AN ODE TO THE GALS OF ENGLISH VINGLISH!
Not every day does one get to view an unalloyed, unpretentious work on silver screen. When that happens, the experience becomes exceptional, especially when it is home coming for the Queen who once ruled the celluloid roost. It has been a while since we enjoyed a film that has been handled with such finesse and sensitivity about a married woman’s feelings, perhaps long after Revathy’s Mithr my friend.
English Vinglish marks the emphatic return of the gorgeous and the talented Sridevi!
And for Gauri Shinde who engineered this project, EV is a maiden outing in the world of feature films after having been in the ad world for a long time. EV is Gauri’s penitent dedication to her mother. In a recent interview, she mentions how she had (mis)treated her mom in her growing up years and EV is her way of saying sorry to her. In fact, a scene in the movie does have a dialogue about the ‘troubled’ teenage years when young adults see their parents as their prime adversaries.
The film unfolds into a ‘feel good’ commodity primarily due to a tautly written screen play by Shinde and Sridevi’s portrayal that breaths uniqueness and depth to the character of Sashi. For those who are yet to experience this oeuvre, English Vinglish is about a housewife who is mocked by her daughter and husband for her weak skills in the Queen’s language and how she overcomes this perceived handicap.
At a cursory glance, this film gives an impression of a woman’s journey to combat a quality that she and her family consider as an inadequacy. But a larger and profound scheme of things could actually suggest a myriad other facets. It is about the choices we make in our life; about finding our self-worth and the happiness that can be shared with others. It is about going into the world, realizing our capabilities, understanding that we have charm and that we have the ability to connect with people and develop friendships. It is also about realizing that we have wings that help us soar into the skies. The English learning is only a metaphor and a charming one at that.
There could be an argument on why such a brouhaha on Sashi’s English speaking skills. What if she was shown to accomplish something through her strong culinary skills, here it is her laddoo making craft- and what if her folks were to understand this and accept her for what she was ‘in toto’ and appreciate her. Why learning English is shown to be Sashi’s ticket to empowerment? But Sashi’s attempts to learn the language are just for herself and it is her way of giving a fitting reply to her husband and daughter or indirectly it is the road to emancipation and self confidence. Sashi actually enjoys this journey and goes all out in this direction.
While portraying Sridevi’s husband in the film, Gauri Shinde is not on a feminist diatribe either. Of course, he does join his daughter in ridiculing his wife and snaps at her over phone when she wants to share her happiness of a good sale. But it is his sheer insensitivity which most men share and are famous for. It also springs from the fact that we tend to take our loved ones for granted. The depth in their relationship is best demonstrated when she places an extra laddoo in his plate with an expression ‘need I say more?’
Laurent (Mehdi Nebbou) is the French chef at the English class through whom Sashi learns to love herself, another valuable lesson in life. Laurent’s attraction towards her and their mutual interactions are handled with a lot of refinement. Interestingly the same language that was a bone of contention between Sashi and her family don’t seem to come in between her and Laurent. The interfaces between them in their respective languages is bordering on poetic writing by Shinde that seems to convey that knowledge of a particular tongue is not necessary to establish friendships or express oneself.
The ‘little’ respect that Sashi seeks from her family and the appreciation that she is deprived of which she has naturally forgotten is kindled alive through Laurent and it is but only natural that she reacts to it much later, letting the feeling sink but fittingly in the language that she is comfortable with. The slightest swaying of her feelings at the terrace of English class and her subsequent disturbance over this have all been executed with a lot of sensitivity which can come only from a woman who has a good understanding of these gossamer fine feelings.
Sashi could have problems in English but that does not deter her from confronting them head on when it comes to that. This surfaces when she goes to attend the PTA meet in her daughter’s school and strikes a chord with an English teacher with her honest admittance about her English being weak and comes out quite successfully but only to be dampened by her daughter’s rebuke. With apprehensions galore, she takes her maiden overseas trip to America but effectively manages the scene too with help from well meaning souls.
It is not surprising why Sridevi chose this author backed role for her comeback vehicle. It also appears that she has translated Shinde’s vision of Sashi absolutely or perhaps brought something extra on to the table. It is hard to imagine any other actress in this role who could showcase such sharp nuances with just a mild arch in the eyebrow, a slight twitch in the facial muscle, a gentle quiver in the voice or a child like smile.
Sridevi’s vulnerable face and the ‘drops of coffee in clouds of milk’ eyes convey it all with such professional restrained performance which only a seasoned artist like her can deliver. She knows the art of connecting with her audience directly and instantly; she makes you root for her every success albeit as simple as maneuvering around a turnstile at the station. In short she totally absorbs you into her world unconditionally.
Together, Gauri Shinde and Sridevi have given a beautiful experience to the audience that is simple, striking and stays with you long after you exit Sashi’s world and at some point it blends into ours too. Thank you gals!