English Vinglish!

Spoiler Alert: You may want to skip this post if you’ve not seen the movie and intend to see it.

So I watched English Vinglish last weekend. A lot had been said and written about the movie–all of it entirely complimentary– so I was kind of prepared to be disappointed. Well, I was not. The story is, no doubt,  simple and feel-goodish but there is a sensitivity, an attention to detail and a certain earthiness to it which is not commonly seen in Hindi movies.

Sometimes a movie is able to give you wonderful insight into intra-familial relationships. Nothing you didn’t already know, but presented in a way that startles you. English Vinglish is full of such moments.

I found myself introspecting as I watched Sridevi’s character tolerate veiled and not-so veiled barbs, over her lack of proficiency in English, from an insensitive husband and a daughter who had a permanent sneer pasted on her face. Good heavens, I thought, I hope I never hurt my mother like that! My mother’s English was(is) only a little better than Sridevi’s in the movie. I mean, she can make herself understood if push comes to shove but is given to making errors. Growing up, did I ever make fun of her English? I am sure I couldn’t have been anywhere near as sneering and snooty as Sridevi’s incredibly rude daughter ( I wished I could get hold of her shoulders and give her a good shake) but maybe I might have sometimes laughed at a mispronunciation?

Ouch. Sorry Mom. It is apt that director Gauri Shinde should have dedicated this movie to her mother and others of her generation who were made fun of by their English-speaking children.

And then of course I felt immensely, immensely grateful for knowing decent English myself. It is not something I can take credit for.  I mentally thanked my parents for the gift of a good education. It’s a privilege and must be acknowledged as such. It was comforting to realize that nobody can laugh at my English at least.

What I didn’t like was the way Sridevi took all the taunts from her daughter lying down–surely she could have told her off? Isn’t tolerating such rudeness akin to encouraging it? But then many people are self-effacing and unassertive by nature ( and of course they suffer because of it). In this case, Sridevi’s low self-esteem probably made her all the more tongue-tied.

The scene where Sridevi  attends a parents-teacher meeting in her daughter’s school, much to her daughter’s mortification, reminded me of the one time when my mother had to attend the annual PTA meet in my school ( my father was out of station). I don’t remember feeling embarrassed at all though–after all none of my friends’ mothers were all that fluent in English and I was sure the teachers were not unaware of the fact. If anything, I was eager to make my teachers meet her because I thought she was beautiful, dignified and well-spoken in her own way.

Besides, I used to chafe at teachers who told us to speak in English at home too. By taking my non-English speaking mother to meet them, I wanted to send them the message that it is not possible for everyone, not for me in any case, to speak English at home and that I was none the worse for it. It is important to speak a language if you want to master it but one can very well do without having to speak it all the time, right?

Back to the movie. The most heart-warming part of it comes when Sridevi begins to attend an  English course in faraway New York, where she is for her niece’s wedding. She proves to be a keen learner, of course, and gradually gains in self-confidence. And on the day of her niece’s wedding she manages to give a soulful, stirring speech in halting English which had me crying buckets.

There are quite a few funny moments. A fellow English-learner is shown to be besotted by Sridevi and once takes the opportunity to profess his love for her in front of the class, saying how beautiful she was and likening her eyes to–hold your breath–two drops of coffee in a cloud of milk. Yikes!!! No wonder Sridevi wasn’t impressed!

And then another student from India laments how his coworkers ‘ laugh at his behind’ because of his poor English!

The casting is perfect. Sridevi’s elder sister and her daughters look every bit like the NRIs  in a Jhumpa Lahiri story, except they aren’t Bongs. Everyone suits the character they’re playing to a T, not least Sridevi herself.

She still retains the uncanny talent of getting her expressions just right. It’s a delight to watch her as a variety of emotions chase themselves on her face–hurt, resentment, fear, awe, joy, pride. No, she hasn’t lost touch at all. What a comeback!!

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30 Responses to English Vinglish!

  1. R's Mom says:

    Agreed agreed and definitely agreed…*Looks proud that RM saw a movie in the movie hall yipeeeeeee*

    I agree on the daughter bit…I was very loud when I said to my friend ‘Gosh I hope my daughter doesnt turn out to be like that, and an old aunty sitting in front of me, looked back and started laughing…

    The son was super cute na! and Sridevi’s MIL was adorable 🙂

    • Yeah the son was totally cute 🙂
      The MIL was nice too–not the evil types certainly–but did you notice how she made no effort to help out her DIL in the household chores. Sridevi had to let her own cuppa go cold in order to make fresh chai for her MIL–why couldn’t the MIL make her own cup of tea?

      • shail says:

        At least the MIL was old and as she says later on, ‘mai sabse kaam karvati hoon’. 🙂 But my point is why couldn’t the husband make his own coffee? The MIL in the movie was just too sweet a character.

  2. Smita says:

    have been reading rave reviews for this one but honestly speaking I have never been a Sridevi fan so not even thinking of watching it.

    But loved your introspection…it made me think too 🙂

  3. Swati Murti says:

    didn’t see the movie but have heard so many good reviews of it!!!

  4. G Vishwanath says:

    Thanks for the review.
    I was planning to watch it.
    I am a Sridevi fan and have been one all my life.
    I have watched nearly all her Tamil, Malayalam and Hindi movies and missed only the Telugu ones as I don’t understand Telugu.
    I was desperately wanting to watch this movie but we (wife and I) had to depart from Bangalore rather suddenly at short notice and we missed the release in Bangalore.
    We are in California now and have just become grandparents!
    Our daughter was expecting and we had planned to be here in November for the delivery.
    The baby (boy) arrived early and we dropped everything and rushed here on Oct 8th.
    I will follow your blog for the next 6 months from here in Fremont, California
    Regards
    GV

    • Oh wow, what wonderful news :-D!! Many congratulations, GVji, to you and your family and loads of good wishes for the little one :-D!! Let me mail you…

      • I finally got to see the movie last evening, at a local theatre here in Fremont, California.
        I paid in dollars for the tickets an amount at least six times what I would have paid in a theatre in India but I have no regrets.
        This movie will be listed in the top ten “best Hindi movies” that I have seen in my lifetime.
        Sreedevi excelled!
        May she never retire!
        Regards
        GV
        PS: Thanks Ashwathy and Fem. I am having a great time here.

    • Ashwathy says:

      Fabulous!!! 😀 😀 Congrats GV-ji!

    • Fem says:

      Congratulations!

  5. Jas says:

    I watched the movie and loved as much as you did. 🙂

  6. Arch says:

    I loved ittt too so much that I wrote a post on it too! I cannot believe kids can really be like that? Really enjoyed reading your post 🙂

  7. meenamenon says:

    Hmm hv been hearinga ll good things abt this movie! Maybe will go n watch it

  8. Deeps says:

    I loved loved loved the movie! Its amazing how beautifully Sridevi emotes with her eyes and expressions! She is a real treat to watch :).

    And I loved reading through your introspection, SH! I dont remember being rude to my parents their English..I looked upto them for their knowledge in the language, and their impeccable diction. I still do. But yes, my brother and I have pulled my dad’s leg a lot of times for his Hindi, he has always had a very strong south indian accent to his Hindi. And he, like a sport, has always joined us in the fun, whenever we have poked at him and laughed with us at himself :). But now when I introspect after reading your post, I feel so bad for being so insensitive! 😦

    • 🙂
      My father’s English is excellent and impeccable, but he sometimes used to amuse us by using Maithili(the language we speak at home) words in his Hindi, which made my brother and me roar with laughter. He too laughed along. I don’t think he minded, because we all knew it was only a slip of tongue, though I sometimes wondered if he didn’t do it purposely to amuse us 🙂
      Actually I think most people don’t mind it so much when ribbed for their Hindi. Being ridiculed for poor English is a different matter–people are likely to be hurt by it, because it carries implications of class, educational and economic background etc.

      • Deeps says:

        “Actually I think most people don’t mind it so much when ribbed for their Hindi. Being ridiculed for poor English is a different matter–people are likely to be hurt by it, because it carries implications of class, educational and economic background etc…” So true. It shows how deeply influenced we are by this language, doesn’t it?

  9. Ashwathy says:

    Yup agree with you. I have nothing to say against this movie at all. No cons that I could possibly think of. 🙂 And that’s a huge thing, considering it’s a Hindi movie we are talking about 😛

  10. shail says:

    I loved the movie too 🙂

  11. Amit says:

    I too loved the movie. And yes, kids can be that sinister. I was. 🙂

  12. Pattu says:

    Lovely review. Agreed totally with you. Sridevi might be the female Bachchan, with scrips ready for her.Loved her. Only the voice was not very good, but got over that too as the movie progressed.
    The best find is the director. As a woman she could bring the nuances and sensitivities very subtly, and make a cute movie. Waiting for her next one.

    Thanks.

    • Absolutely, she looks set to become the female Bachchan!
      You are right about her voice grating on the ears a little initially but I too got over it as the movie progressed.
      I too would be looking out for Gauri Shinde’s next one 🙂

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