Tuesday, October 9, 2012

As Sweet As Laddoo Vaddoo!

Warning: This review contains spoilers!

"When a man cooks, it is art; but when a woman cooks, it is her daily work, her duty", Shashi expresses her pain through these simple words. The pain of years of being taken for granted by her family, the pain of being an object of ridicule by her adolescent daughter, the pain of being labelled "born to make laddoos" by her husband and the pain of being excluded from the father-daughter bonhomie on account of not being proficient in English. When Gauri Shinde conceived this character for her debut feature film "English Vinglish", she must have known that she had a winner at hand; for not only can so many women connect with it, but they can identify themselves with it too because they have been at the receiving end of a similar treatment for long.

Shashi is a homemaker who is completely devoted to her family, setting a cup of tea for her husband first thing in the morning, packing lunch boxes for the kids before sending them off to school, and in general being there for everybody including her mother-in-law. She supplies snacks and sweets for weddings and other special occasions. She does it because she likes doing it, and not out of any necessity. Her husband is a good provider. In fact, he even asks her to "stop making laddoos". But it is something she excels in and so continue she does. Her customers' admiration of her craft keeps her going. Otherwise, she suffers silently, being the butt of jokes of her insensitive family, yet performing her chores around the house flawlessly. She is saddened by her daughter's discomfort in introducing her to others at her school, but bears with it quietly. In spite of being a good wife, a good mother and a good cook, she fails to command any respect from her family.

Life would have gone on this way had it not been for an invitation from her sister to visit her in New York City. There is a wedding in the family and Shashi's help is requisitioned. She is packed off to the US ahead of the rest of the family much against her wishes. She is not comfortable leaving her family behind. Moreover, she does not like the idea of travelling alone, given her handicap in English. But she does not have a choice. Once there, her unsuccessful attempt to order food for herself at an eatery and the resulting humiliation lead her to enroll in a class that promises to teach conversational English in four weeks.

The rest of the story is all about Shashi's discovery of herself. Learning English is just a metaphor. She sees a whole new world that looks at her for being herself, and not as somebody's wife or mother. She gains confidence with each new step that she takes. At the end of the four weeks, along with learning English, she has learnt to feel good about herself too. And that is more important.

Shashi's story over, time now to talk about Sridevi. In spite of a sterling performance, you cannot help but notice the tightness in her face. The eyes are still lovely, but the area around her nose and cheeks looks strained resulting in a loss of expression to some extent. It bothers you in the beginning, but as the story progresses and the affable Shashi grows on you, you accept her as she is, notwithstanding the ravages caused by cosmetic intervention in her charming countenance.

Gauri deserves a lot of credit for visualizing and writing Shashi's character so convincingly. She has got all the other actors to deliver beautifully too. Debonair Mehdi Nebbou as the gentle Frenchman Laurent who works as a cook, and svelte Priya Anand as Shashi's spunky niece Radha stand out particularly because of their superb execution. The classroom scenes are peppered with amusing humour. Sridevi's sarees are elegant. And the sights and sounds of Manhattan have been captured wonderfully well. Music is mostly in the background, and it is very much in keeping with the general trend in today's film music. I liked Shashi's outbursts in Hindi and Laurent's responses in fluent French. They do not speak each other's language, but a lot is said and a lot is understood. Beyond a certain point, one sure doesn't need a language to communicate.

It is a heartwarming tale, told simply and tastefully. Well-rounded and sweet, just like Shashi's laddoos!

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