And thankfully, the film delivered on every single level. For us, to be objective is hard as the subject is... Sridevi!
Sifting through all the reviews online, we've grabbed a few quotes from international reviews, from the serious, film critics. Blogs and fan reviews are a dime-a-dozen and the self-appointed reviewers we are deeply suspicious of. Generally, and we have to say almost universally, the film was liked. Here's a little multicultural perspective;
The Hollywood Reporter
Indian screen legend Sridevi triumphs in a gentle, but affecting, story of a woman’s awakening self-respect.
Fans of Indian cinema need no introduction to Sridevi, the star of more than 200 movies: admired for her sparkling comic timing, dancing prowess and acting chops, “Sri” ruled the marquee from the mid-‘70s to the early ‘90s before settling down to raise two daughters with her husband, producer Boney Kapoor.
It took a very special project indeed to lure this very special talent back to the big screen, and English Vinglish is it.
Directed and written by Gauri Shinde, the film depicts the transformation of Shashi, a meek, put-upon Indian housewife who speaks only Hindi, into a confident citizen of the world, over the length of a four-week crash course in English.
The Eros release, which enjoyed acclaim (and according to reports, a standing ovation) at the Toronto International Film Festival, is up against strong competition from the satire Oh My God and India’s foreign language Oscar submission, Barfi!, but its universal message — conveyed with wit and heart — is persuasive enough to draw a sizable audience nevertheless. Indeed, a recent San Francisco Bay Area screening found the audience packed with families and young children, a heartening prospect given the film’s positive message encouraging diversity and tolerance.
Shashi is a dedicated mother and gifted cook, the wife of a busy executive in the western Indian city of Pune. Her laddoos (a golden, sweet snack ball) earn raves and she even runs a small catering business, but her family treats her like a servant. Her teenaged daughter treats her with contempt, while the casually masked cruelty of her husband’s words (Adil Hussain) cut her to the core: “My wife was born to make laddoos!” he gloats.
When Shashi is called upon to fly to New York City — solo — to help her sister arrange a niece’s wedding, she is terrified (look for Amitabh Bachchan in a short, but memorable, scene onboard her flight). Once in New York, the Hindi-speaking Shashi is faced with ever-mounting humiliations, in a series of beautifully mounted, yet squirm-inducing scenes.
It is at this point that Shashi realizes that her lack of English skills is holding her back, and so when she spies an ad for an English class on a passing city bus, she decides to sneak out of her relatives’ house and navigate New York City’s subways and buses to get there.
Her fellow international students include a Pakistani cab driver, a South Indian engineer, a Mexican nanny and a smitten French man (Mehdi Nabbou), also a cook, who tastes her laddoos and tells her, “You are an artist.” Shashi retorts, “When a man cooks, it’s an art. When a woman cooks, it’s just her duty.”
It’s no surprise that by the end of the film, Shashi will conquer her fears, but the route Shinde takes to get her there is distinctively Shashi’s. The image of the newly confident Shashi striding down a Manhattan street, a takeout coffee in hand and a trench coat belted over her sari, will make you smile days after you leave the theater.
There is a growing body of work that shows Indian female characters flexing their muscles: Gurinder Chadha’s Bend It Like Beckham; Deepa Mehta’s Water; the late Jagmohan Mundhra’s Provoked: A True Story, starring Aishwarya Rai; and Amol Palekar’s Anaahat/Eternity, starring Sonali Bendre, spring to mind. And the work of Indian female filmmakers like Chadha, Mehta, Mira Nair and most recently Zoya Akhtar (Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara) is always worth a look.
With English Vinglish, female director Shinde — known for her documentaries and commercials — brings her own lifetime of experience into the picture. “It is my way of saying ‘Sorry’ and ‘Thank you’ to my mother, and a tribute to women,” Shinde writes in the film’s press notes.
Ultimately, what make English Vinglish memorable are the small, step-by-step choices Shashi makes to transforms herself. Yes, there’s grit there, but it’s tempered with compassion and dignity. The way the character has been crafted by Shinde, and interpreted by Sridevi, is gloriously feminine, and uniquely Indian.
Cast: Sridevi, Adil Hussain, Mehdi Nabbou, Priya Anand, Neelu Sodhi, Cory Hibbs, Sulabha Deshpande
Director: Gauri Shinde
Screenwriter: Gauri Shinde
Producers: R. Balki, Rakesh Jhunjhunwala, R.K. Mani, Anil Lulla
Director of photography: Laxman Utekar
Costume designer: Vera Chow
Production designer: Mustafa Stationwala
Sound designer: Resul Pookutty
Editor: Hemanti Sarkar
Music: Amit Trivedi
Lyrics: Swanand Kirkire
Not rated, 129 minutes
English Vinglish – review
An undemanding picture, but likable family comedy from India
3 out of 5
Globe and Mail
It’s hard to believe that anyone would take for granted the glittering presence of Sridevi, the Indian movie star now making a professional comeback after a 14-year-absence during which she raised her two daughters.
At 49, she can still convincingly play fresh sweetness on screen; off-screen she emits a don’t-mess-with-me maturity. But in Bollywood as in Hollywood, your downtrodden heroine can’t look too downtrodden.
So the bilingual crossover flick English Vinglish has us believe that Sridevi is Shashi, a conservative Indian mother and housewife whose self-satisfied husband (Adil Hussain) can simply call out “chai, Shashi!” every morning and find his tea at his elbow. He runs some important enterprise that requires him to speak perfect English and allows him to dismiss as a hobby his wife’s successful small business selling the Indian pastries called ladoo. Shashi’s daughter is no less ungrateful and her mother’s non-existent English, the butt of many family jokes, is a particular humiliation to a tween who attends an English-language private school.
So, when Shashi travels to New York ahead of her family to help her sister organize a wedding, she sneaks off to some English classes. There she meets a convenient Frenchman named Laurent (Mehdi Nebbou), whose romantic attentions do as much to reawaken her confidence as her new mastery of English grammar does. There follows a winsome if utterly conventional ugly-duckling story about a sympathetic character’s much deserved progress toward a richer self.
he trouble with this scheme is that Shashi is building self-esteem by buying other people’s values: Neophyte director Gauri Shinde, who also wrote the script, does include a few boorishly unilingual Americans alongside the helpful ones and lots of rich Indian culture, but in the end, Shashi earns her family’s respect by mastering the master’s language, knuckling down to the realities of a global culture in which English is the lingua franca.
Similarly, Shashi is not going to teach her husband Satish a lesson by running off with Laurent. The film ends with a wedding – but it is the long-planned nuptials of Shashi’s niece, reaffirming the family values that have done Shashi no favours thus far. One wonders how long the neglectful Satish will remember the message of equality and gratitude if it is delivered as gently as this movie does.
English Vinglish (India)By Joe Leydon
Popular Indian thesp Sridevi returns to the screen after a 15-year hiatus with "English Vinglish," a sprightly star vehicle that finds her perfectly cast as an attractive yet old-fashioned homebody who elevates her sense of worth by becoming bilingual. Set for an Oct. 5 international launch, the pic could reach beyond the usual aud for Bollywood fare, especially in sophisticated North American markets, with a promotional campaign aimed at over-30 femme viewers receptive to writer-director Gauri Shinde's seriocomic theme of self-empowerment.
Disarmingly charming in a manner that recalls Audrey Hepburn, Sridevi plays Shashi, a thirtysomething Pune wife and mom whose culinary expertise and other homemaking skills are routinely taken for granted by her husband and two children. Worse, her spouse and kids repeatedly tease her about her inability (or unwillingness) to master English, which they see as yet another sign of her tradition-bound mindset.
But Shashi herself doesn't seem unbearably frustrated by her lack of bilingual ability until she travels from Pune to New York -- her first international trip on her own -- to help with preparations for her very Americanized niece's wedding. When she finds it difficult to simply order water in a Manhattan sandwich shop, she impulsively enrolls at a language school that offers accelerated English lessons for students of any nationality.
Pic occasionally resembles a broadly played U.S. sitcom, as Shashi amusingly interacts with a multiethnic cross-section of fellow students, including a French chef (Mehdi Nebbou) who's instantly attracted to her, and their flamboyantly gay teacher (Cory Hibbs, who nimbly prevents the character from devolving into an offensive caricature). Indeed, if this were an American-produced film, it would be easy to imagine a weekly TV series spinoff.
Far more often, though, "English Vinglish" is traditional Bollywood escapism, a lightly enjoyable trifle featuring exuberant musical interludes, an extremely chaste approach to conjugal relations and extramarital temptation, and a crowd-pleasing wrap-up that allows the lead character to be all she can be while still respecting family values.
The Hindi-language version features a lightly comical cameo by Bollywood icon Amitabh Bachchan as Shashi's fellow passenger aboard a New York-bound airliner, who inadvertently unsettles others on the plane while explaining the in-flight movie to her. Ajith Kumar reportedly plays the part in the pic's Tamil-language version.
Lenser Laxman Utekar does a fine job of enabling the audience to view Manhattan, where most of the pic was shot, entirely from Shashi's p.o.v. It appears exotic and inviting all at once, and seems an altogether terrific place to jumpstart one's self-esteem.
Camera (color), Laxman Utekar; editor, Hemanti Sarkar; music, Amit Trivedi; lyrics, Swanand Kirkire; production designer, Mustafa Stationwala; sound, Resul Pookutty; visual effects supervisor, Reupal Rawal; assistant director, Jagan Damodaran.
An Eros Intl. presentation in association with R. Balki of a Hope Prods. production in association with Curbside Films. Produced by Sunil Lulla, Rakesh Jhunjhunwala, R.K. Damani, Balki. Executive producer, Anita Anand Zutshi. Co-producer, Ilana Rossein. Directed, written by Gauri Shinde.
With: Sridevi, Adil Hussain, Mehdi Nebbou, Priya Anand, Sulabha Deshpande, Sujata Kumar, Navika Kotia, Shivansh Kotia, Rajeev Ravindranathan, Cory Hibbs, Amitabh Bachchan. (Hindi, English dialogue)
Reviewed at Toronto Film Festival (Gala Presentations), Sept. 11, 2012.
Running time: 133 MIN.
David D Levine Reviews:
In English Vinglish, a smart but naive Indian woman, a wife and mother of two, is embarrassed by her poor English skills. Even though Hindi is the official language of India, English is the one common language and her lack of proficiency embarrasses her and mortifies her children. When she is suddenly called away to New York to assist her sister with a wedding, she seizes the opportunity to take intensive English classes, which leads to moments of great humor and emotional turmoil. Though it’s not a musical, strictly speaking, there’s quite a bit of music and dance, and the film is laugh-out-loud funny and heart-rending by turns (though the stakes may be low in absolute terms, the emotional impact of some scenes, such as her first attempt to order lunch in a New York coffee shop, is devastating). My favorite film of this PIFF; five stars out of five.
Plus other press!