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Film review: English Vinglish

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 14 March, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 14 March, 2013, 10:36am
 

Starring: Sridevi, Adil Hussain, Mehdi Nebbou
Director: Gauri Shinde
Category: I (Hindi, English and French)

English Vinglish will provide many Hong Kong cinemagoers with their introduction to its beautiful sari-clad star, Sridevi. But long-time fans of Indian cinema will already be familiar with the luminous actress who graced more than 200 Indian films before going into what looked like permanent retirement in 1997.

One and a half decades on, however, Sridevi has made a high-profile return in debutant director Gauri Shinde's endearing comedy-drama about a middle-aged Indian woman whose life is transformed by a fateful decision she makes while on a one-month visit to the US.

The faithful wife of business executive Satish Godbole (Adil Hussain) and loving mother of two, sweet Shashi Godbole (Sridevi) leads a typical upper-middle class housewife existence bar two things. On the positive side, she has an talent for making ladoos and channels that ability into selling the snack. Less happily for her, she also stands out within her social strata and nuclear family for being less than a fluent English speaker.

Shashi's lack of English-language proficiency sometimes exposes her to ridicule and scorn from her teen daughter (Navika Kotia) and condescension from Satish. Still, she doesn't truly feel undone by her English-language deficiencies until she experiences problems such as ordering at a New York cafe.

Resolving to remedy the situation, Shashi enrols in a crash course in English and finds herself in a class with a motley, multi-cultural crew and a flamboyant gay teacher (Cory Gibbs) who prove to be uncommonly friendly and supportive despite their hailing from diverse - at times even divergent - backgrounds. She also attracts the romantic admiration of French classmate Laurent (Mehdi Nebbou) - a development that prompts her to take a good look at her life and think about whether she's truly happy with it.

A warm-hearted film that the director has dedicated to her mother, English Vinglish admirably weighs against many forms of discrimination, including, but not restricted to, ones that stem from one's linguistic choices and facility. This movie about a woman who decides to show her husband and daughter she's better than they think she is also shows the perils of taking the familiar for granted.

Even as this film makes many pertinent moral points, it also delightfully entertains. Sridevi is undoubtedly the star and is responsible for much of the movie's spark, but the rest of the cast also impress and contribute to it being a thoroughly pleasing affair.

English Vinglish opens today

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This article is now closed to comments

impala
Pertinent moral points? Where? Look, I understand India is a much more conservative society and that the role of women is not as emancipated as it is in the West/East Asia. And I enjoyed most of the film, but from a moral perspective, this film appears to be siding with the idea of 'a woman's place is in the kitchen.'

The protagonist has to take all her English classes behind the back of her family, using her secret travel money and sneaking around like a thief in the night. She has to endure her husband's chauvinism, and even though he seems to have found some new respect for her after the wedding speech she gives in the final scene, at no point is he chided for his egocentric and paternalistic behaviour. A pivotal moment in the movie is when Shashi's young male child (who can do wrong of course) causes her to drop all the ladoo. This forces Shashi to make a decision between attending her final English exam in secret and get new ladoo from a shop on the way, or to redo them all by herself and miss the exam. Naturally, she opts for the latter - confirming that in the end she is a still the 'good' traditional Indian housewife who chooses serving her family over what is portrayed as a just a silly, selfish, Western-inspired longing for some (self-)education.

Had the writers allowed her to stand up, and make meaningful choices for herself, in public and not in secret, and taught her husband to eat some humble pie, this would have been a much more morally strong film.
 
 
 
 
 

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