In a movie hailed as the comeback of the queen of silver screen, feministic undertones are not only laudable but heartwarming.
Every scene of English Vinglish is crafted beautifully. Every expression, every sigh, every look and every frame is the work of a perfectionist. Or it is the work of Sridevi, who not only understands the travails of a home maker struggling to keep herself happy but also braves the odds to liberate her from the clutches of language. But seen from the vantage point of an immigrant, there are some unique aspects that stand out and amuse me.
• Why is it that during my innumerable trips to and from India, my economy seating has never been accompanied by Ajith or Amitabh? But if I were to lament, I would prefer Surya. Now that’s worth feigning ignorance. The hostess never offers Chardonnay or Merlot instead stares blankly through the cartons of Apple & Orange juice.
• It is eternally warming to see Sridevi strolling through the streets of NYC in a sari. If there is one place in the world outside of India, where a sari can be worn with elegance and get its standing, it is in NYC. Nobody gawks or mocks at you and you don’t have to make excuses for sporting one. When invitations to parties leave me in wardrobe failure, there is a twinge of pride to see her walking tall in the six yards. It is sometimes the outfit but always the real YOUthat stays with people long after you have walked out.
• The movie silently puts forth certain stereotypes. The French chef, Spanish nanny, gay New Yorker, south Indian software professional, Pakistani taxi driver, Chinese parlor girl, Indian home maker but does it in a way that is not derogatory to either one. In a way, to see their friendships evolve and develop is amusing. The barriers, it seems, are not in what we speak but how we speak.
• Shashi cooks deliciously. She is the super mom, super wife and super daughter in law who whips us a different breakfast for every member. Yet there are only two people who cherish her, the eldest in the family, her mother in law and the youngest, her son. When the man cooks it is art and when the woman does it, it is duty? After having a kid, cooking has become a chore. What was once therapeutic has becomes a necessary evil to quiet the grumbling stomach. Shashi’s parathas and ladoos are appreciated and devoured by her sister and nieces for whom these are delicacies. I can understand that kind of wistfulness when it comes to food. In a land far away from delicious home style take away’s, it is a blessing when the husband can appreciate the wife’s culinary abilities. And unless we let the man wield the spoon once in a while, they might never get the travails of being a chef.
• When the husband cuts her calls short using excuses as trivial as stepping into an elevator, he cannot handle her excuse for not accompanying them to view the Empire state. Men cannot handle rejection even after two kids? They always need a punching bag by their side so they can make mean jokes about Jazz? How many times have we seen newly married brides walking shyly behind their grooms? How many times have they remained mum when spoken to only to let their husbands do the talking? How many times have seen kids abuse their mothers and manipulate them? This is not unique to immigrants alone. It is definitely apt that Sridevi finds her voice and confidence in the end and does not cringe from using it. Though she pauses and falters along the way, she does go all the way and that deserves an ovation, a standing ovation.
Shashi, is empowered after conquering her weakness. It was learning a new language but it could be anything. She went out, braved the odds and emerged successful. In the end, she returns to her cocoon, silently yet with more strength when she enquires for a Hindi newspaper in the flight.
And Shashi is right; nobody can help yourself better than you!