Tuesday, October 16, 2012

English Vinglish

Shashi Godbole(Sridevi) is your average, upper-middle-class mother of two, whose special skills also include making ladoos. In fact, she's so good in her sweetmeat that she even markets it.

But one skill that Shashi lacks is speaking English. This makes her the constant butt of jokes and rebuttal with her husband ( Adil Hussain) and teenage daughter (Navika Kotia). The film drives home the point that those who speak English fluently usually adapt a condescending attitude towards those who don't.

Mind you; Shashi is not your average Jane. When opportunity takes her to New York for a niece's wedding; the sari-clad Shashi, steals a few hours each day and enrolls for a four-week crash course in English.

Here begins a hilarious yet heart-rending tale where Shashi and a motley bunch of a Spanish nanny, Eva (Ruth Aguilar); a Tamil software engineer, Rama (Rajeev Ravindranathan), a Chinese beautician, Yu Son (Maria Romano), a French cook, Laurent (Mehdi Nebbou), and a Pakistani cabbie, Salman Khan (Sumeet Vyas), an African dancer, Udumbke (Damian Thompson) guided by an English tutor, David (Cory Hibbs) show you spunk and determination which can help you overcome obstacles anytime or anywhere.
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English Vinglish is that rare thing – a Hindi film that creates a heroine out of a homemaker. Shashi, played by Sridevi, is a beautiful, accomplished woman who efficiently manages her home, husband, mother-in-law and two children. She also runs a small business making ladoos.

Yet Shashi's entire existence is undermined because she doesn't speak English. Her teenage daughter and husband treat her with an affectionate disdain. It's almost as if they consider her to be less intelligent because her language of communication is Hindi. At one point, Shashi ruefully asks her husband: Important batein sirf English mein hi hoti hain?
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Admit it. At some point in our lives we have all felt that if we don't speak good English, we are not destined to be successful human beings. Imagine a housewife - beautiful, efficient, charming, supportive - and imagine if she looks like, well, Sridevi and still feels she is being taken for granted just because she can't speak fluent Angrezi.

Shashi's children find her embarrassing at times. Her husband openly cracks jokes about her accent. Shashi's husband thinks he's just being urbane and witty. But it hurts. We see that hurt in Sridevi's eyes each time she is slighted and snubbed by those whom she loves the most.

We know this world. We know this woman too. Director Gauri Shinde brings to the comfort of the familiar a feeling and flavour of wonderment, discovery and beauty.

'English Vinglish' is a fabulous fable of a woman's self-actualization. Shabana Azmi used to do such films in the 1970s. The issues in those films about unfulfilled wives were largely socially-defined - infidelity, adultery and betrayal. The betrayal of the unforgettable woman in 'English Vinglish' is far less dramatic and therefore much more profoundly deep-rooted.

Shashi breaks up a little every time the three most important people in her life - her husband, daughter and son - crack up at her vernacular accent.

Then comes the chance for redemption. A five-week vacation in the US, a clandestine crash course in English and best of all, a chance to feel wanted and special when a fellow-classmate, a quietly striking French chef, gives Shashi the attention she doesn't get from her husband.
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The protagonist of English Vinglish stumbles upon a word she has never heard before – judgmental. She runs to her niece and asks: does it mean ‘mental’ judge? No, the girl tells her, it means jumping to damning conclusions about a person on the basis of flimsy evidence.

That is precisely what Ms Shashi Godbole (Sridevi), Pune-based mother of two, is constantly subjected to by her corporate executive-husband, Satish (Adil Hussain), and her school-going daughter.

That, crucially, is also what debutante director Gauri Shinde’s well-meaning screenplay unwittingly heaps on the rather simplistically etched central character.

This film hinges on an idea that only reinforces the phony notion that a woman, no matter how gifted, must speak fluent English in order to truly assert herself.

Tame superficiality is indeed the biggest bane of English Vinglish, which, for the most part, is otherwise reasonably watchable, especially owing to a charming performance by Sridevi, back on the big screen after a 15-year hiatus.

A star is reborn and one wants to fall in love with her all over again. But despite the temptation, it is eventually too docile an affair to send the heart pounding and the pulse racing.
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In India, our post-Colonial hangover includes a peculiar English-language elitism, where those even halfway in control of the language thumb their nose at those unable to speak it.

Where folk routinely, and with unforgivable curtness, cut folk off mid-sentence to snappily correct pronunciation. Which is why a scene in Gauri Shinde's new film -- where a simple Maharashtrian woman is castigated by her family for calling jazz "jhaaz" (even as they proudly call it "jhazz" themselves) -- rings so true.

They don't intentionally mean to humiliate the woman with their constant use of English, but appear befuddled by her lack of what they imagine to be the most basic of linguistic skills.

Shashi, the devastatingly unassuming heroine of English Vinglish, is a homemaker and crafter of much-adored laddoos, a fledgling entrepreneur doing what she does because its the only thing she's applauded for. Not knowing English, however, cripples her at nearly every turn, till the fact that she can't speak the language becomes her not-so-secret shame, not unlike Kate Winslet's illiteracy in The Reader. And here's the thing: Sridevi does far better.

It helps, of course, that the script services her at every turn. Shinde, making her directorial debut, concentrates not on the overarching drama or the narrative arc, but instead labours hard on creating a heroine so flawless, so grounded, so perfectly lovely that we can't help but be swayed by her. She is a heroine so exaggeratedly Good that she, contrasted against her cartoonishly callous family, appears a superwoman.

This could very well have been another case of script servicing star except, as said, the star really did deserve a script this slavish.
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We’ve been talking about Gauri Shinde’s English Vinglish for practically half the year and so this film hit screens with a lot of expectations to meet. And meet it did as the 129-minute long tribute to the ever-gorgeous Sridevi made every single person in the audience smile, laugh, cry and connect with Shashi Godbole — the pretty, town-educated, middle-aged, Hindi-spouting Marathi housewife.

Before we go into the long list of why this film is one of the best films out of Bollywood this year, we assumed we’d list out what we thought didn’t work in the movie.

Sridevi looked plastic in a few scenes — yes. Sridevi didn’t quite come across as a Marathi housewife in several scenes, much like rest of the cast — yes. The movie seemed to reinforce several stereotypes — yes. That said, however, the film as a whole had enough chutzpah to ensure that a regular film buff would still walk away satiated, oblivious of these ‘supposed’ faults.

And now for the long list of what worked. Gauri Shinde deserves an applause for such an amazing debut. We did see influences of Balki’s style, but she appropriated them wisely, making them her own.
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It's a tough deal, making a comeback as a Bollywood mainstream heroine when you are close to 50. But then, Sridevi is no ordinary star. In her heydays of the eighties she ruled B-Town without much of a contest, often driving films to blockbuster status without bothering who the hero was.

English Vinglish wholly draws its USP from Sridevi's return 15 years after Judaai, the last role you would care to remember her for. Debutant writer-filmmaker Gauri Shinde's film is a bittersweet dollop, in itself a story that would have made for just another middle-of-the-road flick. If English Vinglish has become a talking point of sorts, it's because the film truly marks the rebirth of a star.

The script casts Sridevi as Shashi Godbole, middle-class Marathi homemaker. For a star whose career was over the years mostly defined by maxed-out glamour and not much else, that in itself is a departure. But then, Sridevi obviously needed to do something far removed from the glittering Hawa hawai image of yore.

She is fantastic in her newfound unassuming avatar, balancing the ordinary traits of Shashi with sparks of the zestful diva we have always known her as. Shashi is imagined as an unusual mix - traditional housewife quite conscious of the 'modern' world she can't match, and yet harbouring steely resolve within.

Her problem is she doesn't know English. In a world where that easily translates to being a loser, pronouncing jazz as jhaaj and thinking 'judgemental' refers to a judge gone mental aren't exactly things that win you friends. So, her executive hubby (Adil Hussain) feels she is just good enough to make laddoos at home and her daughter won't take her seriously. Shashi decides to join a spoken English class without telling anyone.
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Gauri Shinde has donned the director’s hat to tell the story of Sashi (Sridevi), a middle-aged Maharashtrian housewife who earns her own money by making sumptuous ladoos (which happens to be her passion too) and selling them to the connoisseurs. A lot of women would identify with Sashi since she is one of those dedicated yet taken-for-granted homemakers who are ridiculed for their poor linguistic skills by their English speaking family. In the movie, Sashi finds herself being an object of constant potshots by her husband(Adil Hussain), who has little respect for her real talent and her 7th grade daughter who feels ashamed to even introduce her mother to her school folks.

So when an underestimated and belittled Sashi flies off to New York to lend a helping hand at her niece’s wedding, she smartly grabs the opportunity to enroll herself into English speaking classes that promise to teach the language within a period of flat four weeks. In no time, Sashi becomes the most committed student in her class, starts watching English films at night and doing her homework religiously- all to polish her English reading and writing skills and more importantly to earn respect that she duly deserves from her family. In the midst of her literary pursuit, she also finds her classmate cum friend – a Frenchman (an irresistible Mehdi Nebbou) getting attracted to her plain simple personality. Yet, despite several barriers that come her way, Sashi manages to achieve her goal (that includes ordering her meal at the cafĂ© with super confidence) which could be an inspiration to many aspiring English learners.

Going beyond the ‘ordinary’ story of ‘English Vinglish’, it is a movie that teaches a lot of life lessons. First, it gives a peek into the feelings of those who are not good at reading and writing the language and find themselves becoming a subject of disdain and jibe whether at home or in public. Second, it is a crash course on mannerisms for all those ‘refined’ husbands and children out there who believe that the woman of the house is only worth taking nonsense; notwithstanding the fact that she goes out of her way to please them, without a complaint. Third, like I said before, the film is all about dedication towards one’s aims and a relentless pursuit towards your dream, come what may.
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