Monday, May 13, 2013

The New Language of Indian Cinema: English Vinglish

Essential HINDI Films of 2012


The simple yet absolutely wonderful movie of English Vinglish was already the 8th Hindi movie of 2012 I watched, but it's safe to say that this is where my journey in 2012's Hindi movies started for real, as it had been a while since I had seen the disappointing Oscar submisson Barfi! and the awesome double-movie Gangs of Wasseypur. The other 6 movies were mainly unnoticed ones that range anywhere between lime explosion and hybrid. I created a little list of 2012 Hindi movies that I'd describe as being "essential" for the common Bollywood fan/ viewer, and as I climb up the ladder to reach comprehension and up-to-date-ness, I'll update and enlighten you as well, the dear readers of my blog. That is, those who are interested in Indian movies - a topic I've not been writing about as much lately, but that motivated me to actually create a blog in the first place.

English Vinglish is a movie full of surprises, the first one being the actual story. It's the story of a woman. A middle-aged woman. And not only a woman, but a housewife. Bingo. All these three subjects are rarely the center of a Hindi movie and therefore I had been thrilled to watch the movie from the moment I heard about it. Sridevi, a classic star of Indian cinema whom nobody probably had expected to see again in anything but the role of a mother, proves that there's a place for middle-aged heroines too, and that there's an audience that actually wants to see them. Especially when they're as relatable and down-to-earth as her overly sweet and innocent Indian housewife Shashi, who struggles with her English and gets mocked for this by her husband and children. Especially her young daughter, an A+ English student, is ashamed by her mother who seems uneducated and stupidly suburban to her. One day, Shashi discovers an unexpected opportunity to (im)prove her independence, as her niece invites the family to her wedding in NYC. Since Shashi is all free to go, she decides to leave for the preparations a month before the rest of the family, although it takes some time to convince her husband of the idea.
Once arrived in the US, Shashi is met by many an uncomfortable situation, but is also deeply fascinated by the American lifestyle. While her sister is at work and her niece at college, Shashi decides to join a 4-week English course where she meets the helpful (and sexily French) Laurent, who is highly attracted to the intelligent, older-than-him housewife in her dashing sari.

While pairing a middle-aged Bollywood A-star with a fresh-as-a-mango newcomer is a common thing in Hindi movies, the mature "heroine" mostly has to settle with her role as a mother. There were some few exceptions, as in the 2001 classic Dil Chahta Hai, but otherwise it remains a tabu. Not even the slightest possibility of a happy ending, though if you would like to know whether English Vinglish breaks this tabu as well, you'll have to watch the movie yourself. The important thing is that it dares sketch a relationship between to persons from two very different cultures, the woman being older than the man. And perhaps even more important is the fact that this is never an issue in the movie at all - the only thing Shashi worries about is her marriage and her values. So the movie is left with various opportunities to create a sexual tension between the two, which it utilizes often enough - Laurent being French and all.

In this respect,  hope that English Vinglish will open a lot of new doors in Bollywood or even the Indian film industry in general. Doors for female directors (actually most film industries could gain from that, although I'm guilty myself, wanting to become a journalist instead of a director), doors for mature female actors in the lead, doors for new stories and new perspectives. Change is happening already. Many female actors that have been called "newcomers" are already in their late twenties, while 30 has long been the date of expiry date for them. There's only one thing I can say to that: Sridevi sure as hell didn't look expired in this one.


A refreshing movie that explores the boundaries of Hindi cinema in a suprisingly traditional way. Melodramatic as it may be in times, and some stereotypes aside, this is a triumph for the Indian woman.


  1. I've had this one suggested to me before, and now after your approval, it really sounds like one I could enjoy. I'll be checking it out.

    Also, haven't had time to listen to your new podcast, but I promise I'll give it a play this weekend. :)

    1. It could be yes. I've only read and heard positive opinions so hopefully you'll like it.
      Also enjoy the podcast, eps. 2 is going to be online on Tuesday.

  2. Definitely my favourite Hindi film of last year, even made to my top 10 at the end of year. 2012 was a good year in many ways, especially considering how lackluster '10 and '11 were at least in my opinion. Movies like this not only were made but but acknowledged and applauded as well. I'll be satisfied enough if they just give us some quality films like this but I really hope it does open some new doors for Bollywood.

    Have you heard about Ship of Theseus? That looks like another step in right direction.

    1. I've heard of it but haven't actually seen or read anything specific. It's great that this kind of movies gets acknowledged though, however so far 2012 isn't a specifically great year to me yet. As you can see I loved this one as well as Kahaani, but there were also big disappointments like Vicky Donor, Shanghai I didn't love either, and then Barfi...

  3. A legend comes to Industry after a long time nice to see her back performing as charming as her past days.

    1. I haven't seen many of Sridevi's old films, actually I think the only one I saw was that awful 90s one with Shahrukh - but I definitely see her talent. I really want to see some of her old films now.
      Thanks for your comment!


Let the discussion begin!