Saturday, October 6, 2012

English Vinglish is a delightful winner, not worth a miss

A few days ago, English Vinglish was premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival and was received with a standing ovation as the end credits rolled. Produced by Eros International and R Balki, written and directed by Balki's wife and first time director Gauri Shinde, English Vinglish also marks the end of Sridevi's sabbatical from cinema after 14 years. From its first promo of a woman in saree struggling to read English to the theatrical trailer making you grin from ear to ear at the smell of what could be a good movie, English Vinglish had got most of its messaging right laconically without succumbing to any cheap gimmicks or an impressive swoon worthy star cast. Balki has been a formidably trustworthy director himself with his outings of Cheeni Kum and Paa. Gauri Shinde takes a leaf of simplicity out of Balki's book and weaves a film that is a pure delight to watch. Its a simple story told in the simplest way, with a lot of innocent heart and high dosages of mint freshness.

At 49, Sridevi looks gloriously gorgeous and oozes sunny charisma in every frame, triggering gamuts of shame upon many actresses 15-20 years younger to her buried under a heap of make up. If you can doff your amazement for her and focus on Gauri Shinde's debut serving, you will still be equally stunned. Shinde handpicks a rare idea of a housewife (Shashi) inept in English that brings constant embarrassment to her from her closest family, including her husband. Throw in an unlikely situation of Shashi travelling to US alone, an endearing journey of learning English and teaching the more important lessons of life to others and viola! this concoction is a seamless winner. Shinde's writing is taut, not allowing you to look sideways even once as the drama unfolds. Her humor is a buffet of innovative situations and peachy lines keeping the proceedings astonishingly breezy and rapturously breakneck. Shinde does not either leave an opportunity to wrap your heart with a bout of warmth or pull its strings to make you misty eyed, specially in the finale. Its an uncomplicated story, but it packs in enough meat in its content than you find otherwise in many movies, honed with a deft hand of striking effortlessness and lucid treatment. Despite her writing being formulaic, Shinde doesnt let it slither into another clunky affair. She roots the story in deep Indian values of family and marriage but presents it in a light vein with much froth. As Shashi chugs along regaining her own self respect, she also becomes an instrument to impart small but necessary values in stereotyping of women in India, parenting, cross-cultural acceptance, cross-border relations, homophobia and more. Shinde masters most of her moments with tenderness - the endearing portions where Shashi and Laurent interact in Hindi and French respectively with each other, every single instance when Shashi is subtly looked down upon by her family, the equation between Shashi and her niece, or the finale with a rare semblance of morals. One could complain that the film uses an archaic ploy of digging one's emotions by its feel good moments but English Vinglish is highly laudable effort to be pulled down with this makeshift argument.

Despite the absence of a menacing order of star names on the poster, except for Sridevi who is more of a ex-starlet, the production values of English Vinglish are at par with any other big release. Amit Trivedi creates and delivers another set of fresh tunes in the music album and the background score with much searing blithe that chides at the obtrusive loud popular music made to adhere to the ongoing culture. The title song and Navrai Majhi may inimitably be the pick of the lot, but the complete album stirs up a lasting happy effect that will not peter soon after the release. Here's another feather in the master's cap! Laxman Utekar's cinematography is alluring, capturing New York City differently one more time. Hemanti Sarkar's editing could have done with a little more stern knife but it doesnt hurt the movie at any instance. Production Design by Mustafa Stationwala is classy and immersive, with no leaking colors or garish frames. A special mention for the casting directors, both in India and New York, for the perfect supporting cast that could have been assembled for this movie.

Shouldering an insurmountable expectation of a comeback, along with the lead role of a film that doesnt go a scene without her, the magnanimous Sridevi leaves nothing to decry. As Shashi, she displays the pitch perfect love, concern, vulnerability, anger, restraint, moxie and sadness. Good artists never get decrepit just by sitting at home, Sridevi seamlessly proves that. Her childlike efforts as an English learner or the portrayal of a mother with utmost concern for her kids or a righteous wife to her husband, she moonwalks comfortably through all of it with ease. Adil Hussain as the loving yet an underestimating husband provides the best fit for the part. Hussain is an inherently natural actor and shines above the rest of the supporting cast. Famous French actor, Mehdi Nebbou, makes his Bollywood debut as Laurent, churning out a sensitive portrayal of a man in love with Shashi's simplicity. Tamil actress, Priya Anand, makes her debut as Radha, and does well for most parts, apart from being an eye candy. The child artistes playing Shashi's kids are excellent while Sujata Kumar as Shashi's sister is delightful. A small cameo by a legendary superstar is more of a tribute, but is bound to leave you in splits. A huge group of unseen faces and actors rents a believability to English Vinglish that curtails a divide in opinion on the casting and pimps it a few notches further in its performance quotient.

The best thing about English Vinglish is that it did not get lost in the spam of wrongly and over marketed films. The film has maintained its niche buzz over the weeks and grown its reach too, making it one of the awaited movies of the year and the producers deserve much appreciation for that. As it turns out, it outlives all the expectations by delivering an honest film that adds to the list of what could possibly be the best year for Hindi cinema in decades. It has taken an average start at the theaters, led mostly by the multiplexes but I have ginormous hopes that the film is virile enough to carry itself through the week and the collections are bound to pick up. Go watch it in a theater, NOT A DVD PLEASE, and spread the word so that everyone else does. Its more than a fleeting respectable comeback for Sridevi, it actually abounds in memorable greatness in craft. Welcome, Gauri Shinde!

Rating - 4/5

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