Movie 47/50 English Vinglish

English Vinglish   Gauri Shinde         fiftyfiftyme category: Major


This film was all about lessons, and there are several important ones to take out of it. I’m not going to review the film as such, the outstanding bloggers linked to beneath this post have done that much better than I could. I’m just going to talk about what worked for me and what didn’t.  Because my overall reaction to the film and its message was very positive, I’m going to start by getting my quibbles out of the way.

Quibble number one: Sridevi’s disturbingly plastic face. Not only did she copy Michael Jackson’s signature dance move, she seems to have copied his nose. It took me more than half the film to get used to seeing her look the way she does now. I was saddened that she apparently felt it necessary to do that to her own face, especially in the context of a film with a strong message about self-acceptance.

Quibble number two: The songs. Or at least, most of them. I fast forwarded through all the songs before Gustakh Dil, which was the first one that I felt added anything to the movie. I found the lyrics in the earlier songs to be vapid and banal and delivered in some sort of anaemic soft voice style  that really irritated me. This fine film would actually have been much better almost songless. I say almost because of …

…Quibble number three: The dancing. Or rather, the lack thereof. For crying out loud, this is Sridevi here Gauri, what on Earth were you thinking, giving us her comeback film and NOT giving her a chance to really dance? Only as the credits rolled did we get to see a hint of how much a real dance number for her could have enriched the film.

Quibble number four: The instant conversion of the Dad and daughter. Some people have said that they found the snide, cuttingly cruel self-absorbed daughter in particular to be too much. I didn’t, because I’ve known children like that, and was not unlike her myself a long time ago. Similarly with the Dad. I had no trouble buying him as the faux liberal chauvinist he was shown to be. I thought everything about the characterisation of those two rang true, until the very end. Their instantaneous conversion, after nothing more than a couple of sheepishly bowed heads during Sashi’s speech, that was what I found hard to swallow. The film could have easily accommodated another ten minutes or so to show the two of them actually processing and reacting to what Sashi  had said. Especially if those ten minutes had come at the expense of the first couple of songs.

Listing them like that might make it seem like all I did through this film was carp, but in reality, I wanted to get the negativity out of the way to finish on a positive note, the way the film itself does. The biggest positive about this film was Sridevi. Her journey was the film, and she always seemed credible, her actions consistent with her character. She was entirely believable as the mousy stay at home monolingual mithai maker, and the pacing of her transformation seemed right. When I read that Amitabh described being moved to tears by the film, I knew what he meant, because Sashi’s story as told by Sridevi had my eyes suspiciously moist many times.  Her speech at the shaadi was superb, well-written and perfectly delivered. It really was very moving, beyond question one of my favourite moments from Hindi films I’ve seen this year. A truly brilliant climax that made all my quibbles seem just that, trifling, petty details.

The other thing about Sridevi’s performance that excited me was the potential it hints at for other actresses of her generation. This was the second “comeback” movie of this year that was awaited with massively eager anticipation. Unlike Lolo’s Dangerous Ishq, this one delivered.Most importantly for me,  the film was not just age appropriate for Sridevi, it was built around a character of that age.

Like the much-maligned Aaja Nachle (another film I really, really liked), this film showed a real woman, a mature adult , dealing with  issues relevant to her life experience. It could not have been played by a 20-something starlet.  That delighted me, because it demonstrated  that if given something worthwhile to say, the marquee actresses of the 90s can still deliver, both on screen and at the box office. Again like Aaja Nachle this film did not make romance a central part of the main character’s arc. It didn’t shy away from the potential of a romantic entanglement, but that was never the most important part of the story, and the way Sashi summed that particular element up in her words to Laurent at the end was masterful. Here’s hoping that we will see more films like this one, telling stories that do justice to the talents of Sridevi, Juhi, Madhuri and others.

After all the minor quibbles, I must mention a minor detail the film got spectacularly right – the cameo  from Amitabh. Most guest appearances are at best pointless, and in recent years, the phrase “cameo from Amitabh” has caused a pavlovian shudder of fear in me. He seems to have cornered the market on tacky, sleazy and demeaning cameos. In this one, he was brilliant. A cameo that really added to the film, a very pleasant surprise indeed. It was another example of the intelligence behind this film, not just shoehorning a BIG name into the film, but making his brief appearance meaningful, even possibly planting the seeds in her mind for what was to come.

As comebacks go, they really don’t come much better than this one, and I hope that the success of this film will broaden the minds of film makers, helping them break out of the ageist, sexist box they’ve been living in forever, and get them busy making more sweet and meaningful films like this one.

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