The saree clad, wide eyed, lovely lady, stands in front of a New York coffee shop counter, clutching her handbag, excited like a little girl, looking around in awe, waiting to order a cup of coffee. A hefty, impatient woman, barks, ”Americano, Cappuccino, Latte..?” The alien words sound more threatening than a machine gun. The excitement wanes, the lovely lady is stunned into stuttering ”Nes..cafe..”.The bully glowers and rattles off a menu choice that sounds worse than Greek to the Indian woman who hopelessly struggles to understand both the language and the menu. A simple coffee order turns into an ordeal, ends up in a tray dropped in panic and a heartrending breakdown on a bench.
She is Shashi. A simple Maharashtrian housewife and mother who loves making laddoos as a small enterprise and hobby. Her more than happy family loves eating her lovingly cooked meals. But when she mispronounces Jazz ..”jhaaas dance..”..,they make fun of her. When she can’t converse in English at her daughter’s PTA meeting, her daughter gets upset( somewhat farfetched). Unintentionally hurtful, they are unaware of her predicament in an environment predominated by an unspoken snobbery of the English language. Soon, nerves and dignity get all mixed up when Shashi finds herself in the U.S.,unable to communicate her need for a simple cup of coffee.
The simply written coffee shop scene is the only dramatic scene depicting the humiliation of not knowing English. Written and directed by Gauri Shinde, the film is a simple and sweet story which starts off slow but charms with terrific dialogues and eventually becomes a magical movie experience graced by the mere mesmerising presence of a talent powerhouse that is Sridevi.
In one shy, hesitant look, she transforms into Shashi. The thunder thigh tag, the 70’s Himmatwala image or the funny, charming girl form Mr India dancing in the rain in a blue saree, vanishes into oblivion. Even when there is a Bollywood cinematic moment in a plane when the legendary Amitabh Bachchan makes a special appearance of a kind, old gentleman, you don’t see a second’s glimpse of their magnetic ‘Khuda Gawah pairing. Instead, you just see a scared but excited Indian woman stepping out of wifely duties, into an unknown world for the first time.
The debut direction surprises with the subtle expertise in its simple treatment of both the story,character and the film. Every frame does marvellous justice to Sridevi’s comeback after 15 years. The camera lingers just long enough on her well maintained waistline, slender fingers, often moves to long distance shots as the film progresses and Shashi joins English speaking classes, showing her walk transform into a confident one with a single, simple gesture of a saree pallu deftly pulled over a shoulder, stronger than any ‘collar up’ move. Every close up is a treat, watching the expressive large eyes and small mouth dance to every passing emotion with total conviction. The ever so brief jig a la Michael Jackson is like an icing on the laddoo that melts too quickly.
French actor,Mehdi Nebbou,despite few scenes, is the only one who holds attention as much as Sridevi, skilfully displaying the sensitivity of his character. The rest of the supporting cast ,including Adil Hussain who plays her husband, does an adequate job.
The music (Amit Trivedi) and lyrics (Swanand Kirkire) add wonderfully to the light, breezy, feel good tone of the film.
English Vinglish is a master class,both in simple storytelling and Sridevi school of acting ; overwhelming in a disarmingly underwhelming way. Watch. Please Vease.