Chandni is back to steal your heart away. And this time it is not with her dance numbers or electrifying chemistry with the co-star, but with her simplicity and sheer grace.
Gauri Shinde’s directed English Vinglish is a movie about a middle-aged Maharashtran woman, Shashi (Sridevi), who is made fun of by her own family for her poor English. She makes Ladoos (an Indian snack) for a living and is a small entrepreneur in herself. Her husband, Satish (Adil Hussain), not only belittles her talent, but also asks her to quit doing it since it does not suit his reputation. Her 7th grade daughter is embarrassed to even introduce her mother to her friends and teachers.
It is only after taking a four week crash course to learn how to speak in English, in New York, does Shashi gain some amount of respect in her family. Prior to this, Shashi is shown to have a very low self-esteem and is very low on self-confidence. Since she does not get any acknowledgement from her family, she does not understand her own worth.
Without many efforts, Shinde has brought out the fact that the language English is given preference over Hindi or any other language in the world. Being colonial subjects, where we should be more aware of our position in the global world, we seem to be lost in a world of our own. While we should be asserting our identity as a separate Nation State, we continue to be colonial subjects even after so many years of independence.
In the contemporary society, one has no value until one knows how to talk in English. It has almost been transformed into a status symbol now. People with weak English are a social embarrassment to their kins. Our National language seems to have lost all its vigour. While the French are still resisting against the monopoly of the English language, we seem to have given up long back. By giving Hindi secondary status, we are propagating the rule of our colonizers even after being liberated.
The movie shows how Shashi could not bloom in India, her own country with her own people, while, when in The United States of America, she feels more welcomed. The people she meets in her English class are willing to help each other in whatever way possible. The group seems to uphold the idea of “Friends across Borders” since it includes people of Indian (South and West), Pakistani, Chinese, Spanish, French, African and American origin. All of them bond well, with the occassional innocent racist jokes here and there.
The increasing acceptance, awareness and tolerance towards homosexuality is also illustrated in the movie.
Shashi makes her new formed friends understand that we don’t always have to take heterosexuality as the norm because if we do, then by default we’ll be bound to take homosexuality as the unacceptable, a taboo. The heart does not understand different sexual orientations as such, and this is why Shashi understands that heartbreak is the same for everybody.
The scene where Shashi and Laurent are shown conversing with each other in their native languages is extremely interesting. The two of them talk their heart out, and neither understands what the other person is saying, but they listen to each other anyways, and respond in return. It reminds me of a scene from Zindagi Na Milegi Dabara where Farhaan Akhtar talks to his Spanish girlfriend in Hindi about his father, and she replies in Spanish.
Through the character of Shashi, the movie also highlights the disparities that exist in the world.
In one scene of the movie, Shashi casually mentions to her friend, Laurent (a French guy from her English speaking class), that when a man cooks, it is considered “Art” and he is much appreciated for it, but when a woman cooks, it is seen as her daily, routine job. She is given absolutely no credit for the amount of hard work she puts in to running the house.
Laurent makes her feel more respected and good about herself than her husband and daughter ever did.
The director seems to have given Shashi the agency to exercise her right to educate herself, but has perhaps forgotten that she needs a life too! She clearly connects with Laurent more than she connects with her husband. Both Laurent and Shashi have a common passion. While he is a professional chef, Shashi is shown to have some amazing culinary skills herself. And more than anyything, he respects her.
The question to ask however is why Shashi is still with her husband? Maybe it is because the director is a bit hesitant to let her run away with her French suitor. Since the typical married Indian woman is supposed to live and die in her husband’s house, there’s nothing that Shashi can do about it. She has to go back home to her husband and kids, and apparently she wants to do that.
When Shashi is busy with her English class and her son hurts his arm and leg, she decides not to take the lessons anymore. Once again, the role of an Indian woman is highlighted. She has to be a responsible mother, wife and daughter-in-law first, and then if any space and energy is left, she can do what she wants for herself, for which she is going to be criticized and ridiculed, of course! Almost every Indian woman on screen seems to possess this great quality of self-sacrifice where she is ready to even die for her family when they’re least bothered about her.
Sridevi has made a comeback in Bollywood after 14 years and has done it with a bang! She looks wonderful and sports some gorgeous sarees (an outfit that has always suited her).
She has done brilliantly with her role in the movie and has definitely made the right decision by waiting for such a script to come her way. English Vinglish is certainly a job well done by Miss. Hawa Hawai.