Saturday, October 6, 2012


Release date:
October 5, 2012
Gauri Shinde
Sridevi, Mehdi Nebbou, Adil Hussain, Priya Anand

Meenakshi, Sunayana, Pankajaakshi … we Indians have many evocative words to describe a woman with beautiful eyes. But it took a Frenchman in English Vinglish to come up with this most romantic of descriptions for Sridevi’s eyes: “like two drops of coffee on a cloud of milk.” And it’s taken a Gauri Shinde to make a woman-centric film about a woman-centric issue that may seem to many like no issue at all.

At a literal level, English Vinglish is about a housewife scorned by her husband and daughter because she cannot speak English. Beyond that though, it’s about respect in marriage; how lack of respect does not show up in rudeness alone, but also in condescension; and how we must respect ourselves instead of seeking the approval of others.

Shashi Godbole (Sridevi) is a hard-working Indian housewife/entrepreneur with a patronizing husband and a teenaged daughter who is embarrassed by her. Shashi swallows the hurt like so many women do, until an unpleasant incident on a trip to the US sends her over the edge. While in New York for a family wedding, Shashi decides to take a course in spoken English and through that experience, ends up finding herself.

Although this is Sridevi’s comeback film, the very talented and good-looking supporting cast are given their due. Priya Anand as Shashi’s sympathetic niece is lovely. Adil Hussain as the unwittingly uncaring husband is impeccable. It takes an actor of his calibre to be convincing as an MCP despite having a face so handsome that all I want to do when I see him on screen is to like him. And oh, Mehdi Nebbou! The attractive French actor plays the man intrigued by his gorgeous Indian classmate with those eyes. His barely articulated longing is aided by an equally subtle director wise enough to skip subtitles when Laurent speaks to Shashi in French.

Sridevi is the perfect package for this film: beautiful face, striking personality, stunning saris, radiant eyes, that quavering voice – which has bothered me in the past – used to great effect here to convey diffidence and emerging self-confidence in a first-rate performance. There has been speculation about whether she has undergone plastic surgery to look the way she does at this age. Who knows. It’s only fair to say though that in English Vinglish, she comes across as a beauty who is comfortable being in her 40s, unlike some of Bollywood’s 40-plus heroes desperately resisting age with their choice of roles and much younger female co-stars.

English Vinglish is an excellent comeback vehicle for the country’s most successful pan-India female superstar, but what makes the film work is that the director is not star struck. Gauri Shinde’s film is not about Sridevi but about a very real story, entertainingly told. It’s a risky project though, because it does not revolve around what the public may consider worthwhile feminist “issues” such as, say, wife beating. The points being made in English Vinglish are the sort that even seeming liberals could dismiss with the sweeping statement that “these feminists…like to make a big deal about everything”. It’s a film that also tests the closet chauvinist pretending to be liberal. And then there may be those who feel it defies believability that a woman like Shashi with her profitable catering business would allow her husband to treat her the way he did. If you find yourself asking that question, do also consider why so many educated, professionally thriving women stay on with physically abusive husbands. No answer?

English Vinglish is effective because it does not make generalisations. Not every man is the enemy in this film, but men are not a woman’s only salvation either. Not every American is mean to a non-English-speaking foreigner; not every American who is rude in this fashion is white; as much as Shashi encounters the harshness of New York, she also finds compassion. And when she squares her shoulders against the world, it’s because she has found strength within, aided by the kindnesses of others, men and women, Indians and foreigners.

Perhaps the seeming stereotypes in that New York classroom could have been avoided: the south Indian is a software engineer, the Pakistani is a taxi driver, the Frenchman is a chef … but these are non-offensive stereotypes, and I won’t make a big deal of them. Elsewhere, I enjoyed Amitabh Bachchan’s guest appearance, but that cheeky line he throws at a US immigration official jarred because it plays to the gallery in a way the rest of the film does not.

Incidentally, a considerate priest at Shashi’s daughter’s school explains that he is not fluent in Hindi, but defying Bollywood’s favourite “Christians are westernised foreigners” stereotype, Father Vincent clearly indicates that his discomfort with Hindi is because he is a Keralite (not because he is a Christian). One factual error: contrary to Father’s statement, Hindi is not our national language. India does not have a Constitutionally designated national language. But we’ll discuss that some other day. Today is about a sweet, unusual film.

A budding relationship between two gay men in English Vinglish is handled a tad awkwardly, but their presence serves to convey the main point of this film. Shashi’s stance on homosexuality tells us that English Vinglish is not about just one unhappy housewife; it’s about empathy for “the other”: the man whose sexual orientation is socially derided, the foreigner who struggles to count out change in an unfamiliar currency at your café counter, the spouse who is uncomfortable in the language you speak. Nice choice, Sridevi. Now when do we see your next film, Ms Shinde?  

Rating (out of five): ***1/2

CBFC Rating (India):
Running time:
139 minutes



  1. Hi Annaji,

    As usual, copmpletly trusting your review i went for English Vinglish and it didn't disappoint me. The film had a racy first half followed by an entertaining second half. I agree with you that Adil Hussain as Sridevi's husband was handsome and also did complete justice to the character;but I felt his innocent face was inapt for the role of a high profile employee. Rest of the casting was appealing. The New York classroom guys might be stereotyped;but they catered us with enough humor which served the purpose for the film. Again coming back to your review, it is mentioned that the film does not revolve around what the public may consider worthwhile feminist issues such as wife beating;but I disagree with you on this. Take the dialogue from Shashi,"If men cooks, its an art;but if women does the same,its just her duty"!!So as far as I am concerned, the film conveys one of the prime feminist issue roaming in our society in a convincing manner.



  2. Interesting Read. Just a suggestion! Would you consider discussing woman body as nation in this film?

  3. Interesting Read. Just a suggestion! Would you consider discussing woman body as nation in this film?