Strange how that is because English Vinglish is not a particularly novel story, nor does it have the kind of strong heroine that I usually like to see. In fact I was heard to whisper-scream at poor Shashi (Sridevi's character): "Get a sense of humour already!!". But something about the way the story unfolded made me happy to just be in this movie. Maybe it was the ladoos that made everything sweeter because man oh man are they everywhere in this film! The trailer alone mentions them about 50 times! (And thank God the lovely people at TIFF gave us some after because otherwise I'd probably be in Little India right now, at 3 am, looking for them.)
Having never seen a full Sridevi movie before I didn't really know what to expect from her. But the moment she did a series of Michael Jackson moves in the beginning of the movie she had me eating out of her hand. And even though her wimpy character infuriated me in the beginning I was still happy to cheer for her to become a stronger woman as the movie progressed. Being a big believer in the idea that respect is earned, not implied, I did have a bone to pick with Shashi in the first half of the movie which plays like a less dramatic version of the Seeta story in Seeta aur Geeta. The type of story that irritates me by default. But unlike with Seeta and Geeta I can sincerely appreciate a character who finds the strength to change their condition within themselves, without waiting for a Geeta to come flying down from heaven, so when Shashi decided to go take English lessons and picked up the phone, I was fully on board with this character.
Apart from Sridevi, who was simply lovely, Adil Hussain also puts in a wonderful performance as the distant husband. I must commend him for the way he played Satish because it would have been very easy for that character to come across as the villain, but he retains enough warmth in his interactions with Shashi that I kept finding excuses for his behaviour even when, maybe, he didn't deserve it. And I know most people will disagree with this because I've seen this character get labelled as a class A jerk more than once so far. I may be a jerk myself but I found some of his jokes quite funny and harmless, certainly not as offensive as they were made out to be by Shashi's dramatic reactions. Really girl, if you're offended, speak up, slap him, do something about it, don't just sit there and suffer in silence. But I've already addressed this earlier so I won't bore you again with it.
English Vinglish, by the way, is one of those rare Hindi films where you end up caring about all those secondary characters too because they feel like real people. I've seen those people in my own Business English classes, so it was nice to meet them again in a movie. Ironically enough (and a first for me), the non-desi characters felt more fleshed out than some of the desi ones. At least in the English class. And I don't just mean Mehdi Nebbou, who got a heart flutter even out of me when he started speaking in French in one of the scenes towards the end (you'll *know* which one it is but hint: it's over the phone, and yes, it's so much dreamier if you understand French). Hell, you could have swept me onto a dustpan and carried me out of the theatre after that scene, that's how perfect he was. And I don't even like that language. Though, to be fair he did get some glorious lines throughout, and his oh-so-snob attitude towards fries had me smiling from ear to ear, which let's think about it for a second: how often is a non-desi character so well written in a Hindi film that you like them right away? Sadly, not often at all. (Oh but yes, it helps that he's so handsome too.)
Speaking of non-desi characters, I was ready to cringe about the gay English teacher. I mean I was ready to just close my eyes and go lalalalala every time he spoke to avoid throwing shoes at the screen because, well, Indian movies are not exactly known for sensitive portrayals of such minorities. And again, what a surprise. Yes, he was over the top at times (as are, in fact, most of my real life gay friends), but for the most part Cory Hibbs hit all the right notes! Not only did he stay away from those done-to-death mannerisms such as the limp hand, the lisp and addressing everyone with "honey", but the film treats him as normal person, not as a curiosity or as an alien (ok, his clothes were kind of crazy but hey I know straight men who dress worse than that!). And I know the entire audience was with me on this one because there was unanimous clapping when the point was made in one of the scenes in the film. I love Toronto!
Of course Sridevi got the biggest cheers throughout the film, it goes without saying, and well deserved, but from me the biggest cheer goes to the writer-director, Gauri Shinde, who manages to create a story that, as the kids say these days, keeps it real from beginning to end. So real in fact that I was reminded of my first trip to North America and how daunting and complicated everything seemed: from the push-bars on the buses to the streets in downtown (and Toronto is also a grid-city, just like New York, you'd think it's the easiest thing in the world), to the drinks menus in restaurants and the neverending streets in the suburbias. All these little details, all these little fears, all these little victories, Gauri Shinde captures them in the movie and plays them for laughs without shoving them in your face.
|Image courtesy of Filmicafe.com|
English Vinglish is not a story with fireworks and emotional outbursts. It doesn't need to be. It's just a simple little story about how people, words and events can change your attitude towards life in the blink of an eye. And about finding the right balance. It's the kind of movie that I know I could find flaws in (and I probably will on subsequent viewings) but its message is so endearing and so in line with my own life philosophy that I'd rather sit and munch on my ladoo with a smile on my face than nit-pick at it. While I do that, you go watch, I dare you to be a curmudgeon when you come out of it! And if you are, just watch the fabulous songs again!
PS: One more picture of Mehdi Nebbou at the premiere (courtesy of Filmicafe) because I could never resist a man dressed in black.