She Izz Baaack! And, how!

It is hard to believe that it had been 15 years since we last saw Sridevi on screen. It is harder, sometimes, to believe it has been only 15 years since we last saw Sridevi on screen. After fifteen years, Sridevi is in a movie – not in a cameo role, not as a character artist, not as a wise aunt dispensing her wisdom, not as a weather beaten, struggling old woman, but as a beautiful woman her own age playing the central role and taking the entire weight of the film on her still slender shoulders.

I cannot think of another artist whose return to the silver screen after a 15 year hiatus caused this degree of excitement. And, I must say she hasn’t disappointed us fans. Yes, she wasn’t playing the sixteen year old buxom innocent girl or Ms. Hawa Hawaii in this movie, but we weren’t expecting her to. Like her, we too have become, ahem, mature.

On the face of it, English Vinglish has a simple premise that shouldn’t hold much surprise. A house wife, taken for granted and benignly neglected, struggles to redefine herself and surprises the family members. Writer and debutant director Gauri Shinde adds several shades to give this caricature more of a dimension. This housewife may not know English and her family may not see her to be more than a cook or a wife or a mother, but she is a good person that deserves better. She deserves and longs for respect- especially from those that are near and dear. Despite her daily dose of humiliations, she keeps struggling to maintain her sense of self.

Alone, in a foreign land and unable to communicate, she faces more humiliation. The kindness of strangers gives her succor, hope and a new determination. She decides to remake herself – by herself and on her own terms. In this process, she discovers herself and her priorities; and her family discovers her too.

It is Sridevi’s film from beginning to end. She is Michael Jordan and the rest of them are literally her supporting cast. Not that others don’t have their moments to shine in the spotlight, but – the film belongs only to Sridevi’s Sashi (or Saashi as her classmates in the English learning class call her). It is not that often an actress in her 40s has a role like this written for her.

Sridevi portrays the multiple dimensions of Sashi well. At the beginning of the film, one sees her sensitivity, her love for her family, her longing for respect, and her lack of self-confidence. As the film progresses, we see her evolving, becoming more sure of herself, overcoming her doubts about self and understanding herself, her role in her family, and her own priorities. Many times in the film, she cannot rely on the dialogue and only has her eyes and body language to convey her emotions. This could have been easily overdone and become melodramatic, but Sridevi, with excellent sense of control, restraint and abandonment, demonstrates once again why she was regarded as a consummate actress even when she was the reigning glamour queen.

Gauri Shinde deserves ample credit for her nuanced handling of the script and for the many layers she added to the story and the central character. While the story arc was quite predictable, she still keeps you interested with the subtle (and sometimes not so subtle) humor and some unanticipated twists and turns. The pace never lagged even if it wasn’t particularly hurried.

The songs were well placed and the music enjoyable. I liked the way the songs were filmed.

The film was cast well with everybody playing their roles well. Priya Anand was better suited to her role in this film than the ones we saw her doing in Telugu earlier. The actors who played Laurent and David need special mention.

English Vinglish is an enjoyable movie with a premise and screenplay that was believable and characters we could relate to.

And, yes, it was a pleasure to see Sridevi make the screen sparkle again.