‘Why India, why not The India? Why The United States of America, why not only United States of America?
Well if the question caught you napping, so it did many viewers who prided themselves on their command of the Queen’s language. (Its grammatically correct all the same).
Comebacks are tough and rarely successful. Sridevi proved many people wrong by making a spectacular comeback with ‘English Vinglish’ fifteen years after her last movie. Hindsight makes it easy to spot but she got many things right in her choice – she played her age, played a deglam role and was backed by strong content. And she got lucky with her director, Gauri Shinde, who has great sensibility and an eye for detail.
We meet Sridevi as Shashi – a devoted homemaker and small-time entrepreneur making Ladoos while taking care of her husband busy with his corporate career, her teenage daughter who lacks manners & breeding and her adorable 5-year-old son who means the world to her. She is aided in her cause by mother in law who is very understanding and supportive.
Shashi finds the going tough when her family pokes fun of her English and her hobby of making Ladoos. Her daughter makes it a habit to target her weak spot whenever she is upset. Shashi gives us the message in dollops – all important conversations happen only in English is it? is one such example. Still it is a mild irritant so long as she is in home environment. Imagine the challenge of having to visit America on her own to help her sister organize her niece’s wedding.
Her flight trip is fun and Amitabh plays a delightful cameo. But disaster truly strikes when Shashi is not able to order a cup of Coffee on her own and panics in a café. A chance encounter leads her to ‘Learn English in Four Weeks’ tutorial. She meets a great gang of friends across countries and cultures. In particular she develops a great friendship with Laurent, a Frenchman and Cook. Shades of ‘Mind Your Language’. There are quite a few touching episodes – the class feels sympathy for their tutor, David Fischer when he breaks up with his partner, Laurent expresses his admiration for Shashi with a colourful expression – her eyes are like two drops of Coffee in a sea of Milk. (Gauri gets the sensitivity perfect in controlling the admiration and not letting it become the standard Love story particularly by getting Shashi to stand up for her individuality. A stab of jealousy felt by her husband in the closing scenes is still welcome.)
The story carries on about her struggles to master the language and regain her confidence. Well we all know where the story is headed but the climax is still wonderful. The speech Shashi makes is layered and textured – there would be many teary eyed folks in the audience who would be able to relate to her story. And it has been done in a convincing manner – even the smallest of words and phrases being used, ‘May I’, ‘judgemental’ have all been picked up with effort in the tough journey she has undertaken to reach here.
Sridevi is a top-notch actress and she revels in the role. The most searing scene in the movie is about her confusion and embarrassment at not being able to order Coffee at a café. And she panics and runs out with tears streaming in her eyes. The vulnerability she portrays in that moment is so real and heartfelt.
English Vinglish will be a tough act to follow-up on but we know that Sridevi new movies are already being filmed. One can hardly wait to see her enthrall us in a new avatar. We need an encore please!