English Vinglish (2012)

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One of the worst feelings in the world is being made to feel small by your very own family members. English Vinglish has one such protagonist that has been taken for granted and she endures callous remark after remark day in day out by her daughter. She also has to endure laughter behind her back by her husband and the daughter over her pronunciation of the word ‘jazz’ and her misunderstanding of the language.

Veteran Sridevi plays the ‘invisible’ and ‘punching bag’ mother Shashi to nuanced perfection. It is impossible not to feel her pain getting slighted everywhere she goes because of society perceiving that knowing English represents a higher social class. Shashi’s only joys in life are tending to her family’s needs and making her dessert specialty Ladoos of which is clearly established early in the story that she is damn good at. Her hubby’s careless and scything remark that she should just stop all that Ladoo business and just concentrate on the family hurts her so much. Herein lies one of the beauties of English Vinglish – Sridevi plays the self-suffering Shashi so impeccably quiet but yet I could feel her shame and pain. My wife and I wanted to go into the screen and whacked the daughter and father up. But the thing is aren’t all of us guilty of being both sides of this familiar familial equation sometimes? It is so easy to hurt the one who loves us the most and to take their love for granted.

In a twist of fate, Shashi receives news that her sister’s daughter is getting married and Shashi has to go to New York to help out in the wedding. It’s decided that Shashi will go earlier and the rest of her family members will go later. Once Shashi is in New York, she enrolls in a Learn English in 4 Weeks course and embarks on a journey of finding her self-worth and identity.

This film is helmed by a first-time writer/director Gauri Shinde. It’s impossible to believe it’s the work of debutant. Her pacing, writing and camera angles are just stupendous. The casting of Sridevi is a major coup – she came out of a 15-year retirement and nailed the role to exquisite perfection. Her screen presence is superb and to borrow a line uttered in the film – “her eyes are like two coffee drops in a sea of clouds”. The writing is fantastic. There are so many wonderful lines and some of the best are the ones spoken between a French fellow classmate Laurent and Shashi. And that last speech by Shashi… OMG… tears of joy just rolled down our faces shamelessly.

How I wish there are films like this that appears in the cinema every other month. English Vinglish is hardly perfect – a little formulaic and the English classroom is reminiscent of Mind Your Language with a melting-pot of cultures, but it got every emotional beat spot-on and the theme of finding self-worth in a cruel society is so universal.

This is a scene of Shashi ordering a meal in a New York deli. IMHO a flawless performance.

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