Cast: Sridevi,Adil Hussain,Mehdi Nebbou
Director: Gauri Shinde
Indian Express Rating: ***1/2
Shashi Godbole is a good wife,and a good mother. She packs tiffin for her school-going kids,and hands her husband his briefcase every morning. She is also a woman who is not too conversant with English and speaks it haltingly. Which makes her not good enough for her corporate-type spouse,and brattish teenage daughter : they treat her with the sort of off-hand affection edged with disparagement that most Indian women find themselves getting used to. And then Mrs Godbole finds herself in New York,with a chance to learn English-Vinglish,and her life takes a turn.
English Vinglish,Gauri Shindes first feature is a likeable film,which gives us a silky- smooth first half,a slowed-down second,broad-brushstroke-y characters,and an actress who makes it all work. Despite the saucer-large eyes and too-squeaky delivery,Sridevi makes Shashi a living,breathing woman,who channels pain and joy and the subtle shades in-between with a look and smile and a tear. This is an actress who never really got to go full spectrum during the time she ruled Hindi cinema,confined as she was to the ‘latka-jhatka,the ‘lachka-thumka,the’ hawa-hawaai. Her attempts at English-vinglish allow her to dispense with the make-up,and the made-upness,and get the actor out from under.
Her co-stars give her good support. The understated Adil Hussain plays Mr Godbole who is complacent when his wifes laddoo-making abilities are to the fore,but is shaken when he sees her stand next to a good-looking Frenchman (Mehdi Nebbou) who is in her English class. That English class is a slight problem for the film,because its search for non-English-speaking characters make it a bit like a flattened sit.com : theres the flagrantly gay teacher,the Mexican nanny,the’ idli-loving South Indian,the ‘dil-phenk Pakistani cabbie,the irritable Oriental girl,the taciturn Black man,and the exchanges between them become repetitive. But here again,the film manages to scrape past its stereotypes,and keep pace with Shashi,in her lovely saris and her heart-felt desire to find a personal sweet spot.
Theres also the tricky terrain of identity and self-worth. Can a good ‘desi wife have coffee with a dreamy-eyed Frenchman without feeling guilty? How much is speaking sarrate-daar English-vinglish to do with how you feel about yourself? Does womens happiness– marital,motherly and otherwise– depend upon how fluent they are in ‘angrezi? What I liked about Shindes feel-good debut is that it stays away from stridency,even if it stays equally safely away from surprises,sidestepping those difficult questions by focusing on Shashis innate abilities to make other people happy,and Sridevis display of her skills. Hers is a fully-rounded role,so rare in Bollywood,and Sridevi delivers a beautifully-calibrated performance.