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Dir: Gauri Shinde

By Andy Desphande

[Spoiler Alert]

Indian screen legend Sridevi makes a glorious comeback in this gentle but undemanding story of a woman’s determination to succeed. English Vinglish is a brilliant take on how Shashi Godbole (Sridevi) is challenged to overcome her fear of speaking English and regain her self-respect within her own family, who mock and belittle her due to her inability to converse fluently in English.

Inspired by director Gauri Shinde’s own childhood experiences with her mother, of whom she felt ashamed due to her inability to speak English, the film is Gauri’s apology to her mother. The film opened to much acclaim at the international film festivals and the world’s audiences in general.

English Vinglish is an comedy-drama written and directed by Gauri Shinde, making her debut in Bollywood. The narrative revolves around a housewife Shashi Godbole (Sridevi) who sells “ladoos”(Indian sweets) as a home-run business and, whilst appreciated by her clients, is mocked and bullied by her husband Satish (Adil Hussain) and daughter Sapna (Navika Kotia) for her poor English speaking skills. It makes Shashi feel sad, underappreciated and unloved by people close and dear to her. Her son Sagar (Shivansh Kotia) is more sympathetic to her plea and loves his mother the way she is. Opportunity presents itself when Shashi’s elder sister (Sujatha Kumar), who lives in New York, invites Shashi and her family to her daughter Meera’s (Neeju Sodhi) wedding with Kevin (Ross Nathan).

Sridevi’s performance of Shashi in her “saree” (Indian attire) walking the streets of New York and grappling with her lack of spoken English, especially in a coffee shop scene, is most laudable. Shashi realises that she needs to overcome this fear of English speaking and secretly enrols in an English class, which offers to teach spoken English in 4 weeks. The characters in the English class are vaguely remising of those in “Mind Your Language” (ITV, 1977) and quickly form a family bond with kind-hearted Shashi.

As fate would have it, Shashi is discovered to attend these English classes on the sly by her niece and meera’s sister Radha (Priya Anand) who decides to support her endeavours and even helps out secretly with class assignments. Shashi needs to pass her course in the final test and must deliver a 5-minute speech in English to qualify for a certificate. Mounting pressures of the impending wedding cause frequent schedule changes forcing Shashi to miss her classes. The last straw is when the final exam date coincides with the date of the wedding forcing Shashi to miss the same.

English Vinglish grossed $15 million at the box office, making it one of the highest revenue earners for Bollywood in 2012. Reuters called it the best Bollywood film of 2012. It was also nominated as India’s official entry in the Academy Awards under the best Foreign Film category and the International Premier was held at the coveted Galas section of the 2012 Toronto International Film festival where all shows were sold out and premier audiences gave standing ovations for over 10 minutes after the first screening. The film received excellent reviews and some even hailed Sridevi as the “Meryl Streep of India”.

Here is a movie for the entire family finely balancing love and pride whilst bringing out the need to treat everyone with respect and humility. A definite must watch.


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