Shashi is an Indian homemaker with a loving husband and two children in an Indian city. She makes wonderful laddoo, an Indian sweet delicacy that you have to eat to understand its magic. She runs a small business making laddoos and delivering them to her customers. Her husband laughingly tells friends “My wife, she was born to make laddoos“. The guests laugh back. The expression on Shashi’s face shows the deep hurt at the put down.
Fast forward to Shashi walking in Manhattan with Laurent, a French fellow-student at her ‘Learn English in 4 Weeks’ class. Laurent praises her food and says “food is art“. Shashi replies “when a man cooks, it is art; when a woman cooks, it is her duty“. Her expression reveals her pain. This delicate touch about a wife-mother’s hurt about being taken for granted is found through out the lovely movie “English Vinglish“, an absolute must-watch.
(when a man cooks, it is art; when a woman cooks, it is her duty)
Shashi is a wonderful wife and mother. Her family loves her. But they laugh at her because she doesn’t understand or speak English. Her daughter is embarrassed by her inability and avoids taking Shashi to her school. Her daughter’s contempt for Shashi borders on emotional cruelty but neither the daughter nor Shashi’s husband get that. In today’s Indian middle class, being “educated” in English is the ultimate status symbol. All other facets or qualities are immaterial and irrelevant. Shashi lives through this everyday.
Fast forward again to Hoboken, NJ. Shashi’s niece realizes that Laurent has fallen for Shashi and she teases Shashi about it. Shashi replies simply ” I don’t need more love, I just need a little respect“.
That is Shashi’s search and she finds it in Manhattan. Shashi’s sister lives in Hoboken and her elder daughter is getting married. She invites Shashi’s entire family to come to the wedding and she requests Shashi to come 4 weeks earlier to help out. Shashi is petrified at the thought of going alone to America without being able to converse in English. Her husband convinces her to go because her sister needs her.
Her first day in Manhattan is a disaster. She is humiliated at a coffee shop when she tries to order a sandwich and a coffee. She runs out of the store sobbing. Then she sees an ad on a bus about a “Learn English in 4 Weeks” course. Shashi signs up without telling her sister or niece.
Every day, Shashi leaves her sister’s house in Hoboken, takes the path train to Manhattan, walks a few blocks south to get to her class near NYU. The class is at the heart of the film. When the teacher learns about her small laddoo business, he calls her an entrepreneur and teaches that word to the class. Shashi loves that word. No one ever had said anything remotely positive about her business before.
She fits in very well with her fellow students who are all trying to learn English like her. They are a mixed group and they try to get along with each other in their common journey. This interaction slowly builds Shashi’ self-confidence and in a scene, she orders a sandwich, an iced latte without even realizing how effortlessly she did it.
(Shashi and the other students – src Reuters)
Laurent, her French fellow student, is smitten with her. During a class exercise about what they like about New York, Laurent talks about Shashi’s eyes and how just looking at Shashi makes his day. Over 99% of Indian movies would show an Indian wife-mother recoiling at such admiration from another man. Shashi is embarrassed but feels happy as well. She tells Laurent “it has been a long time since some one has said such nice things about me“.
This movie shows the magic of Manhattan, the reason people from all the world come here to experience the free open romantic aura that Manhattan delivers to those who are not jaded. No other movie has captured the allure of Manhattan the way this movie does.
The end of the movie is perfect. Shashi delivers a toast to the bride and groom about what marriage is and how equality of respect is the foundation of the unique relationship between a husband and wife. And she does it in English. Her husband finally understands her pain and and asks her “Do you still love me?” She says “that is why I put two laddoos on your plate“.
(Trailer of English Vinglish)
Gauri Shinde, the writer and director of this movie, is a Marathi woman. Bollywood and today’s Mumbai are as much about the primacy of Hindi as they are about English. To them, Marathi is simply infra-dig, so much so that many aspiring Marathi people pretend to not speak Marathi. We guess Ms. Shinde must have experienced some of these put downs herself.
Because like Shashi, her film’s hero, Gauri Shinde demonstrated her own self-respect by making the theme song a classic Marathi wedding song. Kudos to Gauri Shinde for living her film as well as making the sweetest film we have seen for a long time.
Watch this film. You will love it.
PS: Sridevi just blends into Shashi’ role in this film. What greater tribute can we pay her? For those who don’t know, Sridevi has returned to films after a couple of decades. That career of Sridevi was all glamour and oomph. The last film we saw before coming to America was her Himmatwala, her launch into big time. Watch the song below of that Sridevi to see what we mean about oomph. When you watch English Vinglish, think of that Sridevi and then you will realize the power of her performance as Shashi.
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