And so it is that English Vinglish rises to the highest echelons of film-making, another blessed example of brilliant writing, superb casting contained within a tight, focussed narrative. And of course, the wonderful Sridevi is the binding ingredient to it all, so long missing from our screens, so sorely missed because for once, the female character is central in the true sense, her seemingly 'small' battle made profound and dare I say, even epic, by an explorative and sensitive story.
|Killing it in NYC in my 'exotic' sari bitches!|
*POSSIBLE SPOILER ALERT*
She plays an Indian housewife, Shashi, famed for her super tasty ladoos (if you don't know what ladoos are, shame on you) not able to really speak or understand English, and severely put down by her bratty daughter who makes out she is some unworthy human being for not being able to master the lingua franca of the world. When Shashi's sister asks her to come to New York to help arrange her daughter's upcoming wedding, she has to go there all by herself initially. Once there, after an encounter with a overly grouchy woman at the till of a grungy cafe, (scene is typical Indian melodrama here), Shashi decides to learn English in secret by taking a class everyday, which promises she will have mastered the language in four weeks. Hilarity ensues - or there about - as well poignant moments of triumph. The film doesn't skate over the seemingly insignificant trials, which only wonderfully emphasises how potentially inhibited you are if you don't know the language (totally scared me off Tokyo, can you imagine trying to navigate the underground there? And I'm somewhat 'worldly').
Basically, it was a joy to watch, it was neatly paced and I just stared up at Sridevi absorbing what I have so been starved of since circa 2002. The writing and the character was perfectly considered for her and she did it every justice, so props also goes to Gauri Shinde, the writer-director. I hope other 'actresses' in Bollywood can take note and aspire to this but I doubt it. Even the supporting cast were strong and thank god they cast *actual* American Indians as American Indians (it's a deal breaker when you have Indians pretending they're American Indian or British Indian because they cannot do it, or when Dutch or Eastern European people are cast as Americans/British - Lagaan passed the test and that's when you know the film makers took their job seriously and respected the work). Also, the filmmakers respected the location and setting, New York, rather than having people prance around it all shiny like. Aside from some 'funky fresh' montage sequences, the cinematography served the story and protagonist, without flashing itself around saying 'look at me!' And as a result, people, it was gorge.
Finally, what got me the most and raised the film from damn good to exceptional, was the profound pearls of insight the film bestowed, illustrating how such a simple story of struggle can really mean so much and teach you great lessons about the experience of existence, namely family and the 'art' of communication without understanding words and shit (the killer dialogue was when Shashi admits at the end that when you don't like yourself, everything connected to your life appears bad to you, so you then get attracted to new things. But when you learn to love yourself, that 'bad' life transforms and looks wonderful again - woo, some deep ancient wisdom right there). Did I cry? Yes and you know it's got you then.
Ok, I'll wrap by saying that English Vinglish is a great triumph - not only in its high quality but also proving that not all is lost in Indian cinema, where you can still have a great symbiosis of writing and acting. Brava!