I'd heard excellent things about Gauri Shinde's debut direction, English Vinglish, starring the legendary, ever-youthful star, Sridevi - the film seemed universally praised and loved by audiences at the box office as well. Even so, I was surprised.
The charm of the story is so simple, yet effective - Shashi (Sridevi), a housewife whose passion is selling her laddoos to acquaintances, becomes empowered by learning English, a language her children and husband know well, but she doesn't. It's the usual story about growth and self-discovery, but some features of it - the beautiful focus on Shashi's character, excellently portrayed by Sridevi, the ensemble cast of her class and their enthusiastic teacher, the simultaneous scariness and potential of the huge New York City as a milieu - just take it all up a notch and push the film from being just a good, solid story to being a terrific film.
You can definitely see why Sridevi picked this film to return in. Shashi is the kind of understated character it's hard not to fall in love with. Her problems are not huge and melodramatic, but small and human, and as audience we see how vulnerable she is. The portrayal of these problems is so real, it's hard not to relate: we've all said or done things in anger that hurt a family member, even though we love them dearly. To not sympathise with Shashi and her loneliness and feelings of inadequacy within her family is impossible; for the two hours I spent with her, she became real to me.
A film like this doesn't require a love story, but it contains one all the same: a story about loving and accepting yourself, because sometimes that's the most important love you need to have.
Having recently visited New York, it was easy to identify with the sense of being an outsider in such a big city. Even with a fluency in English, I think it'd take a while for me to feel like I ever belonged there, and as much as I love the place and the people in it, I am always reminded me of the "Wear Sunscreen" song/speech line: "Live in New York City once, but leave before it makes you hard."
Looking back on the filmi year 2012, there aren't a whole lot of films I'd signify as must-watches, but English Vinglish without a doubt fits that category. It's a life-affirming gem, a tale of a woman I'm sure we can all learn from, no matter where we are in our lives.