By Karuna John
WILL ONE be killed-shilled if one says English Vinglish was cute-shute? Don’t get me wrong, it was major fun-shun and there were more than a few laughs-shaafs. Sridevi’s much-hyped comeback has been running to packed houses, perhaps because this is one of those films you can safely see with the papa, mummy and even daadi.
The Hawa-Hawai girl has swapped her perma giggles for a perma-pained expression that drives home the point of her being a harried housewife. Shashi Godbole (Sridevi) is the “perfect” wife, mother and maker of golden laddoos. Her only “fault”, as her badly behaved brat of a daughter reminds her regularly, is that she is not fluent in English.
The middle-aged Shashi dresses in lovely sarees and looks wonderfully wrinkle-free. Inside though, she is grey, crumpled and probably smells of ghee going rancid. Yet, you feel for her and fear for yourself — is this what happens after the happily ever after? Her husband Satish, subtly played by Adil Hussain, loves her but leaves the audience wondering if he likes her.
The film is the directorial debut of Gauri Shinde and is produced by her husband R Balki (and others) and is superbly cast. Sridevi returns to her Hindi film career after 14 years and Amitabh Bachchan puts in a guest appearance. Sad that he leaves after giving Shashi a survival tip as she lands in America to help with a niece’s wedding.
Shashi over-packs for her first solo trip. Apart from a trenchcoat, she carries the additional baggage of an inferiority complex wrapped in shattered self-esteem. Till she decides, enough. She must learn English in four weeks, and win her daughter’s respect. Made me cringe and think that a well-placed spank would have worked on the brat just as well.
The nervous Shashi with her quivering (dare we say ageing?) voice takes herself to “English tuitions”, as she calls them. Life looks up instantly when French actor Mehdi Nebbou makes an appearance as Laurent. His fine French dreaminess will make you forget that the English class is not out and leaves one wanting more. Here was potential to reinvent Brit TV sitcom Mind Your Language to cinematic hilarity. But all we get are a few tried and tested multi-racial clichés. Though love-struck, Laurent’s description of Shashi’s eyes, “Two drops of coffee in a pool of milk,” had the women in the hall sighing audibly. Perhaps even Shashi’s heart fluttered a bit to match her voice.
A sweet, happy family film, you can overlook the fact that Mrs Shashi Godbole from Pune has a lilting Tamil accent
The sighing stops when the rest of the Godbole family lands up in New York and we get the usual ‘good housewife guilty over personal ambition’ balancing act. Themangalsutra comes into the frame as Shashi returns to mommy mode. But the triumph of good over boring is a pyrrhic victory. Shashi Godbole does teach herself enough English to raise a toast at the niece’s wedding. Her speech on love, family, marriage, friendship and respect makes all the characters cry on cue. Shashi’s bratty daughter still does not get slapped and the staid husband is still assured she loves him. He seems glad enough, she can now speak English too. What a proud family moment!
A sweet, happy family film, if you can overlook the fact that Mrs Shashi Godbole from Pune has a lilting Tamil accent, or that fine actors like Sulbha Deshpande as Mrs Godbole the mother-in-law, don’t get to do much. Even poor Laurent does not get to kiss Shashi smack on the lips in the middle of Times Square. Ah well, may be I am just greedy-sheedy.
Karuna John is Associate Editor, Tehelka.com.