Tuesday, 20 November 2012

The English Vinglish Intro...

A mere head tilt. That's all it took and a collective audience of hundreds of Bollywood fans (potentially millions around the world) burst into applause in the cinema. The ambidextrous lot brought their fingers to their lips and whistled loudly, as the devanagari script of 'vi' appeared, converting India's premier actress's moniker into a multilingual confection of, well, English Vinglish. 

The actor's actor, Sridevi's last memorable performance was a good decade and a half ago, Judaai (1997), screened similarly around the Bollywood-viewing world. Consistently recognised for her acting chops, dancing skills and classic Indian beauty, the audience that filled the halls were conspicuously of a slightly older generation. The youngsters were, initially, notably absent until word-of-mouth, the greatest publicity that money cannot buy, spread. Then they came trickling in, generation next, and left a little awed by Sridevi. 

This wasn't a fashion parade in the guise of a film. This wasn't a rom-com with musical interludes for the Hallmark card lot. Nor was it mindless comedy nor a scene of senseless violence. Entertaining and dare we say it, enlightening. While there were speeches in the end, there was little preaching.

And then there's Sridevi.
Those who grew-up watching Sridevi dance between pots-and-pans, wear the risible, absurd feather and sequins studded outfits and pull it off with regal panache, knew that, "Sridevi can deliver the goods" (as famously said by co-star of her many films, Kamal Haasan). Can she ever.

Walking the precipice of great comedy and heart-breaking tragedy, Sridevi's pitch perfect performance in the gentle 'dramedy' of manners and misdemeanors (a newly-wed wife in New Jersey sent us a note saying she wanted to smack the daughter and husband in equal measure!), English Vinglish, is the finest balancing act of the year. 

While she substituted her famous chiffon saris for the ethnic chic of Sabyasachi, she's retained acting skills that's been honed to perfection since she started at the age of five. "Born to act," said R Balki, the producer of her latest film, and in all honestly, there are very few able-minded who can disagree.

In a career studded with superlative performances (and we risk the cliche of listing the usual suspects; Sadma, Chandni, Chaalbaaz, Lamhe and so on), in her third act, Sridevi's a fully polished performer, and truly India's penultimate actress. A complete actress. Give her any role and challenge, and she will "go beyond expectation" (writer/director Gauri Shinde).

There's a section in the Sridevi fan blog dedicated to her "famous fans", i.e. a collection of quotes from notable names in the industry who state that Sridevi is their favourite actress of all time. And the roster includes, Kareena Kapoor, Rani Mukherjee, Vidya Balan, Priyanka Chopra...names in a list we're bound to see early next year as the award ceremonies are belted out to various television channels. A list with the addendum of Sridevi.

If Sridevi reaches the dais to pick up the award which they were also nominated for, you'll see the best performance by the audience for a change, as they smile for the camera.

As producer/director Karan Johar said, for contemporary actresses, it's easy to quote Sridevi as their favourite, as in her semi-retired state, Sridevi doesn't pose as a threat. But, he's only half right. In her heyday, Sridevi had her contemporaries and co-stars regularly praise her. Albeit reluctantly sometimes, as Sunny Deol, a co-star of many, was rather ambivalent, yet couldn't fail to acknowledge Sri's skills. While her Telugu predecessor Jaya Prada remained tight-lipped on saying anything complimentary, Madhuri Dixit's appearance at the premiere of English Vinglish and her encouraging, positive sound-bytes, were consistently respectful. 

Despite a deeply political, sycophantic, nepotistic, ratings-craved craven lot that run the slew of award ceremonies in India, we have an inkling, the words '"...And the award goes to... Sridevi, for English Vinglish..." is about to reverberate. 

The echolocation of which shall ring in every fan's heart.

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