Saturday, September 15, 2012

English Vinglish Review

Lately I've been wondering if Bollywood is losing its appeal for me, I've been getting into other things, haven't loved too many flicks, and even when watching Indian films I was mostly interested in the artsy stuff than the big films. For a while I thought it was Bollywood going through a slump. Then I thought maybe it's me, maybe this hobby had just run its course. But English Vinglish, the story of a woman whose confidence suffers because she can't speak English like the rest of her family can, reminded me why I fell in love with Bollywood back in the day. It reminded me of the feeling of watching a movie and not caring if it's simple or complex, or if it has a certain star, or if it's perfectly edited, or even if I agree with the philosophy of it. It reminded me of those times when I used to watch Bollywood movies just for the magic of seeing a different world materialize in front of my eyes.

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.

Also, how badass is Shashi's sister? She only had one important line in the whole movie but how fabulous was it that at the core of the story it's not some teenage crush that motivates Shashi to change, but the respect she has for her sister! I, for one, really appreciated this detail, fleeting as it was. Yay for sister power!
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
And we did laugh a lot throughout the movie. And we smiled a lot. We even clapped a few times. Because there are goofy scenes, yes, but then there are also moments that are funny in a quiet, homely kind of way. My favourite bits were Meera (the bride to be) translating some random ridiculousness to her American husband-to-be when he couldn't understand Hindi. Their relationship wasn't talked about much, but these little moments made them look like a real couple who teases each other and pokes each other. Of course, pyaar se. By the way, not sure if the role reversal was intentional but I like to think this is what Shashi and her husband would have been like at the beginning of their marriage. So just keep that in mind when you're laughing at Meera making fun of her fiance's difficulties with Hindi: if Satish is a jerk, then she is one too. Perspective is everything, no?

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.


Shazia said...

Haven't you seen Barfi yet? Must watch.

Dolce and Namak said...

Hey Shazia, I have seen Barfi! (first day first show actually :)), but still working on a review for it. I figured I'd get TIFF out of the way first. I really enjoyed it, thinking of going again. :)

Shayari said...

Mother of all come back!!! Finally i will get see some performance ! bored with this Kareena and Katreena

Unknown said...

Awesome Post! Watch the Full Movie Online?

English Vinglish Full Movie

Eatpraylovemovies said...

Dolce, I'm in love with Mehdi as much as you! :-) Spell-binding is the word ;) I look forward to seeing him in more Indian films... coming to EV ..I thought it was beautifully executed... walking you through every emotion - love, hatred, happiness, sadness, fear, anger, aggression, submission. It isn't quite the script but the execution that's makes all the difference.
Do share your views on my review -


David said...

Going to watch this film tomorrow with my friends. Reviews are good lets see whether i like the film or not!!!

Unknown said...

hi. loved this movie. its an would recommend it to others for a light entertainment. thanks for the reviews.

Bollywood Gossip

me said...

Thanks so much for highlighting something truly remarkable about this film that I'd overlooked - non-desis as real people. One more thing that marks this as a very good film, definitely requiring a rewatch or two.

Dolce and Namak said...

Hey Mansi, sorry for the delay in replying. Glad you also enjoyed the movie and yes, Mehdi. Sigh... :)

@ David - oh wow, you commented a while ago but... hope you liked it? :)

@ Sabkon Wells - I agree, it's the kind of movie I can recommend without having to put a milion disclaimers on it. Glad everyone loved it.

Dolce and Namak said...

Hey Stuart! Yay! You finally watched it! And yes, +1 on the rewatch value, for many reasons. I have to get back into the sport of buying DVDs so I can own this and rewatch at leisure. Nice seeing you around here, despite my horrible hosting skills lately. :)

Anonymous said...

excellent movie as shridevi come after a long time but did her best.well done.
Friday Release

Unknown said...

Hey thanks for this wonderfully written review...u have captured the quintessential soul of the movie !

Watched this last year on a cold winter Christmas morning, the movie brightened my day and kept me smiling through the day!

Not many movies give u those happy tears nowadays, this one did !

Post a Comment