read in english when I was in school, and I only listened to western pop music, and I only watched english tv serials (on Star Plus back then). I ran away from Hindi and Marathi – and I heaved a sigh of relief when I could at least ditch Marathi for French from the 8th standard.

    So though my english became impeccable, hindi was a mereko-tereko bombay style. Things change, and to cut short a lengthy comment – last year I suddenly felt ashamed and embarrassed that I just had a “toota-phoota” grasp on hindi. It wasnt because of patriotism or because its the rashtra bhasha. Rather it was the love for the hindi literature, and the better hindi cinema.

    To be honest, I could not even understand many of the urdu borrowed words and phrases in Mausam, and for the first time I regretted not knowing better hindi/urdu.

    So I am doing a parallel thing – I go for hindi literature classes with the hindustani prachar sabha – and I am extremely lucky to have an 80 year old teacher who lives and breathes hindi.

    But the goal is not to impress anyone or for money or etc – it is just for myself.
    I feel glad to have jumped out of the english loop and also appreciate Indian languages (yup, not just hindi).

    And for the record, yeah I was in California for a few years, and from day one, I did not have to make an effort to speak better english. That’s what happens when you read 2000+ english fiction books in high school :)

    Now I can hardly wait to see all the old hindi films. But I need to progress a lot in hindi and urdu for that.

    Like

  46. Re Amrita’s point above – I think to a large extent what she says is true – that women in India (and perhaps elsewhere in the world too) think nothing of putting in the effort to look better. But maybe that’s changing, in a teeny way? The ghastly fairness ads are now targeted at men too – and if you look at even the ones for women, the message is that only a fair girl can get a fair guy, with the girl grimacing at the face of the darker prospects. I am not sure this is really much better, but I guess the discrimination is more equal opportunities – men have to have six packs, and clearly, going by Salman/Shahruk’s chests, waxing is no longer an ordeal that only women suffer, mwuahahah. One of the most underrated movies on male insecurity was “Main Meri Patni aur Who”, with Rajpal Yadav doing a great job portraying an intelligent, self confident, short man who suddenly feels totally inadequate when he falls for and marries a statuesque beautiful wife. Of course, there are other movies too in which the male has had to change for the better, though those have always been moral dilemmas, with long suffering wives reforming unfaithful/drunkard husbands who finally come back to the fold when they get some sort of comeuppance.

    Like

  47. radhika: Yes. Men too try to live up to the ideals of women whose approval they seek. But as posted extensively in the Cocktail thread men care about looks in women more than women in men. But it’s only a matter of degree. Men too try to develop a better physique, dress more smartly, get better haircuts to impress the women whose love they want to earn. Men also try to develop better sense of humour, get more culturally literate, be more socially suave, earn more money , depending on what kind of competition the women they love throw at them

    Like

  48. Utkal: I agree with what you say in the context of men wanting to ‘impress’ the women they love. But I think this urge dies when the chase ends i.e. when the woman reciprocates the love. On the other hand, as mentioned, for women, seeking approval/ appreciation is an endless quest.

    Like

  49. I see that many have commented on learning to speak English in four weeks as being quite unrealistic. Trust me when I say that it is not . I have personally learned Spanish and Portuguese, both at different times, by attending classes in a language school in London. They teach you conversational language to get by and when I enrolled I did not know a word of either language, though after learning one of the two Iberian languages, that other comes more easily.

    Shashi was not totally ignorant of English. She just did not have the confidence to speak it, and that happens to so many of us when we attempt a foreign language. Her halting final speech was so moving.

    BTW, I enjoyed the movie immensely. Botox or not, Sridevi is gorgeous and the movie is simple and tells a story that most people can relate to. The scenes between Shashi and Laurent are wonderful as is the whispered French when he says during the wedding celebration that she will always be in his heart. Too much of intellectual analysis of a gentle, feel good movie is uncalled for.

    Like

  50. Amrita: You are right about ” this urge dying when the chase ends”. It is the old Darwin-Dawkins evolutionary factors in play here. So a woman has to make conscious effort to make him chase her once again. to thwart his natural instinct – which is run after new women- or rather confuse it – by becoming a ‘ new woman’.

    Like

  51. I am a regular reader of your posts and after a long time, I don’t agree with the one of your statements: “But what about the praise showered on her culinary skills by her customers in India? Didn’t that give her a sense of the izzat, the respect, she so craves?”

    The main reason being, getting respect from strangers/outsiders and getting respect from the people that you hold closest or love the most are two entirely different things. And clearly in the entire movie, the latter is the one she is pursuing.

    Like

  52. Well, if Amrita is right ( and I agree to an extent ), then the premise of the film can “indeed” deemed to be realistic. Now, the question is, did Sridevi’s character learn English to get an approval from the family ? I dont remember any scene where this was case, very obviously (or even non-obviously).

    In fact, like Madan has repeatedly argued, she learnt English to prove a point, first to herself and then, to her family. I think this “learning english” should be looked at as a device to showcase the triumph of a personal quest instead of an idea in whose glorification lies all the evil.

    As an additional note, if she could have successfully bought that coffee/food from the shop in an english-speaking country without being able to communicate in english fluently, she might not have bothered about her family’s constant mockery of her not knowing english as much.

    Also, if Sridevi chose to snub her husband (and by the way, she did talk to her daughter sharply after her daughter’s repeated pleas to not attend the PTA meeting, and tried to prove,”see I dont really need English to converse with your teachers”), and ask him to appreciate her for who she is already ; that firstly will not be true to the character of a loving wife (and her dignity), who does not ask explicitly for respect.

    And now coming back to Amruta’s comment, women (in India) traditionally, prob. had no choice but to be ok with their husbands who were pauchy, unshaven, etc. That, I suspect, is not the case with the today’s more savvy young women, who can explicitly ask their men to pull up their socks or look elsewhere !

    Like

  53. Although I most certainly agree that Sridevi has been really good in the movie, what proved to be highly distracting aspect was the fact that she had a VERY (the capital letters are meant to emphasize the extent) obvious south-Indian accent, and it therefore seems unnecessary for the director to have given her a Maharashtrian background. This one thing kept hampering my enjoyment of the movie since the accent is consistently present in the movie (Sridevi being the protagonist) And I as a Maharashtrian couldn’t help but notice it all the more…

    Like

  54. Saw and liked the movie, mostly. I’ve been the Indian grad student fresh off the boat trying to order and the coffee shop, and while it’s not quite the same as being a housewife who doesn’t know English, much of it rings true.

    The only really really annoying parts of the movie were the completely gratuitous digs at America and Americans, first by the Indian guy at the consulate and then the Amitabh character at immigration. Really over the top and unnecessary, and aggravated by twits in the audience cheering and clapping.

    Finally, here is a super trivia question. After the class comes out of watching the Elizabeth Taylor movie, as Shashi and Laurent walk away from the theatre, there’s a row of movie posters on the wall, including “Tree of Life” etc. What (potential ‘tribute’) movie is featured on the very last one? I got some extra unintended paisa vasool out of this!

    Like

  55. The movie was a big bore…Seriously Sridevi looked wierd and insufferable,,the plot was slow and had implausible instances…..and dear God Mind your Language made better watching any day……..

    Like

  56. For once I think, BR, I don’t see your point about the movie. Don’t you see that Shashi learnt English because SHE wanted to do so and not because that pleased her husband or children. Its just like the way any of us would have wanted to learn English during our growing years, just that she never got an opportunity earlier…. Shashi being a talented and an ambitious women, is the kind who would want to hold her own and if only speaking English was an impediment, sure would she overcome it someday

    Like

  57. I Think the countries obsession with the English is like the colonized always tries to imitate the colonizer.We can say that’s even one of the reason for Globalization to look on to the brighter side of colonization .Even the political and government institutions try to follow that like for example railway reservation forms will be given in English and regional language than Hindi.I don’t think the mocking mentioned in the movie is not about the speaking of English but to overcome their own negatives like her daughter giving the reason of going to her friend’s house while she actually goes to a coffee shop. Ignore if there were any mistakes

    Like

  58. Dear Sheela: I do not know wat kind of movie that you prefere to watch but one thing is sure that you have a very bad taste of movies.

    Like

  59. Aha! these kinds of comments were being sorely missed since the demise of late mr.rameshram who had a unique kind of eloquence to muster up and propel a series of such inane personal attacks that some of us passive readers could revel in

    Like

  60. a perfect example of an insensitive man reviewing the film! one cant be upset but just recognize the prevalence of the insensitivity.

    Like

  61. I like your interpretations of the movie- the comparison with Supriya Pathak in Wake up Sid, and the analogy with Gandhi, or even the point about Hindi being the oppressed, and the oppressor.

    Like

  62. pathetic movie with plenty of cliched stereotypes: Indian male: does not know how to treat his wonderful woman, mocks her, yada yada.. She is saved by English, or the foreigner (not the low-class ones like african/chinese etc, but the Gora/American/French (who know how to treat her well.. calling her entrepreneur (appreciative, unlike the Indian husband), coming to class just to see her (romantic, as opposed to the INdian husband..)

    All that remains in her empowerment and emancipation is a full-fledgedaffair with a worthy foreigner. Is that set for English-Vinglish-2, the Divorce? Which class will she go to then? Let’s see..

    Like

  63. after a long time was able to see the movie with subtitles being a fan of sridevi almost same age is difficult to find fault forget the movie but nuggets like “are parents like dustbins” [i really do not know if that was the exact translation but apt!!!!!!!!!!!many nuggets for parents whose life revolves on their children only if only we could learn a lesson leave the actors and performance see the message…….

    Like

  64. Finally an honest review. i was getting fed up with “Hail the queen” reviews.

    I liked your observation that Shashi was not exactly unappreciated in her life. Also, you are right about the fact that the script seems fabricated. For me, the second half of the movie was too contrived to enjoy.

    Shashi is portrayed as a victim because her daughter and husband say insensitive things to her and she has a fractured self-esteem. Sure No worries. it is a problem that many sheltered housewives face. But to say that Shashi belongs in the same group as an ostracized gay man, a lonely french chef, a south-asian taxi driver and a minimum wage housekeeper is like a cruel joke. I couldn’t buy that for one second. Unfortunately we have to believe in that to be able to appreciate her final swan song (speech in english). there are many inconsistencies in the message too. Shashi seems to get preachy when the pakistani guy makes fun of the gay man, but she is happily laughing when the french guy makes fun of an obese woman.

    I loved the first half of the movie for its intellectual honesty and nuanced portrayal of the problem. The PTA meeting scene was probably the most touching scene I’ve ever seen in recent movies.

    yes, Sridevi has acted very well. i had expected that. She is a fine actress.

    Like

  65. Pingback: The English Vinglish Husband | Perfect Piffle

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s