Friday, 5 October, 2012

English Vinglish

I rarely watch Hindi movies. Rarer still do I come back appreciating them.

English Vinglish is worth it, even a bleary-eyed 6 am review.

After just about making it across town to the PVR at Oberoi Mall, Goregaon, was amazed to see that most of the invitees were on time, with thousands of eager fans, waiting to glimpse their favourite stars, and of course the star of the film. 

As if one needed a reminder, large billboards of Sridevi in a saree against the New York skyline, looking lost, stared back at us all the way.

The selling point for this film till the opening has been Sridevi's comeback. For people like me, who aren't a big Sridevi fan, it wasn't the most exciting news. But to contrast, my cousin in the US, much younger than me, and surprisingly a huge fan, (after all she had missed the superstar Sridevi days), has been waiting for this with great anticipation.

After the movie got over, I too can be counted as one of the fans. For her fantastic performance. Also for being perfectly cast in the lead role.

(Picture courtesy:

The pre-hype had already got the basics of the plot out - Indian woman in New York who doesn't know the language, has to pick it up double quick with the help of a motley bunch of fellow non-English speakers. I wouldn't blame you for thinking, "Hey, it must be a 'Mind Your Language' equivalent, I've seen that."

Well it is much more than that.

Gauri Shinde the award winning short film director and ad film maker is someone we were familiar with. We knew her passion and the dedication to the craft. Her ability to put the story across with minimum fuss.

What was a revelation was Gauri Shinde the script writer.

English Vinglish is a tight script. Its sweet without being cloying. It holds a mirror where it has to, and at other moments shows the way. The single mindedness of the story and lack of familiar Bollywood distractions of supporting comedians, songs (there are a couple, but in appropriate places), arch villains and hammy side kicks, is what makes the story click.

It is humorous, even in the 'familiar' classroom scenes, it is poignant, well-shot, without making New York a tourism board sponsored promotional video. One could sense the director's familiarity with the city, it was obvious she didn't need much help from location scouts. 

The casting is bang-on. The two kids are a revelation. Especially the younger one. He could be our version of Dakota Fanning. The elder sister was good too, but given that she has age and much more worldly experience on her side to draw upon, I would judge the sibling's performance higher. But that's just nitpicking. The teacher and the co-students are good too. And they make the film lighter. The rest of the family does really well to make this slightly-more-than-a-month-in-the-life-of Mrs Godbole in Pune/New York shine in a warm familial glow.

A couple of surprises in terms of guest appearances. On hindsight, one of them is an obvious one, given that R Balki's produced the movie.

There is a nice balance to the struggle of restricting English dialogue in an English language setting for a largely Hindi audience in a mainstream Hindi movie. After all, it is a Bollywood movie, for everyone, including the person who has painted 'Ladis' and 'Gends' at the convenience near Byculla, which I happened to pass by in the morning. So the grammar lessons are few and far between, language is used to convey mood and feelings, not necessarily the exact content, and dialogue only when it's absolutely necessary.

The cowering, lost woman transforms into a confident and self-aware person. That too without stretching the limits of believability. She doesn't suddenly become an orator in the newly learnt language. She doesn't lose her shyness either.

Special mention here of Sridevi, she allows the director to lead her and doesn't overpower the narrative, with a held back, controlled performance. She could have tried to do a lot more, considering this was 'her' film, after like a zillion years.

That is where the film hits you. It's real. You can easily identify with it. And is therefore that much more enjoyable.

I don't have stars to dole out. Just hugs for the entire team, because, like many others know, it's not easy to make a good film. That too your first one, and at the same time having the guts to relaunch someone's career after many years.

Excellent Vexellent.