Saturday, September 15, 2012

TIFF 2012: English Vinglish

English Vinglish (India, 2012) directed by Gauri Shinde, 144 minutes
Saturday, September 15, 2012, 12.15p., TIFF Lightbox 

This film is surprisingly moving … initially I felt it was going in a very maudlin direction, trying to pull on my heart strings a little too hard. It owes much to Gurinder Chadha’s 2002 feature Bend it like Beckham in feeling, tone and theme. Both reveal a determined woman repressed by her family circumstances and deals with their attempts to grow beyond the expected limitations of their prescribed lives. Call it Bend it like Shashi … 

Shashi played by Sridevi, who has been described as the “first female superstar of the Indian Cinema" (and the audience was quite in awe of her presence in the film it seems), is a gentle-spirited South Asian wife and mother of two in India. She is utterly domestic, passive, lacking in self esteem and easily wounded by her family’s teasing that her greatest and only skill pertains to her cooking of a delicious dessert called ladoo that she makes in her home and sells to neighbors and friends. 

Shashi travels to NYC to attend the wedding of her niece. Feeling belittled by her lack of English skills, she joins an ESL class for the remaining four weeks that she will be in New York.

After a humiliating episode in a restaurant when she is unable to order a simple meal she is befriended by a kindly French immigrant named Laurent (the sad eyed, handsome Skyler Marshall) who eventually ends up in the same ESL class as Shashi. The class is a quirky hodge podge of ethnic, non-English speaking immigrants led by a flamboyant and highly enthusiastic instructor named David: respectively of Chinese, Hispanic, South Asian, French, African descent.

Her isolation as an immigrant in NYC is not unlike her isolation as a middle class, affluent housewife who is not perceived to have any valuable skills. Neither is recognized or respected.

Aided by a kindly niece Shashi persists and learns to speak English in secret but she is constantly torn between the duties of wife/mother and her obligations to herself. At one point I was hoping Shashi would abandon her role as a doormat to her family and break free. She does in a manner. 

Interestingly, Shashi does not take the expected route; she does not fall for her handsome fellow French student although he is clearly smitten with him. She chooses to make her feelings known at the wedding – asking the bride and groom to respect each other, value each other and never denigrate the other person. Therein, she changes her life and her relationship with her husband and a particularly denigrating teenage daughter.

Although it is not a traditional Indian film (actors do not break into song and dance except at the wedding) during the course of the film, there is music, a great deal of it. And it greatly adds to the joyousness of the film.

After the screening the first time director Gauri Shinde, the producer R. Balki and the actor Skyler Marshall, who played Laurent, were there for a Q&A. All three were charming and as an added treat brought platefuls of ladoo for the audience to try ... always the quickest path to a jaded film viewer’s heart.


Anonymous said...

Hi Michelle!

I have always loved your TIFF reviews and continue to do so even if I read them much later! I grew up wishing Sridevi was my relative :) She is back after 15 years break and I am glad you have a positive review of her latest work. I am looking forward to seeing the movie!

The title "English Vinglish" is like "Pish Tosh Whatever!" That's how most Indian people talk to take away importance from something. For example: "Love Shove", etc.

Anways, always a delight to visit your blog!

A Lit Chick said...

This is fascinating ... I was quite intrigued by the reaction of the audience to the mention of Sridevi's name ... the equivalent of saying, say, Angelina Jolie is back making movies after an absence of too many years (and she is amazingly young looking too). As well, when I tweeted this review on Twitter at least three other Sridevi admirers retweeted my post enthusiastically. Consequently, this was the "most viewed" review I had during the festival.

Quite interesting. And yet we know so little about her here in the west. (And thanks for your kind words!)

Shayari said...

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

A Lit Chick said...

Well ... the audience was absolutely enthralled with her.