English Vinglish, brilliantly directed by debutante Gauri Shinde (whose husband R Balki had given us the sensitively handled Paa), turns out to be a sterling tribute to Indian womanhood. The combination of Gauri—who is responsible for the visualization—and the superb emoting of the actress of yesteryears, Sridevi – creates a winning production.
Sridevi plays the role of Shashi, an upper middle class housewife, whose sense of self-worth is slowly eroded, due to her not being familiar with the Queen’s language. The journey of her downs and ups is told with humour and subtlety – no melodrama. There are messages galore, but no one gets into a sermonising mode. There are several occasions when one feels a lump in the throat (for Shashi); there are hints of closeness and bonding between Shashi and her English co-learner Laurent (excellent acting by Mehdi Nebbou), without the kisses and hugs; and there are occasional ripples of laughter, without the 'necessary' crude jokes.
The performances of all the actors are uniformly good, but Sridevi’s act is the most outstanding. Coming to the screen after a hiatus of fifteen years, Sridevi comes up with an award winning performance. Her speech towards the end is stirring and powerful; not very fluent, but potent in delivery. Adil Hussain, who plays Sridevi’s husband (and who sees only a laddoo-making attribute in her), delivers a fine performance. The class composition in Shashi’s English class reminds one of the Mind Your Language series – but Gauri thankfully doesn’t accent those scenes too much.
Two more factors help the movie make its impact: the stunning collection of Shashi’s cotton sarees, which also seem to be conveying a message – that simplicity can create its own charm; and Amit Trivedi’s music, that wholly blends into the ambience with not one song looking out of place.
The only problem with English Vinglish is also its source of strength. Everything is too simple, and tailor-made to move the story forward in a particular direction. Shashi is a character with oodles of goodness – and not a single flaw. Too good to be true; but heck, this is only a movie shoovie.