Review By : Komal Nahta
Hope Productions Pvt. Ltd., Rakesh Jhunjhunwala, R.K. Damani and Eros International's English Vinglish is the story of a middle-class Indian housewife, Shashi (Sridevi), who doesn't know to speak proper English. Her lack of knowledge of English often makes her the butt end of jokes at home. Not just her husband, Satish (Adil Hussian), but even her school-going daughter, Sapna (baby Navika Kotia), does not miss any opportunity to ridicule Shashi's English-speaking skills or, rather, the lack of them. Shashi and Satish also have a little son, Sagar (master Shivansh Kotia). Shashi is a fantastic cook and has a small business of selling delicious laddoos. Her self-esteem and self-respect are at an all-time low but like a loving wife and mother, she bears it all.
Shashi goes to America to attend the marriage of her niece, Meera (Neelu Sodhi). Satish sends Shashi much in advance so that she can help her widowed sister, Manu (Sujata Kumar), with the wedding preparations. He and the kids are to follow after a few weeks. Manu also has a younger daughter, Radha (Priya Anand).
A couple of incidents at the airport in India, on the flight to America and in America unnerve Shashi so much that she immediately decides to undertake a crash course in English while in America. Too shy to tell her sister and her neices about her English-speaking classes, she attends them daily without their knowledge. Shashi meets people of different nationalities at her school and they become very close to one another. The other students are: Eva (Ruth Aguilar), a Mexican lady; Salman Khan (Sumeet Vyas), a Pakistani; Ramamurthy (Rajeev Ravindranathan), a South Indian; Yu Son (Maria Romano), a Chinese; Udumbke (Damien Thompson), an African; and Laurent (Mehdi Nebbou), a handsome Frenchman. Laurent soon falls in love with Shashi. The English teacher is David Fischer (Cory Hibbs).
By the by, Radha realises that her aunt, Shashi, has enrolled in the school and she, too, keeps this as a closely-guarded secret. Shashi works hard and picks up English pretty fast.
What happens when Satish and the two kids reach America ahead of schedule? Does Satish, who does not treat Shashi like an equal, take kindly to her attempt to learn English? Is Shashi able to complete her English-speaking course?
Gauri Shinde's simple story of a middle-class Indian family is so real that it instantly strikes a chord in the viewer's heart. Every woman will identify with Shashi's character, every husband will feel that there is a Satish in him and every daughter will feel guilty of being a Sapna at some point or the other in her interaction with her mother. It is this easy identification with the characters that makes the story so very special. Gauri's screenplay is extraordinary, almost flawless. It is full of heart-warming and identifiable moments. The best part of her screenplay is that it entertains, makes one smile often and laugh a lot. The weak-hearted may even cry a couple of times, some may even weep and sob.
Gauri Shinde's screenplay has many layers and the scenes, while entertaining, are also full of messages. However, not a single, repeat, single scene tends to preach. The first half comes and goes like a breeze as it is quite short. The second half is lengthier but so interesting that the viewer will end up falling in love with Shashi. The bonding between the students and teacher in the English class makes the audience ask for more. The scenes when an agitated Shashi breaks into Hindi and Laurent speaks his dialogues in French, knowing fully well that the other can't understand, are wonderfully conceived, beautifully written and splendidly enacted!
The climax is extraordinary. It is so exhilarating that many among the audience will not be able to stop themselves from applauding it. There will also, of course, be people who would end up shedding tears of joy in the climax scene. The victory of the underdog will make the audience feel so very good that the joy would be quite unique. Dialogues (penned by Gauri Shinde) are gems and make such an impact on the viewer that they remain with him for a long, long time. Even though there are so many dialogues in English and other foreign languages (because that is the need of the script), they remain so true to the script, that a lot of non-English-speaking people would also enjoy the film.
Coming to the performances, it must, first and foremost, be said that the casting directors deserve kudos because it looks like all the actors were born to play their respective roles.
Sridevi makes the best comeback in Bollywood history and delivers a landmark performance. To say that she carries the entire burden of the film on her slender shoulders would not be one bit of an exaggeration. Not once does she go overboard. She gives the character of Shashi so much dignity that she doesn't let the viewer feel sorry for her but yet makes them sympathise with her and completely understand her predicament. All awards for the best actress this year should be reserved for Sridevi and Sridevi alone!
Adil Hussain plays Shashi's husband, Satish, wonderfully. He stands his own in each and every scene he is seen in. Baby Navika Kotia excels in the role of Sapna. Her facial expressions and body language are to die for. Master Shivansh Kotia is so cute and his lisping makes his dialogue delivery even more endearing. Mehdi Nebbou looks dashing and does a splendid job. Priya Anand does a swell job as Radha. Sujata Kumar acts ably as Manu. Neelu Sodhi is good as Meera. Ross Nathan, as bridegroom Kevin, lends the desired support. Sulbha Deshpande is endearing as Sapna and Sagar's grandmother. Ruth Aguilar, Maria Romano and Damien Thompson act very well. Sumeet Vyas is wonderful. Rajeev Ravindranathan performs splendidly. Cory Hibbs is superb. Divya Seth shines in the single scene in which she comes (as the mother of Sapna's school-friend). Maria is fine as the receptionist. Babs Winn and Peter Brown are alright as the bridegroom's parents. Suhita Thatte is okay. Amitabh Bachchan simply shines in a special appearance and makes the one sequence he appears in, memorable. He gives his cent per cent to the character.
Gauri Shinde's direction is extraordinary. With her very first film, she proves that she is an ace at her job. Right from her choice of subject to her scripting to her narration, everything is so lovely that she couldn't have made a better debut in Bollywood. She's a director who has a fantastic future ahead of her.
Amit Trivedi's music is very pleasant and melodious and each of the five songs is delightful. The music is of the kind which grows on the listener. 'Navrai majhi' has melody. The title song and 'Manhattan' have a charm of their own. 'Dhak-dhuk' and 'Gustakh dil' are also excellent numbers. Lyricist Swanand Kirkire deserves distinction marks for his inspired writing. The 'Dhak-dhuk' number, especially, brings out beautifully the predicament of Shashi before her departure alone to a foreign land. Rujuta Vaidya's choreography in the 'Navrai majhi' song is cute. Background music (Amit Trivedi) is extraordinary. Laxman Utekar's cinematography is superb. Mustafa Stationwala's art direction goes well with the mood of the film. Hemanti Sarkar's editing is excellent and as sharp as it ought to have been.
On the whole, English Vinglish is a simple tale sensitively told and extraordinarily enacted. It may have taken a slow start but it has immense power to grow greatly because of positive word of mouth and ultimately prove a hit! No doubt, it will work more in the cities and the multiplexes but business from there will be big. Ladies will give a huge boost to the film. It also has tremendous repeat value because it is a very uplifting and feel-good film.